Leanne Clancey discovers sibling rivalry can be a good thing when it results in a sophisticated offering like Melbourne’s Osteria Ilaria.

Forget Flinders Lane, there’s a new dining precinct emerging in Melbourne’s former camping supplies quarter. Within a short stretch, Little Bourke Street (between Elizabeth and Queen) has triumphed over the puffer jackets, day packs and tourist-trap tackiness of nearby Hardware Lane to spawn some of the city’s best dining, with names like Kirk’s Wine Bar, Tipo 00 and French Saloon leading the charge.

For fans of Tipo 00 – that most revered of backstreet Melbourne Italians – the recent-ish arrival of its next-door sibling Osteria Ilaria comes as good news indeed. With some of the best pasta in town and seating for just 40 diners, Tipo was always gonna break a few hearts. But sophisticated big sister Ilaria – which houses 90 and welcomes walk-ins for drinks and/or snacks at the bar – isn’t just there to satisfy the overflow, it’s a seriously worthy destination in itself.

Even though we’re almost an hour late (3pm lunch, anyone?), we arrive to a room that is both welcoming and buzzy. Grainy old soul tunes play and staff glide across the floor with the kind of confidence that comes from being part of a team where everybody’s on the same page: skilled, knowledgeable, passionate.

Designed by architect Briony Morgan, the interiors embody that attractive ‘certain something’ – understated, charming – that Melbourne venues do so well: marble-topped pass, glowing open kitchen, mixed format seating and sympathetic lighting.

While sister Tipo is known for its transcendental pasta, Ilaria broadens chef/owner Andreas Papadakis’s scope, with seafood and game playing starring roles. As we found, perhaps the best way to explore Ilaria’s greatest hits is through the chef’s selection menu. With roughly 12 shared dishes spread over four courses, at $70 per head it offers exceptional value.

Round one started strong with Papadakis’s exemplary, crisp-meets-creamy porcini mushroom croquettes, and only went north from there. Highlights include an uber-fresh Spanish mackerel tartare with wild garlic and turnips, and the paccheri pasta (large tubes) filled with plump Crystal Bay prawns and garnished with the sour tang of fresh sorrel. Desserts, such as the caraway-laced pistachio semifreddo, display commendable restraint and provide a nice bookend to the well-paced, perfectly serviced proceedings.

Drinks are a major focus here, and at a lazy 10 pages long, the epic international wine list provides reason to step outside your usual routine. Start, perhaps, with a Porto Spritz (white port, dark rum and tonic) and from here, place yourself into the capable hands of co-owner Luke Skidmore and sommelier Raul Moreno Yague for the remainder of the journey.

The nice thing about Melbourne venues that so effortlessly blur the boundaries of the bar/restaurant divide is their do-as-you-feel flexibility. So whether it’s a mojo-reviving date night dinner; a stolen moment for a Negroni and a few bar snacks at cocktail hour; or (as we did) a slow, multi-course weekend lunch, you can relax knowing you’re not breaking any rules here.

 

Details: Osteria Ilaria

Osteria Ilaria, 367 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Vic.

Verdict: A sexy older sister to sibling Tipo 00, Ilaria is effortlessly cool, quietly sophisticated and unmistakably Melbourne. An instant classic.

Score: 4/5

We rated: The seamless, intuitive service and the generous four-course chef’s selection menu.

We’d change: The wait list to get in (try booking a late lunch instead).

Notes: Open Monday through to Saturday from 11:30am until late; walk-ins accommodated at the bar.

 

All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.