Your guide to Carlton in 2019

Published on May 23 2019.

Photo: King & Godfree

Gone are the red-and-white tablecloths that defined Lygon Street for decades; in their place is a new breed of sleek venues that are broadening Melbourne’s definitions of great Italian food. Values of hospitality and provenance still reign supreme in the city’s Little Italy but the stereotypes of old are fading away and being replaced with a mix of tradition and invention. The Carlton renaissance is at its peak. Get amongst it.

DOC Pizza and Mozzarella Bar
One of Melbourne’s first new-wave pizza pioneers, DOC takes its craft seriously. From San Marzano tomatoes to DOP buffalo mozzarella and capers from Pantelleria, every ingredient has been sourced carefully; there’s even a map of Italy on the menu to show you exactly where things come from. But eating at DOC isn’t a cerebral experience. Pizza is too much fun for that. Start with something from the mozzarella bar, split a few pizzas and embrace everything that’s great about Italy.
295 Drummond St, Carlton, 9347 2998, docgroup.net, Mon-Wed 5pm-late, Thu-Sun noon-late

Carlton Wine Room
Do house prices shoot up when three Andrew McConnell alumni take over the local wine bar? Our money is on yes. Call it the Carlton Wine Room effect, courtesy of Travis Howe, Andrew Joy and JP Twomey, who took over the neighbourhood favourite in early 2018 with a fine-tuned formula of clever snacks, snappy service and killer wine matches. The duck and pork croquettes are a must-have item, as is the rum baba, but prepare for seasonal surprises with every visit. The best approach is to settle in for the extremely well-priced chef’s selection and something special from the cellar.
172-174 Faraday St, Carlton, 9347 2626, thecarltonwineroom.com.au, Tues-Weds 4pm-11pm, Thurs-Mon noon-11pm.

King & Godfree
For all your bottarga, fresh pasta and mostarda needs, make a beeline for Lygon Street’s most famous grocer and delicatessen. King & Godfree has won a loyal following of shoppers over decades for its superior selection of epicurean goods, Italian and otherwise. But King & Godfree mark two is wooing new lovers of fine food and wine with all-new drinking and dining and a completely overhauled grocery that’s grand in its proportions, mixing marble, terrazzo, glass and wood to great effect. Shoppers pause for espresso and torta Caprese, lunching families snack on porchetta fresh from the rotisserie, while by night rooftop bar Johnnys Green Room and wine bar Agostino beckon.
293-297 Lygon St, Carlton, 9347 1619, kingandgodfree.com, Mon-Sun 8am-10pm.

Tiamo
Parmesan that comes in a shaker. House wine poured into tumblers. Waiters with personalities that are even bigger than their pepper grinders. Step through the curtain of swaying corks and into the warm embrace of Tiamo where the menu is a rollcall of Italo-Australian favourites, from spaghetti Bolognese to Hawaiian pizza. There’s plenty from the Old World, too, including risotto al nero with cuttlefish and tortellini in brodo, but it’s the comforting dishes of Italian-accented childhoods that keep Tiamo’s street-side tables and dining room heaving each day and night.
303 Lygon St, Carlton, 9347 5759, tiamo.com.au, Mon-Sun, 7am-11pm.

Leonardo’s Pizza Palace
The first surprise of Leonardo’s Pizza Palace is the location. Blocks away from Lygon Street’s bustle and nowhere near the Faraday Street collective of DOC, Baker D. Chirico and more, this corner restaurant on Grattan Street still pulls a crowd. The next surprise is the food. Is it Italian? There are sardines and stracciatella on the menu, but they’re alongside crumbed chicken tenders, pepperoni pizza and mozzarella sticks with “pizza sauce”. The trick at Leonardo’s is to remind yourself this is the work of Nick Stanton, who brought you Ramblr and Leonard’s House of Love. The rules are, there are no rules. And that’s never been more fun.
29 Grattan St, Carlton, 9242 0666, leonardospizzapalace.com.au, Mon-Wed 5pm-1am, Thurs-Sat noon-1am, Sunday noon-11.30pm.

Donati’s Fine Meats
Could this be Melbourne’s original butcher of distinction? Since 1972, the shop owned by Leo Donati and his family has been the destination of choice for those seeking veal, pork and all manner of Italian cuts, served with the flair that one would expect on Lygon Street. Donati senior wears his passion for his craft on his sleeve, from the cow emblazoned on the awning to the paintings of pigs, cows and butchers at work that cover the walls. The shop is known for its soundtrack of opera but Donati swears he’s a diplomat when it comes to the music. “Whoever gets here first puts it on,” he says. Who knew shopping for sausages could feel so cultural an activity?
402 Lygon St, Carlton, 9347 4948, Mon 6.30am-6pm, Tues-Fri, 7am-6pm, Sat 6am-1pm.

