Mario’s Cafe

303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 3343

About a decade ago – and I can’t believe I just wrote that – I used to go to Melbourne Uni, so naturally, I spent a fair amount of time in and around Carlton and Fitzroy. While time marches on, and many things change, some stay the same. Like Mario’s.

Famous for the career waiters with an attitude which, depending on who you ask, is either surly, no-nonsense, or charming, Mario’s has been dishing up reliably good Italian food since well before I first went there in the late ’90s. So when meeting up for dinner with a group of Mr N’s friends and a little unsure of where to go, we went for the safe and familiar option. The fact it was across the road from Black Pearl, where we were knocking back aperitifs helped its cause, too.

My attention was caught by the specials board, and I ordered the lamb rump with eggplant mash, beans, red capsicum and goat’s cheese.

It was alright, but the eggplant mash needed seasoning, and was a little on the lukewarm side. The lamb was well cooked, but again, under-seasoned. Perhaps this was just some sort of Italian restraint thing I don’t get, but I thought the dish could have done with a sauce.
Mr N’s friend Mr N (confusing when you shorten people’s names to a single letter!) ordered the lasagne, which looked of quite a decent size, but having just come from the gym, he was left a little unsatisfied. Note to bodybuilders: order two serves of pasta at Mario’s.

Mr C had the baked gnocchi with bacon and ricotta (or fetta, I can’t remember – which do you think it is?). It looked like a smallish dish, but being gnocchi, it doesn’t take a lot to fill you up. He was very happy with his choice. I think I would have been too.

Mr N and Miss K both chose to have the braised lamb shank, which looked and smelled great. A super hearty meal, which was what the drizzly Winter night called for.
Mr J went for the classic steak, which came out with homely looking vegetables and potato rosti. Again, looks like it could have dealt with a little saucing, or some mustard?
Mario’s doesn’t really do sophisticated food. But if you’re after somewhere ‘safe’ to take a group of people you don’t know very well, it’s a pretty good option.

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