Cucina Povera Vino Vero, the CBD spot of Maurice Terzini and Joseph Vargetto, officially opens as a restaurant on Wednesday, with waiters in white jackets and bow ties and a Brutalist-inspired room contrasting simple, peasant Italian cuisine.
After launching an introductory bar menu last week, Cucina Povera is ready to seat guests at dressed tables and serve dishes such as lentil pasta and fried garfish with boiled potatoes and cheese. sorrel.
Terzini and Vargetto’s highly personal project blends several influences, including anti-consumerism and Italian migrant culture, particularly the garage kitchens that anchored Italian social life in mid-20th-century Australia.
“This is an opportunity to tell that story,” says Vargetto. “Not just about the Italian immigrant, but about all the immigrants who came to this beautiful land and enriched it.”
Vargetto’s Little Collins Street Massi Restaurant has been stripped down by Latitude designers, leaving a minimalist space dominated by concrete-look walls and long bottle-green curtains.
“It’s a bit of a wake-up call for me that you don’t have to spend excessive amounts of money to create something very beautiful,” says Terzini.
Black furniture is offset by touches of green and red marble, and artwork was first seen at the Melbourne Wine Room, St Kilda’s influential Terzini venue opened in 1996.
As with his first venture, Caffe e Cucina in the 1980s, Terzini is improving service, something he is very proud of.
“It’s this juxtaposition of something very simple [on the plate]but also by offering the best possible service,” he says.
At Cucina Povera, only eight wines are offered by the glass, sourced from producers who favor biodynamic and low-intervention methods. The glassware is modest unless you order the Negroni Sbagliato, which is served in a fishbowl-shaped glass, a nod to the drink’s creator, Milan’s Bar Basso. Other cocktails by Joe Jones (ex Romeo Lane) are what he describes as “analog bartending”.
The menu is a time capsule of an older Italy, says Vargetto, who inherited recipes from his mother. “A lot of people who are in Italy, they don’t even know [these] Longer.”
Stripped-down plates such as grilled mozzarella in a lemon leaf join braised pork jowls with parsnips and prunes, or ricotta gnocchi with mashed broad beans and stuffed mushrooms.
“Halftime Football Oranges,” a dessert of caramelized orange with whipped cream, is one of many dishes with a very personal story attached.
“That’s the beauty of Cucina Povera: it’s the interaction,” says Vargetto (pictured, left).
“We bring everyone together,” says Terzini (pictured, right). “We want people to talk more, interact, flirt.”
Open for lunch Thursday to Friday, evening Wednesday to Saturday from June 29
445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9670 5347, cucinapovera.flywheelsites.com