Pidapipo
Seasonal gelato. Yep, it’s a thing. Particularly when your gelato is made with fresh fruit and crafted in small batches by hand, as it is at Pidapipo, meaning you’ll want to eat it year-round. Depending on when you visit, you might see grapefruit sorbet or peaches and cream joining the regular line-up of bacio, chocolate, salted caramel and mint and chocolate chip. Every scoop comes with the option to top it with Amarena cherries or hot Nutella dispensed from a fountain. This is one queue you definitely want to join.
299 Lygon St, Carlton, 9347 4596, pidapipo.com, daily noon-11pm.

Brunetti
There are cafés and then there’s Brunetti. Elevating your daily espresso habit to something regal, Brunetti takes design cues from the espresso bars of the mother country, meaning wood, marble, terrazzo, stone and mosaics are the order of the day. Here on Lygon Street, a wall of glass cabinets filled with jewel-coloured cakes is the first thing you’ll see while further inside, rows of bomboloni, cornetti and biscotti are just waiting to be boxed up. The scent of strong Italian coffee is present at all hours of the day – as are the loyal customers, chatting over coffee, wine and something from the cabinets, as they’ve done for years. The original Brunetti opened on this site in 1974, before moving to Faraday Street in the 1980s for a 30-year stint. It’s worth a visit to the original location for the glitz and glamour alone, but we can’t guarantee you won’t leave without a cannolo.
380 Lygon St, Carlton, 9347 2801, brunetti.com.au, Mon-Thurs and Sun 6am-11pm, Fri and Sat 6am-midnight.

Baker D. Chirico
Baker D. Chirico’s Carlton store must be a front-runner for most beautiful bakery in Australia. With an undulating ceiling and wall, soft lighting and stepped plinths that better show off that day’s treats, stepping into the space (designed by the same firm that work on Aesop stores) is a true sensory overload. But all that style is backed by substance. Daniel Chirico’s bread, bomboloni, tarts and cakes are world-class. Move quick to snap up hot-ticket items. Or move into the neighbourhood so you can make like the locals who roll out of bed and get the pick of that day’s goodies.
178 Faraday St, Carlton, 9349 3445, bakerdchirico.com.au, Tues-Sun 7am-5pm.

Heart Attack and Vine
Mornings in Lygon Street can be sleepy compared to the bustle at night, but Heart Attack & Vine is there for all of it, serving Wide Open Road espresso and Noisette pastries for early-risers and vermouth and cocktails for the post-cinema crowd. Opened by members of the Wide Open Road team in 2014, the bar quickly found a foothold in Little Italy despite being a pizza and pasta-free zone (and being named after a Tom Waits song). But Italian tradition is present in small, delicious doses, from the hot porchetta rolls to the rotating line-up of cicchetti that fills the benches each afternoon, catching your eye when you walk in and proving near-impossible to ignore.
329 Lygon St, Carton, 9005 8624, heartattackandvine.com.au, Mon-Fri 7am-11pm, Sat-Sun 8am-11pm.

Capitano
Carlton has no shortage of red sauce joints, but few were adding an Italo-American flavour to the neighbourhood until the boys from Fitzroy’s Bar Liberty set up shop. Taking over an old pub on Rathdowne Street, they added terrazzo, bentwoods and Spritzes, then threw in vodka rigatoni, square pizze (including a ‘Grandma Pie’) and gabagool ¬(that’s capocollo if you’re not from New Jersey). Being a Bar Liberty creation, the wine list is just as worthy of your attention as the snacks, so settle in and make a night of it.
421 Rathdowne St, Carlton, 9134 8555, capitano.com.au, Mon-Fri 5.30pm-11.30pm, Sat noon-midnight, Sun noon-11pm.

Market Lane
In the front room of a former Faraday Street terrace you’ll find one of the smallest Market Lane operations in town, but boy does it get the job done. From this tiny space, the team crank out espresso and filter coffee to the consistently high standard that’s earned Market Lane many fans. There are a handful of seats outside but the pro move is to get a take-away, skip next door to Baker D. Chirico and then take your haul to one of the parks nearby.
176 Faraday St Carlton, 9804 7434, marketlane.com.au, Mon-Sat 7am-4pm, Sun 8am-4pm.

This guide was brought to you by Lavazza, a proud partner of the 2019 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.