Whenever visitors ask me to recommend a casual CBD restaurant for dinner, I tend to always direct them to Italy 1.

Why? Because it’s down a typical Melbourne laneway so it’s not that easy to find (though not so difficult that it’s going to freak out anyone tumbling down a dark alley), it’s small and cosy without being too quiet, and the Italian food is special without being too challenging.

There’s a reason Italy 1 has been in business for so long, and on a Tuesday night it was full to the rafters. It does an excellent job of selling a relaxed, sophisticated dining experience without pretension and theatrics.

Our party of five managed to work our way through a lot of the menu – special of the day of grilled fresh scallops ($26), two serves of delicately fried arancini ($13) and some tender calamari with rocket ($24).

For mains I can never go past their lobster pappardelle ($38). I tend to shy away from ordering pasta at restaurants because very often I can do a pretty good job myself at home. However, Italy 1’s pappardelle is not really an at-home dish – fat ribbons of pappardelle (my second-favourite pasta shape, orrechiette being the first, FYI) with big juicy pieces of lobster and pops of salmon roe all mixed up in a creamy lobster bisque sauce. The luxuriousness of this dish is the reason I don’t tend to order anything else when I visit Italy 1.

M enjoyed his scallop risotto mixed with chorizo ($32) while T and B had the special beef cheeks which were huge (a 3-cheeked cow?) and a little dry ($35).

God knows why we decided on dessert as it really pushed us over the edge. The very rich chocolate fondant puddings oozed their molten centres ($16) accompanied by an almost-fudge like chocolate mousse.

J and I shared the tiramisu ($14) voted the best tiramisu in Melbourne according to our waiter. Well, our tiramisu was quite good – I particularly liked the curlicues of chocolate – but the marscapone was solid, almost like butter in consistency. You can see the cracks in the cheese in the picture, and we suspected that the marscapone had been overwhipped. It really left a brick on our stomachs.

On reflection M chose the best end to our rich meal, a selection of sorbets dotted with fresh fruit ($16).

Once again Italy 1 had delivered a great dining experience. Not every dish was perfect but we tumbled out into the night air, bellies full and in convivial company, vowing to return soon.

  • Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne +61 3 9654 4430

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