What to order at Massi

Published on 29 March 2021

Photo: Joe Vargetto at Massi

The inside word on the restaurant's renaissance from owner and chef Joe Vargetto.

Joe Vargetto's CBD venue, Massi, is an intimate Little Collins Street spot that’s all about modern Sicilian cuisine. It opened in 2016 and quickly won a strong following in the CBD, but the location proved very challenging during the pandemic, and the restaurant's doors were closed for most of 2020. Now, as Melbourne roars back to life, Massi is ready for its close-up all over again. Vargetto, who also owns Mister Bianco in Kew, shares his favourites from the new menu with us here.  

"First, I’d like you to know that you can order or not order,” he says. "You can just say 'I'll leave it to you' – we have a secret chef's menu and if you ask, Jade, our restaurant manager, will hook you up."

Which of the dishes on the new menu best captures the vibe at Massi right now?
I want to really impress you and showcase how excited we are to be reopening our beloved space, and we’ve put a lot of thought into the menu to capture our love for hospo and for cooking. Take our steak crudo, which is a take on steak tartare but with Italian accent. My thinking is that raw meat requires textures and bitter and sweet flavours, so we give ours crunch with pistachio and a crisp beef cracker, and then bring in agrodolce onion and the saltiness of a parmesan custard for a beautiful opera of flavours. The squid-ink cavatelli, meanwhile, are a little moody, with a rawness of the sea coming from the just-cooked clams and shavings of calamari, and salty bottarga.

How about a drink?
I love Lino Ramble 'Solitaire' Grillo – Aussies doing great things with Sicilian varieties. Beyond that, how can you go wrong with a glass of Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Gran Brut Cuvee Docg or a glass of Ruggeri Prosecco?

What if I’m here for a good time not a long time? 
The fried zucchini flowers are a good time. Light, crunchy with roasted eggplant and fried in a batter made with chickpea flour. Our Sicilian Sangria goes very well with them. I came up with this during lockdown and bottled a recipe my parents used to make when they made their homemade wine. It’s a mix of things like “bad or high tannic wine gone good”; we add peach juice, moscato, basil, cinnamon, black pepper and orange. It’s a perfect pairing.

Got anything light and fresh?
Our burrata has many elements to create a good feeling. They’re small, and made by hand so each looks different. We serve them with beetroots prepared in different ways – thinly sliced, crunchy, different colors and simply dressed, pickled in mosto cotto – along with black olives dried and crushed to create a crumb, plus a delicate green sauce of basil, lemon and pumpkin seed.  

I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
We love that at Massi; if you don’t eat animals it's no problem. We have lots to choose from. I really do want to cater for all. If you want to eat vegan, we have dishes that we can create on the fly or tailor for you. On the menu for vegetarians, there’s the burrata, but the mushroom arancini are also one of my favourites. Golden little rice balls filled with provolone that melts and oozes out when you take the first bite. Dip them in the porcini aïoli. Tortelloni verde makes for an indulgent vegetable pasta dish. Beautiful green silky sheets made with spinach and filled with roasted pumpkin then simply tossed with a little olive oil and amaretto.

Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
When you give us the nod and ask us to really showcase our food and service we go all out. Firstly we need to get you a drink to start. Our Negroni Sbagliato will loosen you up, ready to enjoy a fabulous time. Then we’ll ask you if you would like us to prepare a tasting menu with matching wines. We love to open bottles of wine like Barolo to have part of your tasting menu. We can then sell it by the glass if there's any left over.

We love to give generous, informed service and let you in on a little story behind each dish. The steak crudo, for instance, is derived from a trip to Torino and the dish battuta di manzo – it’s a Piedmontese classic for which the meat is seasoned simply with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, keeping the original flavour of the meat. For the Massi version  I wanted to create more texture and use other elements as well as a little of my French influence

And to close?
I think our dessert list gives a fantastic opportunity to display our fun side. They’re little playful plates. Traditional mini-Sicilian cassata: so cute, and so authentic you could be in Palermo. We also have cannoli, draped in fine gold leaf and filled with dark chocolate mousse, and we also do a lemon drop shaped like a lemon, coated with lemon and white-chocolate around a mousse and sponge cake.

Massi reopens 12 April, 445 Little Collins St, Melbourne, 03 9670 5347, massi.com.au, @massi_osteria


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