In the middle of a glorious summer afternoon, the new Bar di Stasio is packed. And Daniele is at the height of his powerfulness.

Bar Di Stasio

16:16:PM 22/02/2013
Kendall Hill

Warm Caprese Salad
Warm Caprese Salad

Great hospitality requires an exceptional host and, at the new Bar di Stasio, they’ve got a cracker. His name is Daniele, a young Italian fresh out from Ancona, I think he said, and he works the 40-seat space like a stage.

When we arrive for lunch there is not another soul in this chic new bar annexed to the landmark Café di Stasio, but Daniele’s personality is big enough to fill the place twice over. When we ask the obligatory “how are you?” he bellows, “I am powerful!” and somehow we just know we’re in for a good time.

He recommends kicking off with a Roman mule. It’s a muddle of vodka, mint, ginger beer and Ramazzotti, an amaro liqueur made to a 200-year-old recipe. A perfect match for this long, hot summer we’re having.

While he stirs the spirits, we check out the renos. What used to be a Japanese restaurant is now a terrazzo-floored space with glossy walls of waxed plaster and a sexy slab of marble bartop. High padded stools front the counter, pale-timber tables and chairs surround it. A rear corridor leads to two private rooms.

The standout visuals are artworks by Biennale star Callum Morton. The maze of red scaffolding above the entrance is a bit … well, you can make up your own mind. It just seems a bit noisy for this serene space.

Apparently the distressed walls and renovation remnants, cased behind glass, are also his doing. Being a philistine, I don’t grasp that fact immediately.

Spaghettone la Gricia
Spaghettone la Gricia
“What’s this?” I ask Daniele, pointing to the exposed pipe and bricks, some old paint on plaster, and blue strips where something might have been stuck previously. It looks like Beirut, circa 1987. “Were you just renovating and thought it looked good like this so you put some glass over it?”

“No-no-no-no-no,” he shakes his head, slowly. “We had to pay a leetle bit more than that for this.”

What – is it art? “Yes. Callum Morton was the artist. He did the red one as well.”

Right, well, salute! Saved by the mules. Two silver cups appear, gaily striped straws poking out the top. They are, as expected, ideal in this weather. Even better with food.

Our new mate gets us in the mood. “Would you like some beautiful bolognese arancini?” he asks. “I promise you this … they make the arancini even better than my mother.” Have you told your mother? “No. I won’t be telling my mother.”

The three risotto balls are ping-pong sized, crisp outside, creamy soft inside, the flavours boosted by a forceful aïoli dip.

Fried tastes of the sea – calamari rings, fat prawns, white fish, soft-shell crab – are lightly battered and seasoned and served in a paper cone with a squeeze of lemon. Simple pleasures.

Caprese al forno is deliciously unorthodox – two slow-roasted tomato halves, each crowned with a dollop of goat’s cheese nicely browned by the grill, and a tiny basil leaf on top. It’s soft and yielding and savoury, served with grilled bread smeared with a hint of garlic.

Fritto Misto
Fritto Misto
Daniele’s favourite pasta of the six on offer (including lasagna and gnocchi) is spaghettone la gricia, so we dutifully order it. The thick spaghetti – cooked to that chewy al dente stage that only proper Italian restaurants get right – is dredged in oil and pecorino, tossed with tomatoes and spiked with fried, skinny strips of pork cheek that taste like soft crackling.

“Mmm, the animal bits are niiiice,” groans my usually vegetarian friend. (Bacon. Gets ’em every time.) The only thing I wish for is some bread to mop up the sauce, because my fingers get really greasy doing the job.

All this food is making us hungry; what else, Daniele?

“The lamb chops are speechless!” he declares.

They are served almost rare, the flavours enhanced by salt and lemon, with a chilli-laced Chianti relish on the side that’s superfluous for anyone who loves their lamb.

Seared and sliced tuna with beans and agrodolce is the least interesting plate. There’s nothing wrong with it – the tuna lightly seared with a parsley crust and drizzled with sweet-and-sour sauce – but it doesn’t impress like the rest of the dishes. And it doesn’t even come close to the miniature pigeon pie.

Pigeon Pie
Pigeon Pie
This is a creation that’s sufficiently fabulous to give Andrew McConnell’s famous lobster rolls (up the road at Golden Fields) a run for their money. Barely three bites big, each one is a swooning mouthful of buttery pastry, slow-roasted bird, cherry, cinnamon and star-anise. The ultimate party pie.

It could almost do for dessert, but then you’d miss the pleasure of the the crostata di frutta, a blueberry-filled, just-warmed tart that, quite literally, melts on the tongue.

By the time we leave, in the middle of a glorious summer afternoon, the new Bar di Stasio is packed. And Daniele is at the height of his powerfulness.

we rate 7½ / 10

eat this

BAR DI STASIO

31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda

Cuisine Italian

Chef Steven Rofe

Hip pocket Eat well for $30-$40 a head

Open Daily 11.30am-11pm

Highlights The staff, the cocktails, the food

Lowlights The scaffolding

Bookings Yes, but feel free to drop in

Phone 9525 3999

www.distasio.com.au

Bar di Stasio on Urbanspoon


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