Cucina Povera Vino Vero, the CBD joint 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 that contrasts with plain, peasant-style Italian fare.
After running an introductory bar menu last weekCucina Povera is ready to seat guests at dressed tables and serve dishes such as pasta with lentils and fried needle with boiled potatoes and sorrel.
Terzini and Vargetto’s very personal project combines several influences, including anti-consumerism and Italian immigrant culture, specifically the garage kitchens that anchored Italian social life in mid-20th century Australia.
“It’s an opportunity to tell that story,” Vargetto says. “Not only from the Italian immigrant, but from all the immigrants who have come to this beautiful land and have enriched it.”
Vargetto’s Little Collins Street restaurant Massi has been stripped down by designers Latitude, leaving a minimalist space dominated by concrete-look walls and long bottle-green curtains.
“It’s a bit of a wake-up call to me that you don’t need to spend excessive amounts of money to create something quite beautiful,” says Terzini.
Black furnishings are offset by touches of green and red marble, and the artwork was first seen in the Melbourne Wine Room, the influential St Kilda venue that Terzini opened in 1996.
As with his first company, Caffe e Cucina, in the 1980s, Terzini is elevating service, something he prides himself on.
“It’s that juxtaposition of something really simple [on the plate]but also giving the best service we can,” he says.
At Cucina Povera, only eight wines are available by the glass, from producers who prefer low-intervention and biodynamic methods. 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 Joe Jones (ex-Romeo Lane) cocktails are what he describes as “analog bartending.”
The menu is a time capsule of an older Italy, says Vargetto, who inherited the recipes from his mother. “Many of the people who are in Italy don’t even know [these] more time.”
Stripped-down dishes like lemon-leaf roasted mozzarella are joined with braised pork jowls with parsnip and prune, or ricotta gnocchi with fava bean puree and fodder mushrooms.
“Halftime Football Oranges,” a caramelized orange dessert with whipped cream, is one of several dishes with a very personal story attached to it.
“That’s the beauty of Cucina Povera: its interplay,” says Vargetto (pictured left).
“We’re bringing everyone together,” says Terzini (pictured, right). “We want people to talk more, interact, flirt.”
Lunch open from Thursday to Friday, dinner from Wednesday to Saturday from June 29
445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9670 5347, cucinapovera.flywheelsites.com