“Buongiorno” says your host, fitted in a neatly pressed white shirt and apron. They’ll lead you to your table, passing the curved, marble-topped bar and shelves lined with bottles of grappa and Tuscan reds. The blinds are rarely up, increasing the feeling that this is a secret club right in the heart of the pedestrian action on Little Collins Street.
Il Bacaro is a godfather of the CBD’s dining scene, taking old-school hosting and pairing it with a modern-Italian menu. Joe Mammone (also behind Sarti) honed this service style while working in restaurants in New York in the late ’90s. He owns Il Bacaro with Graeme Ballentine, who takes care of the numbers.
Since opening in 1995 as part of a Little Collins development, Il Bacaro has become more of a restaurant than the wine bar it was originally intended to be. Decades on it’s still serving Melbourne’s business elite, touring tenors and visitors staying in nearby hotels.
There are two standout savoury dishes: the shallow-fried calamari and the Moreton Bay bug spaghettini. For something sweet to balance out the pasta, try the agave-nectar cheesecake with blueberry sorbet, crystallised violet, fairy floss and a fun surprise of pop rocks.
The hefty wine list contains more than 400 choices. Naturally, Italian bottles dominate, with offerings from Tuscany, Umbria and Barolo.
A recipe from Il Bacaro is featured in The Broadsheet Italian Cookbook. Buy your copy at shop.broadsheet.com.au.