They have names such as Zero95 and Via Matta and they are bringing a taste of Italy to the outer-eastern suburbs.
Zero95 (the telephone area code for Catania in Sicily) is one of the newest contributors to the growing Italian food scene out east.
Opened just over a year ago, the wood-fired pizza bar in Doncaster East has a range of classic pizzas through to specials that recall the Aeolian Islands off Sicily.
Names such as Lipari, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Salina (some of the islands that make up the Aeolian archipelago) are a nostalgic nod to Melbourne’s Italian migrants.
After its initial success, Zero95 has added a pizza masterclass to its offerings and, as of last week, they’ve opened a second outpost in Templestowe village, called Zero95 Express.
Like many other local restaurants and pizza bars, 90 per cent of Zero95’s staff are Italian. “That helps create an authentic Italian experience,” says co-owner Anthony Biviano.
Judging by the buzz, high-end design and mouth-watering aromas, the diners – mostly locals of Australian, Chinese and Italian heritage – love the place. Try going without a booking and you might be disappointed.
Over in Vermont, Via Matta (Mad Street) opened three years ago. Chef and owner Luigi Petruzziello specialises in home-made gnocchi, ravioli, pastas and sauces such as pesto. Traditional Italian wood-fired pizzas are also on the menu.
“We are very authentic so we don’t put too many things on the top – we use flour imported from Italy and San Daniele prosciutto,” says Luigi.
Born in Italy, Luigi came to Melbourne via Boston, where he spent 23 years. Via Matta’s chef is Sardinian and is renowned for bringing high-quality artisan pizzas to what was once a culinary wasteland.
What started as a trickle of Italians into Melbourne five years ago has become an unstoppable stream. Italy’s battling economy and high unemployment rate have helped Melbourne further cement its claim as the Italian food capital of Australia.
It is no exaggeration to say temporary workers form the backbone of the city’s hospitality industry. Italians are the sixth- largest group of working-holiday visa holders and the fastest-growing group. They make up 7 per cent of all working-holiday visa holders.
From the traditional inner-city restaurant strongholds of Carlton, Brunswick, Collingwood and Fitzroy, Italian food professionals – sommeliers, restaurant managers, and chefs – are moving out to the eastern suburbs.
Olivigna, set on eight hectares in Warrandyte South, has been called “Melbourne’s great Italian escape”.
The estate has a winery, olive grove, kitchen garden, citrus orchard and soon a limoncello distillery. At its heart is the piazza and restaurant serving Italian food, estate wine and home-made pasta.
One night, over a glass of wine, Italian-Australian couple Anna Gallo and John Di Pietro came up with a dream to create a place that combined the best of Italy amid the rolling hills of the Australian bush. Eighteen years later that dream became a reality and Olivigna opened in February 2014.
“When people come to Olivigna they feel like they’ve escaped to Tuscany thanks to our Italian-inspired estate and villa and to our Italian team members,” says Anna.
Last year migration of Italian skilled workers increased by 18 per cent, whereas migrant workers overall declined by 10 per cent, says immigration lawyer Joseph Italiano.
“With Italian unemployment at 11.7 per cent – double Australia’s rate of 5.8 per cent – as at February 2016, Italian migration will continue unabated, particularly among the young unemployed, thus contributing to Australia’s culinary diversity,” Joseph says.
New Italian immigrants fall into two categories: “Either they don’t like the Italian bureaucracy, high company taxes and inflexible labour laws or they come here because of financial necessity,” Joseph says.
He says people with a 457 visa have no trouble coming to Australia, provided they have a skill in demand, demonstrated vocational English and an employer prepared to pay a package of at least $59,020.
People come either as students or working holiday-makers or temporary sponsored residents under the skilled 457 visa program.
To see multiculturalism in action, check out Bobbi Beans in Bulleen Road, Balwyn North. The coffee bar run by Daniel Ficco opened last year with a coffee blend roasted specially for his bar.
Mamma makes the panini and the place is very popular with the Italian and Greek Australians from the area. Chinese Australians have also become regulars.
At the newly renovated Eastland in Ringwood comes Lavezzi Gelateria, an artisan ice-creamery that has been churning out ice-cream in Italy since 1870.
Angelo Sperlinga, whose history in the food industry goes back more than 20 years, teamed with the Lavezzi family to open its first store outside Italy last October. “It’s all about the love and passion for ice-cream and Eastland seemed a natural fit,” Angelo says.
Angelo plans to sponsor a chef from Italy soon. He already employs 80 people at a facility in Fawkner making pasta and creates ice-cream flavours in-house. He uses raw ingredients such as hazelnuts to make the paste for the bestselling nocciola ice-cream.
So for a taste of Italy without the jet-lag, the outer east beckons.
Way out east:
- 904 Doncaster Road, Doncaster East.
- 9840 6975
- 131 James Street, Templestowe.
- 9846 4456
- 602 Canterbury Road, Vermont.
- 9873 8125
- 54-56 Brumbys Road, Warrandyte South.
- 9844 4676
- 105 Bulleen Road, Balwyn North.
- 9859 9243
- Level 3, Shop R02,
- Eastland. 8845 9110