Eating with the AU: L'Altro Mondo - Albert Park (Melbourne)

There is nothing quite as sophisticated and cultivated as Italian culture. In fact, Italy is also known as the land of la dolce vita (“the sweet life”). To the north is the mountainous Alps and to the south is fertile farmland, extending well into the Mediterranean Sea. The climate is pleasant and as day softens into dusk, the streets come alive with people participating in the Italian tradition of la passeggiata (a collective evening stroll), swapping greetings with one another as they head to dinner with friends.

With its many cafes, delicatessens and boutiques, Victoria Avenue in Albert Park is a neighbourhood that captures this ambiance. If you’re keen to prolong the reverie with the simple dining pleasures of Italian cuisine, then take a wander between the terrace houses where you will find L’Altro Mondo – a cosy, elegant restaurant just moments from South Melbourne beach and a short drive from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Born in Milano, raised in Imola and with parents hailing from Calabria, Head Chef Domenico De Marco has an intimate knowledge of the food in southern, northern and central Italy. With a stellar career in some of Europe’s most renowned restaurants and having recently worked with the likes of Luke Mangan and Neil Perry at the Rockpool Group, De Marco creates contemporary Italian cuisine with subtle and sometimes surprising flavour combinations. According to De Marco, “I like to excite and challenge the way people think about what can be done to Italian food and Italian cooking techniques”. He certainly excels in the technical capacity by curing all of his own meats in-house, baking bread daily and only using produce of the utmost quality.

The menu at L’Altro Mondo changes daily to reflect the subtle changes of the seasons that happen almost on a weekly basis in Melbourne. For a truly Italian start to the evening, head straight for a plate of antipasti. You might like to try the crumbed sardines, eggplant alla scapece & tomato chutney [$21] or prosciutto & mozzarella served with grissini [$20]. Pasta lovers simply can’t go past the locals’ favourite – tagliatelle with a chunky bolognese, marjoram and lemon [E $22, M $30]. For a seafood kick, order the mouth-watering scialatelli with mussels, calamari & adzuki beans [E $22, M $30]. If you’re feeling particularly hungry, then there’s nothing better than sharing a main. The twice cooked Black Angus beef fillet with red cabbage puree, confit plums, crispy polenta and brussel sprouts [$40pp, min 2 people] is sure to keep you satiated.

If these options leave you feeling a tad overwhelmed, then look no further than the degustation options, including the small tasting menu [$60 pp] and large tasting menu [$80 pp]. We opted for the latter and were thoroughly impressed as De Marco’s knowledgeable partner, Elyse Woodward-Brown, explained each dish that arrived in detail. We started with the salumi board, featuring house-cured meats, freshly baked bread, olives and pork crackling. The bresaola was lean and tender with a sweet, musty scent, leaving us longing for more.

An onion pie that looked incredibly appealing on the plate followed and we couldn’t help but think it was the epitome of the term, “pretty as pie”. The pastry was buttery and light, complementing the sweet onions within. A bright rhubarb sauce was the perfect accompaniment, providing a tangy sensation to stimulate the senses. To the side, a fennel and orange salad brought some freshness to the dish.

The house-cured rainbow trout arrived in rather flamboyant plating. Piquant slithers of fish in a ginger dressing were offset by crunchy radicchio and a large shard of crispy trout skin. The textures were fascinating, taking an otherwise conventional dish to another level.

We were excited to try some pasta and were hooked once we received the cavatelli with al sugo di carne. The cavatelli was cooked al dente – firm to the bite and perfectly seasoned. The chunky, meaty Bolognese sauce was a delight, finished off with slivers of parmesan. A bowl of this is likely to keep anybody happy.

The star of the show was braised pork belly with black bean and polenta. The pork was tender and melted in the mouth with a savoury pleasure. Roasted beetroot and a sliver of apple brought some sweetness to the dish while a large piece of crackling provided some crunch. Overall, the flavours were intense but well balanced.

To cleanse the palate, we enjoyed a cappuccino ghiacciato. This icy, creamy dessert was a delicious indulgence that prepared us for the beautiful saffron mousse that followed. Sandwiched with marzipan, yoghurt and salted macadamia, the mousse came drizzled with mandarin oil. Lightly textured and with a hint of citrus, this delicately plated dessert was a truly enchanting way to end the evening.

The wine list at L’Altro Mondo is extensive, with a focus on Australian / Italian producers and varietals – all carefully selected to complement the menu. If you choose to engage in one of the scrumptious degustations, then we suggest starting off with a pinot noir and finishing with a pinot grigio. You may also BYO wine, with corkage at $10 per bottle.

Demonstrating a sophisticated and cosmopolitan vibe coupled with a thoughtful, well-crafted menu, L’Altro Mondo brings the very best of Italian culture to Albert Park with stunning and contemporary Italian cuisine. The very nature of slow food is embraced from freshly baked bread to house-cured meats. With quality produce and a welcoming atmosphere, it is certainly an attractive space to while away an evening with friends over a bottle or two of wine. We recommend pacing yourself with the food because there is a lot to enjoy. Whatever you decide upon from the extensive menu, it will certainly make for a splendid affair.

L’Altro Mondo

Address: 125 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, VIC
Contact: (03) 9682 2388
Hours: Lunch Tue-Sat, 12pm-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 5:30pm-late.

Photos by Serena Ho for the AU Review