Published on 6 November 2019
Bustling Hardware Lane is about to get even busier with the opening of The Hardware Club, the latest in a string of Italian-leaning restaurants in Melbourne. Owners Nicola Dusi and Andrea Ceriani bring all the Italo cred you could wish for: the childhood friends are both natives of Verona, who have done time in Melbourne restaurants including D.O.C. Pizza, Baby and +39 Pizzeria, of which Ceriani was co-owner.
With a lunch menu geared towards pizza and pasta, by night The Hardware Club dials it up with a sweep of regional dishes including Campania’s zucchini scapece and octopus Luciana alongside Venetian signatures such as sardines in saor. The restaurant marks a new phase for the historic Hardware House building, but Dusi and Ceriani also have plans for a standalone bar in the coming months where they can show off classic Italian cocktails and an Italo-Australian wine list. We’re ready.
Which dishes best tell The Hardware Club story?
The octopus paccheri with smoked mozzarella cream. We prepare the octopus the way they do in Campania, braising it with tomatoes and then serving it at room temperature. We think this dish and its ingredients sum up a traditional Sunday lunch in this part of Italy.
We have a chicken sausage dish on the menu that is served with pickles and home-made tabasco – but it won’t be for everyone. The chicken neck is de-boned, stuffed and then served with the head intact. We like it because it’s a traditional Tuscan recipe and comes from the school of not wasting anything from the animal.
Then there’s the ricotta gnocchi with vignarola of late spring vegetables, a Roman dish that’s great for vegetarians. Beautiful seasonal greens are lightly braised and the gnocchi is made with fresh buffalo ricotta.
Burrata with zucchini scapece (credit: Josh Robenstone)
How about a drink?
We have lots of interesting digestives from Iconic Beverages that are a great way for you to experience something new each time you visit. We really like Braulio, Fernet Branca, Averna and Montenegro.
For the wine-lovers, we’ve put together a mix of Italian and Australian wines and we’ve tried to collaborate with as many Italo-Australian families as we can. We’re also working with Giorgio De Maria, the OG of interesting wines, to introduce some adventurous options to the list.
Got anything light and fresh?
You can’t go wrong with the whipped buffalo ricotta with Doncaster tomatoes. It’s soft and refreshing and the tomatoes with salt flakes and Alto Vividus extra-virgin olive oil make for the most amazing little flavour bombs. But the whipped cod pizzaiola is a tasty and surprisingly subtle bite, and the cos lettuce salad with orange and fennel is super refreshing.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
The burrata with zucchini scapece, spiked with saffron cream, is an excellent vegetarian party starter. Coming to the menu soon is our zucchini in olive oil with fresh stracchino.
As for pizza on the dinner menu at the moment, the Margherita is probably the ultimate vegetarian dish of all time. We can also easily turn it into a vegan dish, serving it with lots of fresh fragrant herbs.
What if I’m here for a good time not a long time.
Our favourite anchovies in the world are Don Bocarte. They are from the Gulf of Biscay in Spain and we keep them on our menu almost all the time, serving them with toasted bread and parsley butter. It’s a great snack, perfect with a glass of prosecco after work.
We also have fried mozzarella toasties inspired by the mozzarella in carrozza. We add lots of pecorino and black pepper, which makes it a sort of cacio e pepe-style toastie.
You also can’t go wrong with some prosciutto di Parma and a glass of sangiovese.
Pork, fennel and chilli sausage with silverbeet and chilli oil (credit: Josh Robenstone)
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
At the moment we are serving a coiled sausage the size of a vinyl record that's perfect for sharing. It comes with silverbeet and chilli oil. If fish is more your thing, the whole rainbow trout from our friends at Buxton in the Yarra Valley is a top pick. It’s butterflied and then gently roasted in the oven and has the sweetest, softest texture. We serve it with a fennel, shallot and parsley salad and sour cream mixed with the trout's roe.
If you need to feed a really big crowd, we’ve got a custom-built oven that fits a 25-kilogram deboned pig. We’ve fed 40 people before, serving a porchetta-style roast rolled and stuffed with fennel pollen, spices, herbs and preserved lemon. The first time we did it, people started exchanging high-fives when it came out of the oven. If you tell us three days in advance, we can definitely do it again.
And to close?
We say an extra glass of Amarone is always a smart choice. But if dessert is your vice, we have three to choose from at any time. Tiramisù will always be there, but you might also find lemon mousse with limoncello cream and biscotti, a torta di Verona with Amarena cherries or pandoro bread and butter pudding.
The Hardware Club, 43 Hardware La, Melbourne, (03) 9670 1110, thehardwareclub.com.