What to order at Pepe’s Italian & Liquor

Published on 18 September 2019

Photo: Pepe's Italian & Liquor (credit: Gareth Sobey)

Your inside word on the CBD’s new Italian-American diner from owner Nick Kutcher and chef Orazio Cutuli

Exhibition Street landmark Trunk has diversified its offer and is now home to Pepe’s Italian & Liquor. The food mood-board is dialled to post-war Italo-American, with a décor to fit. (If you’re looking for a place to have a sit-down with a corrupt police captain and a guy who’s been encroaching on your family’s turf, look no further.) Spicy vodka rigatoni and clams casino (the classic American baked clams with guanciale, garlic butter and pangrattato) are present and correct, as are steak tartare and a hefty veal parma. But it’s by no means just an exercise in nostalgia, with the menu rounded out by the likes of tortellini filled with whipped buffalo mozzarella on ragù, and focaccia di squacquerone – house-made focaccia filled with melted squacquerone cheese (it’s pronounced something like “skwa-kwe-ROH-nay”, but “super creamy soft fresh cow’s milk cheese” is easier to say). Not sure where to dive in? Owner Nick Kutcher is here to help.

How about a drink?

We’ve given a whole page of the drinks list to Martinis. Generally, I just close my eyes and point somewhere on the list; this approach has served me very well so far. If you’re looking for something beyond the cocktail standards, allow me to suggest a Burnt Popcorn Manhattan. The popcorn and macadamia bitters add a fun, nutty twist to this classic.

I’m here for a good time not a long time.

If you’re just dropping in for a quick snack, hit the polpette al sugo. It’s beautifully cooked pork and veal meatballs in a rich Napoli sauce. Grab some garlic bread, chase it with a glass of Pipoli fiano, and you’re good to go.

Got anything light and fresh?

The grilled market fish is your go-to there – we serve it with sauce gribiche and steamed broccolini with lemon. The tuna chop is pretty great, too, as are the Waldorf and Caesar salads.

I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals. What have you got for me?

We’ve got your back. Kick off with baked buffalo ricotta with pesto and crostino and maybe our eggplant Parmigiana. I would then share our funghi fettuccine with Soave, parmesan and thyme, a garden salad and The Ortolana – a vegetarian pizza which has a different combination of toppings on every slice. If you’re eating vegan we can also make you up some tasty pasta and pizza.

What about if we’re in the mood to go big? Let’s go crazy.

We have two wine lists. Our main list has 80 great-value wines all under $100, and most of them around the $40- or $50-mark. But if you want to get a little cray-cray, ask for our reserve list. It’s a selection of 60 of the great wines of world, with natural bias towards the Italians. If was planning to give it a nudge, I’d start the night with a bottle of 2008 Cristal, then move into a 2016 Benjamin Leroux Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru and finish with a Massolino Riserva 2012 Barolo. And to eat? Pizza. This place is all about the fun, after all.

Ermahgerd. I’m absolutely stuffed. I couldn’t fit in another bite. What’s for dessert?

Our ice-cream sundae for two would be perfect, even if there’s four of you.

Pepe’s Italian & Liquor, 275 Exhibition St, Melbourne, (03) 9663 7994, pepesitalian.com.au