La Camera

446 Chapel Street, South Yarra
Phone: 9827 8531

First off, let’s just be clear this is not the Southbank La Camera. This is the one on that strip of Chapel St which has quite a few non-descript eateries, sandwiched between the Jam Factory and Commercial Road. We were going to see a movie at the Jam Factory, so it seemed natural to grab dinner at one of these places first.

La Camera – “the room” in Italian – is a pretty unpretentious Italian bistro. The service was upbeat and responsive, though the place wasn’t exactly busy the night we stopped in.

I ordered the lasagna, because I was in a meaty mood, and it had been a while since I’d had lasagna. It arrived, as you can see, smothered in extra bolognese sauce, and there was no end to the meat-and-tomato flavour which pretty much defines the dish. It was a touch too acidic from the tomatoes, but I think that’s a sign of freshness (?) and would have liked a little more cheese, but all in all, I wasn’t disappointed.

Mr N had the lemon and lamb risotto, which was nicely subtle. He kindly let me sample a spoonful. I wouldn’t have thought of pairing those two flavours in a risotto, but it worked. The rice seemed just a touch on the over-cooked side for me.

Miss S had the spaghetti napoli – she’s a vegetarian – which she said was good.

Not having been to many of the restaurants along that strip, it’s hard for me to say if La Camera is relatively good or bad, but it serves up decent Italian standards, so if that’s what you’re in the mood for before a movie, I’d say give it a shot. The food came out pretty quickly too, so that helps!

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295 Drummond St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 2998

When my friend Ms J comes to visit from Sydney, it’s often hard to find a place to go for dinner. Ms J was originally from Melbourne, so she knows all the old favourites, and there’s something of an onus for me to try to take her somewhere ‘new’. (New is a relative term here, as she moved to Sydney a few years ago.) I can’t really take her out for Thai or Japanese food, because let’s face it, while I love many of our Thai and Japanese restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney pretty much does it better. So according to Ms J, one cuisine in which Melbourne wins hands down is Italian. Last time she visited, we went to Donnini’s. This time, I thought pizza was in order, so we wandered down to D.O.C.

It was a Sunday night, and the place was pretty much full. People were waiting about 20 minutes for a table inside, but seeing as the frigid Melbourne winter hadn’t kicked in yet, we were happy enough to sit outside, even though in hindsight, it meant that we had to pretty much inhale the pizza to eat it before it got cold. Which isn’t really too far from my regular pizza-eating practice anyhow, I guess. Oh, and being outdoors in the streetlight is what accounts for the extremely poor lighting in the following photographs!

D.O.C. is one of those thin crust, minimal toppings pizza joints. I’m not an authority on the subject, but general consensus is that this is the more ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ style of pizza. I can see why this style has gained ascendancy, being considered more ‘high-end’, because the minimalism really highlights the quality of the ingredients, and there’s not really any way for the restaurant to hide a poor or mediocre product. Thankfully, D.O.C. doesn’t need to hide anything. The base – the base! – is superb. Thin, crispy yet yielding, without the breadiness which you get at a lot of pizza places. I think it’s a toss up between D.O.C. and Ladro as to which has the best crust in town (that I’ve tried). You should check out MSG’s Pizza Battles for a definitive competition.

Ms J ordered the Pizza D.O.C., with the house special buffalo mozzarella and basil. The mozzarella really is something worth trying; it’s one of those “I don’t care if I’m lactose intolerant and I’ll pay for this later!” moments.

I had the Pizza Napoletana, because I had a hankering for anchovies that night. This pizza delivered, in spades. Beautifully salty, oily goodness. Tempered by the slightly acidic tomato and the rich mozzarella. This combination just really works for me. One sad note: I had a pip in one of my olives, which was a little unexpected. I’ll still be back for more, nonetheless.

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571 Chapel St, South Yarra
Phone: 9826 9516

It was a cold autumn’s night. A Tuesday night, which might explain why we were turned away at 11pm at the Italian Waiter’s Club; though I thought the point of that place was because it’s always open late. I guess not. With a hankering for pasta, the thought struck Mr N: Chapelli’s! The “we never close” sign remains conveniently etched somewhere in the recesses of my mind, so I was sure Mr N was onto a sure bet.

When we arrived, the place was still rather lively. So much so that we asked for a table up the back, away from the bustling crowds. This was something of a mistake, because it took a while for the waiters to remember we were there, and come take our order.

I ordered the spaghetti all’arrabiata, which interestingly came smothered with cheese. Not that it was a bad thing, but I’m fairly sure it’s not a traditional touch? It also didn’t stop me adding parmesan and chilli flakes. The all’arrabiata had a decent kick (after I added chilli) and was quite satisfying. Were it not closing in on midnight, and were I not keenly aware I was consuming large portions of carbs, I probably would’ve finished it off. As it was, I wasn’t up to the ask that night.

Mr N ordered the penne off the specials board. I believe there was spinach and chorizo involved? It, too, left him happily satisfied, and he also couldn’t finish it all.

Now I don’t think Chapelli’s is great, nor is it awfully bad. But I think during regular restaurant business hours, you could definitely find better places to go. Late at night, however, when you’re in that rare mood where Chinese, Malaysian, souvlakis or burgers just aren’t going to satisfy you, it’s something of an Italian godsend.

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320 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 3128

I had a couple of friends who were in town recently; one from Sydney who had never been to Melbourne before. The request was for good Italian food, which is apparently hard to find in Sydney (Sydney-sider’s words, not mine). I was originally going to take them to Maria’s (which I love) but it was booked out on the Friday night, so I crowdsourced another place to try. We ended up at Donnini’s.

The majority of the table ordered the tris di pasta (a selection of three pastas), while a couple ordered the tagliatelle with a pork sausage ragu.

I have often walked past the Donnini pasta shop, eyeing off the fresh pasta, and as such went for the artichoke agnolotti with burnt butter and sage. The flavour of the artichoke was delicate, which worked nicely with the burnt butter.

The service was a little patchy, and I was disappointed that they don’t do BYO. Mostly because I still haven’t gotten around to drinking the bottle of wine that said Sydney-sider had given me for Christmas last year! I thought this would be a good chance to share it with her, but alas no dice.

All in all, Donnini’s is a ‘nice’ place to go for Italian on Lygon St, if you have genteel guests. I prefer my Italian food a little more rustic/hearty/plentiful, which isn’t what Donnini’s excels at. It’s more of a contemporary bistro type of place, I thought.

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Maria’s Trattoria

122 Peel St North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 9016

I’m lucky to work not too far from this great Italian restaurant. It does involve a quick ride on a tram, but it’s very much worth it. Even if you have to shell out for a 2 hour ticket just for the occasion, because the price of your lunch plus the price of said ticket is still insanely reasonable.

This day (my birthday lunch with the office colleagues) I had the fettucine with Italian sausage and broccoli. Based on prior experience, I knew to order the entree, and not the main. The main is seriously only for the brave-hearted and the cavernous bellied.

While it was quite busy (Friday lunchtime) and the food took some time to arrive, the pasta was wonderful. Fresh, al dente, and smothered in a tasty tomato sauce.

While I understand pasta is cheap to produce, I have to wonder how serving such mammoth plates for such low prices (the average entree pasta is $12.90) can result in a net profit!?

EDIT: We went back a couple weeks later for another colleague’s birthday lunch. Many more photos this time!

Left to right: Penne puttanesca; Spaghetti and meatballs; Tortellini con pollo e funghi

Spaghetti bolognese and Ravioli con pollo e avocado

Spaghetti con cozze (with mussels)

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