I don’t usually spend much time in Kew. To me it’s a suburb with towering plane trees lining quiet streets and eye-watering house prices. But an increasing number of excellent establishments are building a following outside of the city. Sicilian restaurant Mister Bianco is one of them. Sitting proudly on High Street, Mister Bianco often makes it onto those ‘best Italian restaurant’ lists. But as my southern Italian cousins will tell you, anything hailing from their beloved home cannot be described as Italian. It’s SICILIAN! I went along to try this suburban spot on a busy Saturday night and found that locals have discovered what I have known forever – there’s a lot to love about Sicilian food.
Mister Bianco is the latest venture from veteran chef and restaurateur Joseph Vargetto (formerly of Melbourne’s ‘Mezzo’). Vargetto has created more than just a Sicilian inspired restaurant. This place oozes European warmth and character with Italian proverbs hanging from the wall and a gigantic mural showing people twirling and slurping their way through overflowing bowls of spaghetti.
The menu straddles the line between Sicilian comfort food and modern restaurant fare. Like the delightful tuna carpaccio, presented as towers of pink-in-the-middle tuna filled with fresh tomato and cucumber salsa and finished with a bite of pistachio and slices of crisp fennel bread. More traditional are the arancini – described as ‘vero Sicliano’ or ‘true Sicilian’ these crunchy golden balls hide a luxurious centre of oozy mozzarella, fluffy rice and a home-style tomato sauce.
The homemade feel continues with the mains. One thing some modern Italian restaurants get wrong is portion size. If you can count the number of ravioli on your plate there aren’t enough. You don’t need my Nonna Teresa to tell you that. Mister Bianco’s mains are surprisingly generous. The squid ink spaghettini arrives as a mountainous tangle of ebony coloured pasta topped with three good-sized moreton bay bugs. The bugs are plump and tasty but it’s the perfectly cooked spaghetti and stunningly simple tomato sauce that stand-out. A handful of crunchy basil leaves folded through lifts the authentic flavours even further. It was a delightful dish but left me keen to try the other pasta offerings on the menu.
The beef cheek is the ‘must-have’ main that everyone raves about here. We weren’t disappointed. Slowly braised in red-wine the meat is soft, tender and falls apart in the mouth. It was served with a very un-Italian spaetzle (a German style egg noodle) that we could have done without. The delicate beef cheek shone all on its own.
Mister Bianco’s dessert menu honours the homeland with Sicilian specialties like the sfinci (Sicilian donuts) and sweet ricotta and cinnamon cannoli. Tiramisu is served from an enormous pan with diners choosing how much they can fit in. This is the tiramisu of my dreams. The soft spongy biscuits are drenched in strong, smack in the mouth espresso with endless layers of thick mascarpone and fresh cream setting-off the sharpness of all that coffee. A dusting of good quality dark chocolate finishes it off. It was a decadent end to a delicious Italian meal.
There’s a lot to love about a good suburban restaurant. Diners know where to go on a Saturday night, regulars are greeted by name when they walk through the door and most of the time you can avoid the long wait for a table. What struck me about Mr Bianco was the warmth and familiarity I felt walking in, even on the first visit. Authentic Italian is by far my favourite cuisine and Mr Bianco does it well. With a menu that makes it difficult to choose and wonderfully executed dishes it’s no surprise that the locals have fallen for this place. I look forward to returning to try a few more pasta dishes and hopefully every dessert on the list!
My Fair Melbourne was invited to dine at Mr Bianco as a guest.
Photo Credit: Mr Bianco