Let’s face it: If there’s one cuisine we’ve managed to over-cook, over-dress and generally defile with our unnecessary modern interpretations, it’s Italian food in Melbourne. As someone who inherited an Italiano ‘Nonna’ as a result of an uncle’s marriage to his bella, this particular Urban Lister can testify that traditional Italian cuisine—when done well—is a joy but a rarity. Which is why 1889 Cucina Povera is an under-the-radar Italian restaurant that’s hitting all the right notes for this carb enthusiast.
1889 Cucina Povera—literally translated as ‘poor kitchen’—feels like anything but. Masterminded by husband and wife duo Paolo and Laura Lapolla, this Melbourne Italian restaurant combines authentic imported ingredients with the freshest local produce in the traditional style of the Puglia region (the heel of Italy’s boot-shaped landmass). The team specialise in peasant-style recipes and techniques that have grown out of the region’s agricultural roots and self- sustaining heritage —the real deal rather than some frou-frou’d abstraction of authentic Italian cuisine. If, like us, you’re a pizza or pasta lover, this means that you’re in for a real treat.
Boasting an open kitchen with an imported stone based oven, 1889 Cucina Povera is a family-run Italian restaurant tucked away on Scotchmer Street in North Fitzroy, just off the main St Georges Road strip, giving it a welcome feeling of intimacy that you simply just don’t get when surrounded by the Edinburgh Gardens rabble. It’s a great spot whether you’re in need of a cosy table for two, or a friendly venue for a group gathering.
At 1889 Cucina Povera, the things they do with flour will amaze you. The deliciously flavoursome hand-made pastas, rustic pizzas and temptingly moreish desserts smack of scarcely-found cooking expertise that has been perfected over hundreds of years. The concise beverage menu focuses on the traditional too, with imported Italian wines and beers selected to match the cuisine. We loved the spicy, full-bodied red, Zero Montepulciano d’Abruzzo—try saying that after a few glasses!
If heart-warming savoury dishes are what you came for, the red pepper fusilli, dressed with garlic, zucchini and pecorino is a must-try, the pasta itself being sweetened by the fresh capsicum from which its made on-site. The pork fennel sausage pizza with san Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte and sautéed bell peppers is another cracker, especially if you’re a fan of a traditional flour-dusted puffed crust. Feeling like you’re in for a carb overload? Grab a side of the pear and rocket insalata with pine nuts, shaved parmigiano and balsamic dressing—the tang of the vinegar sets off the crisp freshness of the pear to perfection.
A forewarning for those with a sweet tooth: You will definitely want to leave room to sample some of 1889 Cucina Povera’s home-made desserts. We’re talking traditional Italian-style scones served with sweetened ricotta cream, and a tiramisu made from Laura’s mother-in-law’s secret recipe that comes served in its very own jar. Make sure you dig down to the lacquer-soaked bottom layers— they will have you beaming with a dessert-driven smile for days to come.
With its warm service, hearty meals (gluten-free and vegetarian options are available) and focus on the time-tested, North Fitzroy’s 1889 Cucina Povera is vying for a top spot in our list of best Italian restaurants in Melbourne. A true taste of the Old World courtesy of a Fitzroy newcomer.
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Image Credit: Michelle Jarni for The Urban List