Review | Thirty Eight Chairs, Carlton North

Originally published on Concrete Playground.

Classic and reimagined Italian food in an elegant 38-chair (or so) space.

Thirty Eight Chairs has something especially comforting to it. It may be the warm bread that lands on your table straight after ordering, or the nine types of pasta on the menu. Or it might has something to do with the hospitable waitstaff who take their time to entertain their guests, as opposed to plonking plates onto tables and leaving faster than you can say grazie. The team here are experienced — the restaurant is their second, with its predecessor having dished out Italian food in South Yarra for over four years already.

The Carlton North location is a little more formal that its sister restaurant and has a vaster menu, which even covers breakfast on the weekends. Constantly flying out of the corner of the restaurant are salumi boards piled with cured meats such as a 24-month aged prosciutto di Parma and porchetta arrosto — that is, roasted, rolled suckling pig. These all make for great grazing, but we suggest you visit for dinner for a complete course of their Italian cuisine.

The primi piatti (first plates) favour seafood lovers, with about half the options containing something from the ocean. If that’s you, try the polpo all’insalata, a simple yet glorious combination of soft slow-cooked octopus with potatoes, shallots and garlic ($18). For a more contemporary option, the Hokkaido seared scallops with red beetroot velouté sauce, shallots and sherry vinegar ($20) is also faultless. The monstrous wine list can be a little overwhelming, so we urge you to put your faith in the waitstaff, who are extremely well-versed with what wine will best accompany your food. Gibele, a white drop from Sicily, matches almost anything — dry and aromatic, yet soft.

Pasta remains the frontrunner at Thirty Eight Chairs — they call themselves a pasta bar, so it’s unsurprisingly the dish works its way onto most diners’ dockets. The rigatoni ragu in Napoli sauce remains a crowd favourite, but although the combination of pork and beef create an eruption of flavour, the meat is slightly tough and overcooked ($29).

And if you find a slither of room in that stomach for dessert, we suggest Peppe’s tiramisu ($15.50), which achieves the perfect amount of sweetness, instead of being drowned in coffee. Lemon lovers may be left disappointed with the meringue crema di Limoncello, with the lemon flavour lost amongst all the sugar ($16.50).

Italians wince at the thought of having a cappuccino after a meal, but Melburnians do things a little differently. The restaurant’s beans are from Melbourne-based roaster Niccolo. But true to European form, they also have a list of digestifs to finish up with, like Montenegro, amaretto and grappa.

The volume of the space makes for a fantastic dining experience, hosting “about 38” chairs inside a high-ceilinged room. It’s refreshing to feel comfortable, and not suffocated by dozens of tables in a space that simply can’t take them.

Image credit: supplied.

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