The partnership of Remo Nicollini, restauranteur, and Lino Maglione, master pizza maker, have recently opened a new casual Italian eatery called Itali.co in St Kilda. The two previously owned award winning pizzerias +39 and one of my CBD pizza haunts Espressino, then moved away to build the original Itali.co in Sorrento and start Docklands favourite Non Solo Pasta.
I was invited to sample selected dishes from Itali.co‘s current and incoming Autumn menu and my meal highlighted that the kitchen of Itali.co does everything with care and consideration under head chef Piero Roldo, previously of South Yarra stalwart Da Noi and his Sardinian assistants.
While it’s time consuming, the pastas are made in house, even down to the squid ink used in the tagliolini which will be appearing in the new menu with a large shell of Moreton Bay bug and a generous melange snapper, calamari and prawns in a simple tomato sauce.
The charcuterie and cheeses are mostly imported from Italy, all presented impressively as a decorative feature in a cold fridge.
The wine list is a mix of Australian and imported and bottles are similarly lined in a glass feature wall by the bar.
For entertainment value watch the pizza makers at work. Lino comes from a long line of Neapolitan pizza makers and his recipe is simple – a mix of Italian and Australian flour, very cold water, Italian salt.
The bases are ‘opened’ on the Carrara marble bench with a few deft circles as the orders come reeling in – he doesn’t believe in lining up bases ready to go as it affects the taste and texture. Bases are smeared with homemade sugo of tomato, olive oil, salt before toppings are added. Simple.
The pizzas are then lifted off the bench onto an aluminium shovel with a sieve (so loose flour doesn’t burn in the oven or on the pizza base) and slid immediately into the mouth of an impressive piece of machinery – a $50,000 Marana pizza oven which combines the smokeyness and flavour of wood grill with the consistency of a gas oven. The oven has a unique rotating plate with air circulating through a honeycomb structure in the stone that allows a single pizza maker to perfectly cook up to 18 pizzas at a time in about 2 minutes!
The end result is quite amazing. A paper-thin base charred to a perfect crispness and with an impressive strength in holding the weight of toppings. Nothing slides off! Definitely one of the best pizza bases I’ve had in Melbourne and enhanced by quality of ingredients such as in the simple Regina Margherita – tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin Ligurian olive oil ($15).
The must-try pizza is the one recently crowned best pizza by The Age Good Food Under $30 guide. It’s called ‘Bunga Bunga’ ($18.50), so named after the nickname of notorious Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi because it contains Italian sausage! Add to that smoked scamorza, friarielli (Neapolitan broccoli) and a little bit of a pick-me-up in the form of the fresh chilli oil offered at every table and it’s a winner in my book too.
Of the non-pizza dishes highlights include the fat nuggets of seared scallop paired with large quenelles of creamy cauliflower ‘pannacotta’ and slow cooked boneless rack of rabbit filled with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and basil served with a surprisingly delicious flaky red cabbage strudel ($16.50), both from the starters section.
If you’re not in the mood for pizza or want to pair it with other dishes then there’s a selection of meat and fish main courses as well. My recommendation goes to a very juicy piece of pan-fried crispy skinned barramundi served with a jumble of eggplant caponata and fleshy mussels.
For dessert the house specialty is the cassata ($11). It’s not the ice cream and glace fruit dessert I expect but the Sicilian version of the sweet, which is a combination of sponge, the freshest ricotta, fruit and nuts. Itali.co serves it with some strawberries and a cartoonish splash of dark chocolate fondue.
The space can get noisy as the sound bounces from the black and white Escher pattern tiling to the stone floors and the ceramic table tops. If the weather’s balmy you can sup under the small terrace instead.
With excellent food at prices like these, I predict Itali.co will do extremely well. Andiamo!
Itali.co, 1/173-177 Barkly Street, St Kilda +61 3 9537 5300
5pm till late 7 days a week