• Itali.Co (Barkly Street, St Kilda)

Opened by Remo Nicolini (famous for establishing the inner-city pizzeria +39) and Lino Maglione (award winning pizza expert and traditionalist), Itali.Co is in the heart of Italy whilst on the St Kilda scene.  Inviting us for a bloggers dinner, I could not wait to meet fellow bloggers and try some delicious Italian cuisine with high expectations.

Remo greeted us as we entered and after introductions, the question was: wine, the answer was: of course.  Sipping a glass of Tiefenbrunner 2011 Sauvignon, we discussed the un-sauvignon tastes whilst waiting for the others to arrive.  Its scent was of sauvignon, fruity with full fresh grapes.  In the mouth it was dry with sturdy acid, fruit of green grapes and mineral overtones.  It was Italian but from the north near Switzerland.

A trip through the kitchen followed with an education about pasta and pizza.  Pasta perfectionist Piero Roldo explained how to make tagliolina, which is as much about instinct and tradition as it is about science.  How thick should the pasta be?  There are no rulers, he has to feel it.

The pizza section held the same integrity for the food and tradition.  Leno demonstrated the dough making, explaining the importance of using fresh yeast, kneading on marble, not letting the dough sit around due to moisture, and allowing enough time for it to rise.  Other than Leno, the stand-out in the pizza kitchen is the Marana oven which operates on wood with a gas back up, to give a wood-fired taste without the hassle of having to watch the pizzas constantly or moving them to accommodate inconsistent temperatures.  Put it in the rotating oven, and a few minutes later, it is done.  Not even expert taste testers could tell the difference.

By this stage, stomachs were growling from the overly enticing demonstrations.  It was, luckily, time to eat.

Catering for vegetarians, Remo’s description of an antipasto then pizza, was not exactly what was delivered.
It started with figs.  Fresh figs.  Ripe and juicy in a carpaccio with blue vein cheese.  It was cold and peppery with fig skins face down and fig puree.  Rocket sat on top along with a drizzling of balsamic.  It was so fresh and delightful, using common flavours but in a different way.  I love figs.

This went well with a Terzini, Cerasuloo D’Abruzzo, Rose.  It smelt like strawberries and tasted like raspberry jelly, an interesting flavour for wine to hold.

Next was eggplant parmigiana, traditional, typical and Italian.  It smelt delicious.  Served very hot, I was instantly warming to this one.  The tomato went all the way through the layers of eggplant and mozzarella was on top.  I love eggplant.

The beetroot ravioli is apparently their signature vegetarian dish.  Like the eggplant, this was so fragrant.  The scent of the brown nut butter made my mouth water even more.  The pasta was fresh and cooked al dente.  Inside was bright red beetroot, that tasted just like beetroot but was grainy in texture.  I asked for their secret.  98% beetroot, then breadcrumbs and amaretti biscuits.  I would not have guessed that.  I loved this dish for the creativity in using simple ingredients but in an innovative way.  Plus, it tasted sublime.

The others were eating some meaty dish but were salivating over the mashed potato.  Ok, so I had to try this too.  It was buttery and smooth with a slight saltiness of parmesan.  The beans were pleasantly still crunchy whilst being fully cooked, taken off at the perfect moment.  These tasted like they had been done in butter as well as olive oil.

Wine moved back to white with a Terzini 2011 Pecorino.  This was very pale in colour so that it was almost clear.  It was a very interesting smell, almost like the cheese pecorino itself.  Despite this it was a fresh young wine, dry, mineral and with subtle fruit of lime.

Pizza.  I love pizza.

There were two types.  The first was tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil.  The crust was very thin, only heavier on the crust.  The flavours were strong with tomato and basil.  It was simple but good.  I also tried the chilli oil on this one, it held more heat than most.

The tartufata was with mushrooms on a truffle cream base.  This was delightfully fragrant with truffle.  The cheese on this one was stringy and made for interesting textures with the crunchy base and mushrooms.  The truffle was subtle and there was a refreshing bitterness and freshness from the contrasting rocket.

On to red with the pizza, a Chianti Classio by Cecchi, 2009.  It smelt dusty and of berries.  The colour was dark red.  It tasted dry with heavy tannins and texture on the tongue.

We did not need dessert.  But then we needed it also.

The cassata was rolls of cake with spices, dried fruit and fresh ricotta.  Dark chocolate was melted and artistically splattered on the side.  It was very interesting with lots of flavours and textures.

More dessert?  Surely not.  But we had to try the Nutella pizza.  Why does melted Nutella always smell so good?  This had a crispy base and was slightly bitter as if they had put salt in the dough.

I was so excited by the whole experience of Itali.Co.  I was amazed at how fragrant each dish was, and at the integrity of the food and its Italian roots.  Figs are just at the end of their season, I was told, but to have them so fresh and flavoursome in the dishes showed how committed they are to quality produce.  Not only was each course delicious, but it took Italian traditions and put them together in innovative ways.

Perhaps the most telling was the food envy from the young meat-eater sitting next to me (he had just enjoyed copious seafood, beef and who knows what else).

"Wow," he said (after having eyed off my figs, parmigiana and ravioli),  "I'll have to come back here as a vegetarian next time."

1/173-177 Barkly Street
St Kilda 3182
03 9537 5300

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