41 Little Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
I had been promising my sister a pasta and gelato date for the next time I’m in Melbourne for months, only to realise a few days before coming back that the only day we can go out is on a Sunday… the day which Grossi Cellar Bar, my sister’s favourite place for pasta, happens to be closed. After a bit of frantic searching on my part, I found Lupino – a well-established and well-reviewed Italian restaurant that I’ve oddly never come across in all my years exploring Melbourne.
Located in a very non-descript white brick building with nothing but a small neon wolf to point it out, Lupino feels like a traditional Italian bistro – casual enough to drop-in for a work lunch, but old-fashioned enough for linen napkins. As we were visiting at 1pm on a Sunday, I didn’t think I would need to book. As it turned out however, it was a full house, and we ended up perched on a couple seats at the end of the bar, which suited us just fine.
Oh free bread, how I’ve missed you. Sydney doesn’t seem to believe in complimentary bread, so I practically inhaled this freshly sliced sourdough. It was really very excellent, the bread dense but not stodgy, and still warm in the centre. And whilst fresh butter (instead of the packaged stuff served here) would’ve rounded things out nicely, I really can’t complain when the bread is so good.
I’m really into my cauliflower these days, so much so that I forwent arancini and meatballs for the Cauliflower Fritto ($14.5). These didn’t disappoint; served piping hot, each piece of cauliflower was coated with a super crisp and nubbly batter that carried a surprising amount of flavour. They were all well and good in their own right, but you can bump things up a notch with the addition of garlic aioli, house-made chilli oil, or pickled anchovies. My personal favourite is the combination of tangy, briny anchovy with the warmth of chilli oil, whilst my sister preferred hers with all the aioli she could scoop up on her fork.
My sister’s favourite ever pasta is the kind with sausage and greens in a white wine sauce (I know, she’s very fancy for a 16-year-old), but unfortunately Lupino had nothing of the sort that day. Luckily, the Cavatelli ($29) made for a very good substitute. The ragu, enriched with beautifully ripe tomatoes, was elevated from the norm with its substitution of chunky pork sausage for the usual mince. The little nubbins of pasta were super toothsome, and perfect for scooping up in big, sauce-slathered forkfuls. This was another great one to have with chilli oil.
Wanting to try something a little different, I decided on the Beetroot Agnolotti ($27), and I’m happy to say that my gamble paid off. The beautifully slick and chewy sheets of pasta were folded around a creamy puree of beetroot, and served in a pool of buttery smoked ricotta sauce with plenty of cheese grated over the top. This really was something rather special, the addictive sweet and savoury combination absolutely worth a try, even for those who would normally avoid beetroot.
Whilst the food at Lupino is very much as good as promised – classic Italian fare reimagined with a slightly more modern edge – I have some mixed feelings about the experience overall, even if I did have a great time with my sister. I was very much happy with the food, but the waitron who served us was brusque, inattentive, and borderline rude. The menu wasn’t explained, water wasn’t offered, and each dish was dumped in front of us with barely a glance in our direction. We ended up feeling a bit like we were just a nuisance to our waitron, and that she was keen to get us in and out as fast as possible. Mind you, the food and the overall atmosphere is good enough to tempt me back, but maybe next time I’ll make a booking, so I won’t end up sitting back at the bar.
Rating: 13.5/20 – don’t sit at the bar.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.