You know how there are some restaurants which are your go-to destinations? The default choice for a first date, the default choice for a family gathering, the default choice for Sunday brunch?

Well, before I got married Bottega was my default location for introducing boyfriends to my parents for the first time! I knew that the Modern Italian restaurant would be reliably excellent with lots of menu options, the service was friendly and it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t have a conversation yet not so quiet you felt like everyone was eavesdropping on you.

While Bottega has remained a consistent favourite even after marriage things have changed somewhat since my last visit – foremost being the fact that a new menu has arrived along with new head chef Gabriele Olivieri (who was previously the sous chef).

I was invited with some other food bloggers to try some of the signature dishes on their revamped express lunch, a la carte lunch and dinner menu.

First up, bruschetta with baccala mantecato and vincotto ($19). I really enjoyed the salt and sweet pairing of the fish and the vincotto reduction, but I didn’t particularly like the temperature at which it was served – stone cold. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done but I’m not partial to cold, cooked fish generally. Reminds me too much of schoolyard tuna sandwiches.

I have an unreasonable fear of offal but this char-grilled ox tongue with salsa verde, anchovy and croutons was my style of dish ($19). Shreds of meat fell away from my fork and the richness was cut through with the green tang of the salsa verde. Plus anything with anchovies gets my vote – hairier the better!

A curiously summery-like dish for the autumn season – zucchini flowers stuffed with buffalo ricotta and served with a  tomato and basil coulis and that sweet vincotto again ($22). I’d prefer the zucchini flowers battered to give the limp petals a bit of body in order to hold the filling inside, but otherwise the flavours worked well together.

Beef carpaccio has been on the Bottega menu since forever but now they’ve revamped it to a pretty floral clock of Vitello Tonnato ($21). The delicately braised pink veal was paired with some crunchy pickled celery heart and crispy capers and the traditional mayonnaise-like sauce.

Pasta is a speciality at Bottega and the two plates we tried were worthy of a return visit in themselves. Honestly, I’m still dreaming about these dishes!

The individually hand rolled strozzapreti (which translates to strangle the priest!) with seafood and prawn bisque ($26/$37) emanated a bouquet of heady seafood flavours and the twisted pasta held just the right amount of al dente resistance.

The folded parcels of roasted tomato and burrata agnolotti were served unusually with what was effectively a baba ganoush ($24/$32). The smokiness of the eggplant puree was an unexpectedly Middle Eastern touch to a very Italian combination of cheese, tomato and rocket and I’m going to steal this idea to use up the glut of eggplants I seem to be getting lately in my vege box delivery.

Out of the main dishes we tried the Western Plains pork belly, cooked sous vide then pan fried with a dash of peppered apple puree and a crisp square of crackling ($37). If you like pork belly, don’t look any further. The meat and fat melded into a single mouthful with a crust of herbs and spices to lend some body to the meat. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it just looks a bit brown, brown and brown.

Along with pasta another of the kitchen’s main focuses is on housemade sorbetti ($18 for a selection). We were tempted with pear, mango, vanilla and chestnut and peach, each scoop declaring its provenance with clean flavours of fruit and nuts.

My visit to Bottega reminded me why this restaurant has been in business for 10 years now. It delivers excellent food, service and apparently an accessible wine list aimed at diners, not sommeliers in sophisticated yet unpretentious surroundings. Buon appetito!

Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne +61 3 9654 2252
Mon – Wed: 12:00 pm-10:00 pm
Thu – Fri: 12:00 pm-11:00 pm
Sat: 5:30 pm-11:00 pm

Bottega on Urbanspoon