MELBOURNE | Johnny, Vince & Sam’s Ristorante is a new restaurant on Lygon Street’s historic Italian strip, by comedy troupe Sooshi Mango. Aka brothers Joe and Carlo Salanitri, and their best friend, Andrew Manfre. I was recently invited in to take a look.
I’ll admit, when the press release for the restaurant came through, my inner cynic immediately kicked into gear. It’s hard to hear about something like this and not jump to the conclusion that it’s going to be rather average, an attempt to cash in on a name. I’ve been around long enough, however, to know that apart from a handful of very clearly bad venues, you shouldn’t judge a place until you’ve tried it.
I’m a fan of Sooshi Mango’s comedy. As someone with Greek-Macedonian heritage who grew up in the 90s with Nick Giannopoulos’ comedy, and went to Balcatta High (aka Perth’s ‘wog’ high school), there’s a LOT that I can relate to. The trio are funny guys, and their comedy comes from a place of love. They might be Italian, but anyone who comes from an immigrant family can see themselves in the humour. I mean, in Australia same same. Everything same.
If the humour comes from the heart, then why not the restaurant? The space hits hard with nostalgia, faithfully recreating an old school Nonna and Nonno’s house. Think floral carpets, crystal cabinets, doily and plastic tablecloths, and artwork depicting bowls of fruit, and Jesus and the Last Supper. It could have been modelled off by baba and dedo’s front dining room.
The menu draws upon family recipes, developed in conjunction with 400 Gradi owner Johnny Di Francesco and Dani Zeini, founder of Royal Stacks. It’s classic antipasti, pasta and pizza, secondi, sides, and desserts. Burrata D.O.P. from Campagna, Italy comes atop a bed of olive oil and basil, while calamri fritti is light, simply served with a wedge of lemon, salt and pepper.
Two of the most popular large dishes are Giuseppina’s Gnocchi, and Carmela’s Cotolette. The pillowy clouds of house-made gnocchi in a rich tomato sugo with Grana Padano D.O.P, basil, and extra virgin olive oil, are wonderful, and a must order. So to, the parmesan crusted veal schnitzel with sea salt.
Pan fried potatoes served with roasted peppers are a delight, hitting all of the nostalgic notes, and the tiramisu is top notch. Pizzas are a sort of thin crust and focaccia hybrid. I enjoyed mine, but they won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially those expecting more familiar pizza.
To drink, its local and Italian wines, leaning on Italian varietals. The Sangiovese from the boys’ own wine label is a great by-the-glass pick. There’s also Italian beers, and fun selection of cocktails. House cocktails are on the sweet side, but the classics are available on request. ‘Nonno’s Old Fashioned’, adds amaretto to the mix, while the popular espresso martini is infused with Nutella and topped with Ferrero Rocher.
Johnny, Vince & Sam’s Ristorante knows exactly what it wants to be, and it achieves that. It’s a fun restaurant with heart, a welcoming, family-friendly space that makes you smile. The food is simple, tasty, and comforting, and serving sizes are generous. It’s exactly the right kind of restaurant for a street in Melbourne famed for its Italian heritage.
Johnny, Vince & Sam’s Ristorante
306-308 Lygon Street
Telephone: (03) 9021 9995
Wed – Sun: 12:00pm to 10:00pm