Wouldn't it be fantastic to have an Italian Nonna as a neighbour who, despite her fiery temper and fragile frame, cooks you up a lasagne whenever you get that irrepressible craving for carbohydrates and Napoli sauce?
She'd make it the best way, cheesy, béchamel-y, and oh-so-meaty, as long as you promise to water her plants and unpack her dishwasher. Oh, and marry her 'hard-working' grandson, Antonio.
But let's not get into the nitty-gritty of what I'd do for lasagne . . .
If marrying into 'The Family' is too much of a commitment, then there is a second option. Think terraced balconies, beautiful boutiques and notorious Italian waiters winking at you from every corner - Carlton's Lygon Street has forever been the average Melburnite's go-to Italian experience for a weekly spaghetti and olive oil hit.
But, we all know Little Italy can be a Little Hit & Miss. So, lasagna lovers, we've done the research, and have compiled the best of the best should you head Carlton way
For most of us, the idea of pizza is accompanied by putting on our tracksuit pants, pouring a glass of red, and veging out in front of O.C. re-runs. It's a go-to staple of the takeaway club, and for that reason is never top priority when you're going out and spending hard-earned dollars on dinner.
However, all ideas of pizza will be transformed after you've been to D.O.C.
On arrival, you'll be greeted by cheeky, friendly Italian-accented wait staff, and thrown straight into sensory delight – the smell of hot breads and cheese, the look of down-town Italy with white washed walls, wooden chairs and a fire-red meat slicer - all cosied up with the hustle and bustle of pink-cheeked pizza lovers gas-bagging to one another.
Also, DOC imports the best of the best mouth-watering cheeses and cured meats, and provides a handy little map of 'The Boot' to show you exactly where they came from, and what they taste like. It's always the little things, isn't it.
Embodying all the charm you expect from a good restaurant with a walk-in-the-door policy, excellent food and wine, and happy staff, DOC will forever be an iconic location just off Lygon Street, and a place to get out of your tracky dacks for.
Where: D.O.C | 295 Drummond Street in Carlton
Contact: 03 9347 2998
When date night rolls round and you've been too busy to plan anything, there's a reliable romantic hotspot awaiting you at Tiamo 2.
No, this isn't because of the cheesy name ('I love you' in Italian); you bring your partner to Tiamo 2 so you can enjoy the understated, dark-wooded and truly Italian feel that this restaurant is famous for. It's casual, comfortable and undeniably homely. People come here because they feel like they're at their best friend's house - always busy, always pumping and always providing a great time.
The menu is all about your all time favourites – think generous serves of fresh pastas, tasty pizzas and that all-too-important creamy, liqueur-soaked tiramisu to wash it all down with. Tiamo 2 is also an extension of Tiamo next door, so if you're craving espresso, the talented baristas will guarantee you a great crema.
Should you choose to sit street-side and people watch, at the bar to drink copious amounts of house wine, or perhaps canoodle in the corner over your cappuccino, you are guaranteed to have a fabulous date night at Tiamo 2.
Where: Tiamo 2 | 305 Lygon Street in Carlton
Contact: 03 9347 0911
Casa Del Gelato
There is nothing more satisfying than the first taste of an ice cream. It starts when your hand wraps around that warm waffle cone, criss-crossed with crunchy cereal delight. Then, after you wait for it to melt a little, soften, your tongue embarks upon that milky treat and scoops the gossamer into your mouth, making your eyes light up and tastebuds dance like they're trapped in a pinball machine.
Ice cream is one of those foods that is synonymous with pure, unadulterated happiness, and can turn any situation into one fuelled by laughter and sugar.
Casa Del Gelato is an ice cream mecca and, hence, the closest thing to heaven you're going to get this side of Carlton. As one of Australia's first and longest-standing ice cream boutiques, they've been churning out flavours to the people of Lygon Street since 1980.
Typical and unassuming in appearance - white walls, lino-laid floors and fluorescent lighting - there are over 50 different flavours to choose from at any one time, making this a testament to one's powers of self-control.
There are all the old favourites - luscious creamy chocolate, hazelnut, and mint; but also some unique flavours – kiwi, amaretto, and even sticky date pudding. The best thing about this place is that you can also get lactose-free and nut-free ice creams, an avenue that is often not explored by many gelati makers.
They're open until midnight every night of the week, so if the dessert options are scarce on your dinner menu, I would suggest getting yours from here.
Where: Casa Del Gelato | 163 Lygon Street in Carlton
Contact: 03 9347 0220
Carlton Yacht Club
The Carlton Yacht Club is appropriately summed up by their window sign – 'we may not speak Italian, but we make a damn good martini.'
This place is pretty much the definition of a 'hidden gem'. CYC is a hole-in-the-wall lounge bar, kitted out with big velvet couches, a warmed up street side seating area, burlesque beaded lamps, and a stool-lined bar which you can imagine sitting at for hours on end, chatting away to the bartenders about exotic types of gin, and that gig you went to last weekend.
The drinks list is extensive, with quirky like 'Smack my Peach Up' – a concoction of peach schnapps, pink champagne and cranberry juice. But don't worry, you can get your Carlton Draft on tap if you've brought your Dad. There's also a decent tapas menu, so you can nibble on a grissini stick or an olive while you enjoy the mood lighting.
For some reason, CYC doesn't hit the perusing tourists' radar, so you'll be sipping with regulars, locals and the real deal Italians of the area. It truly is the perfect place to have a drink before you dine elsewhere, or perhaps end up swilling martinis after a romantic date. Either way, you may find yourself becoming a regular more quickly than you'd like to admit.
Where: Carlton Yacht Club | 298 Lygon Street in Carlton
Contact: 03 9347 7080
So there you have it – our pick of Lygon Street for dinner, dessert and drinks. Buon Appetito!
TUL Note: Ella Stening is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She can be found compensating for her addiction to eating out and drinking lots of wine by writing about it all over the web. Or with her cat, Louis.
Image Credt: Pinterest