The Town Hall Hotel is a handsome gastropub where you can expect fine dining quality of food and service, without having to wear your best frock or bear the fine dining prices.

The bistro menu has a heavy Italian focus and spans small, medium and large plates to cater for any appetite (they also have a sharing bar menu). A particularly good deal is their lunch special available Tuesday to Saturdays – 2 courses (with items mostly from the a la carte menu), a glass of wine and coffee for $35.

We visited for lunch on a weekday and were greeted warmly by the waiter. There were only a few diners so service was very attentive, with water glasses filled, orders promptly taken and crumbs and plates cleared.

A friend had recommended their amazing gnocchi so W ordered a medium dish of gnocchi with a simple sauce of aged balsamic, butter and parmesan ($20). D also ordered a medium dish of seafood taglierini ($25) while I went the full hog with the two course lunch special, selecting a sweet corn risotto with quail and crispy pancetta and a raspberry and vanilla cassata for dessert.

The gnocchi lived up to expectations – soft pillows that melted in your mouth with the texture of marshmallow rather than potato and flour. Can anyone tell me what the trick is for such featherlight dumplings?

The pasta was equally simple but well-executed – a seafood melange tossed in a classic olive oil, garlic and chilli mix served over delicate, al dente pasta.

My risotto was perfect – a smooth porridge-like consistency while still retaining the bite of individual rice grains. The dessert was very berry sweet and very cold, a perfect way to appreciate the warm Spring weather on the day.

I’ve also had dinner at the Town Hall Hotel before, when the dining room was much busier, but I think I actually prefer the quieter ambience of the lunchtime. Either way, it’s a refined yet relaxed gastropub that’s worth a visit.

Town Hall Hotel, 166 Johnston St, Fitzroy +61 3 9416 5055

Town Hall Hotel on Urbanspoon