On a very hot Sunday in February (yes, this is the southern hemisphere, where February is generally the hottest month of the year), there’s not much else that appeals in Melbourne other than finding a delightfully cool (air-conditioned) niche in which to delve into some light, tasty food, ideally accompanied by a crisp, chilled wine.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were guests of some dear friends at a Melbourne institution, Cafe Di Stasio. Located on one of Melbourne’s more colourful strips, Fitzroy Street in St Kilda has always had a reputation for food which has been enhanced in recent times by attracting some more top Australian chefs. Di Stasio, named for its larger-than-life founder Ronnie Di Stasio has occupied the same spot for nigh on 25 years and maintained a reputation for the very best in Italian cooking.

It had been quite a number of years since Greedy Girl had pushed on one of the heavy iron hands on the front door into the dining room. At night, the light is deliberately kept dim, but on such a sunny day, natural light floods the dining room, making the air-conditioner work overtime. The decor of the restaurant has barely changed over the years, although where once were bar stools for a quick drink and snack have been removed to make way for more tables. Di Stasio has opened a separate bar next door to cater for the quickie crowd.

For lunch, two menus were offered – lunch special offering two courses, a glass of wine and a coffee, or the a la carte. Greedy Girl would have been happy to sample the special (a great deal for just A$35) but her very generous friends insisted this was their treat. Happily, we perused the a la carte.

And here started the issue regarding service. Having discussed the merits of having the special lunch and enquired as to some of the dishes featured on that menu, the wait staff immediately concluded it was not worth their while to communicate any of the specials available for an a la carte selection. On enquiry, they spilled the beans on the fish of the day (John Dory or flounder), the pasta of the day, (a tagliatelle with blue swimmer crab) or the risotto of the day (porcini mushroom).

There were also a number of ‘flavours of seafood’ – again, even when it became obvious we were looking at the wider menu, the dishes available under that heading weren’t described. It was only when a plate of scallops on the half shell arrived on the next table that we were informed of the breadth of what was on offer.

Greedy Girl and her dear friend Bev the cook chose the scallops, while Bev’s beloved chose smoked salmon with a dill-laced creme fraiche and brioche. Gluttonous husband opted for scampi, char grilled with garlic butter.

The smoked salmon was reportedly delicious and the creme fraiche a lovely touch. It melted away in the mouth, leaving a light texture and then the dill took over to combine exceptionally well with the salmon.

The scallops were tasty, if a little on the dry side. Any moisture had been gobbled up by the crunchy breadcrumbs that were liberally combined with chopped parsley. It was perfectly edible and presented nicely.

The scampi, however, was the highlight. Grilled until just cooked, they were moist, tender with an unmistakeable aroma and flavour of garlic. A triumph. Gluttonous husband made sure Greedy Girl tried the dish at least twice, hoping to avoid being exiled from the marital bed the next day because he reeked of second-day garlic.

Cafe Di Stasio

Grilled scampi

All this was being washed down by a delightful Pinot Grigio from the Yarra Valley. The Airlie Bank pinot grigio from Punt Road was crisp, fruity and chilled perfectly – well, at least the first bottle was. A lone bottle doesn’t go far among four thirsty adults on a hot day so a second was ordered. This had probably been in the blast chiller for about a minute and was nowhere near cold enough. Into the ice bucket it went.

To the main courses. Bev the cook and her beloved both had shoulder of lamb, braised with anchovies and white wine. The lamb was beautifully soft but the meat itself didn’t take on much flavour from the other elements of the dish. One needed to mop up the gravy on the bottom of the bowl.

Cafe Di Stasio

Lamb shoulder

Gluttonous husband opted for John Dory, simply pan fried and presented with some flecks of parsley on the plate. It was slightly dry but flavourful and assisted by some home made tartare sauce.

Cafe Di Stasio

John Dory

Greedy Girl tucked into a porcini mushroom risotto which was excellent. The texture of the rice was perfect and the mushroom flavour intense. Choosing a starter size was more than enough, although the slightly belated offer of parmesan cheese by the waiter was not required.

Cafe Di Stasio

Porcini mushroom risotto

To dessert. Bev the cook and gluttonous husband both relished a well made tiramisu, which they described as beautifully balanced – cream, chocolate sponge and a double-whammy of hits from coffee and booze. Bev’s beloved chose a cheese plate – sadly the camembert came straight from the fridge and was rock hard rather than giving up its oozy lusciousness. A gorgonzola and Pyengana cheddar were pronounced ‘OK’.

Greedy Girl revisited an old favourite – a dish she sees rarely on menus – zabaglione. This was heavy on the marsala and a rather odd orange colour, dotted with strawberry halves. The flavour was just as expected but a little strange on the eye. It needed the strawberries to cut through the richness of the custard which also looked like it had been quickly placed under a grill to give the top a slightly singed skin. This wasn’t unpleasant, just unexpected.

But it was the service that gave us more to talk about than the food. It wasn’t bad service by any means just a bit detached and hard to engage with. We felt we needed to force information out of the staff and it was difficult to get the attention we wanted when we wanted it. Not admitting our second bottle of white wasn’t chilled was also a no-no.

Service is such an important part of the experience. Good wait staff make you want to linger and enjoy the totality of what an establishment has to offer. They don’t have to be all over you, but it’s nice to know they care about your enjoyment. There’s a disconnection between front and back of house all too frequently these days and it’s only to the detriment of the restaurant. As gritty as Fitzroy Street, St Kilda undoubtedly is, there are plenty of other options for hungry patrons wanting to love where they eat.

Cafe Di Stasio

31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Café Di Stasio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tagged under: , , , , , , , ,