Originally published on Broadsheet.
A 19th-century building in the city’s south becomes home to one of the neighbourhood’s favourite Italian restaurants.
Ciao Cielo used to occupy 171 Bay Street in Port Melbourne. It was a petite and well-respected restaurant with a clutch of loyal regulars.
But it grew out of its 30-seat space and moved down the road into a courthouse dating to 1860. The heritage-listed building has housed a variety of tenants over the years including a nursery, a tile store and most recently Argentinian restaurant Corte.
Under the eye of Heritage Victoria and design studio Atelier Wagner, the space has been transformed into a striking dining room that seats 80. The courthouse’s cracked sandstone walls, wooden rafters and pine floorboards remain; a long stone bar and blue leather banquettes are new additions. A working fireplace illuminates the restaurant at night.
The surrounds might feel patrimonial but the food is a modern take on Italian.
Co-owner Kate Dickins’s grandmother Maria comes from Vicenza – a small city in Italy’s north-east – and she was the inspiration for Ciao Cielo in the first place.
Dickins runs front of house and owns the restaurant with her husband Bryan, who is Ciao Cielo’s head chef. His menu features some of nonna Maria’s signature dishes brought into the current day.
Woodfired farinata – a Ligurian-style chickpea pancake – comes topped with pesto. A caprese salad of blanched heirloom tomatoes, goat’s curd and basil is topped with raw yellowfin tuna. Larger plates include a northern-style oxtail ragu gnocchi (one of nonna Maria’s specialties, Dickins says), king prawn risotto and a whole rainbow trout served with pancetta, thyme and lemon.
“One of my favourite dishes on the menu, and something I think Bryan does best, is the Sardinian-style goat,” says Dickins. It comes with polenta dumplings, olives and fennel.
Ciao Cucina, a comparatively casual eatery, which adjoins the main dining room, has its own courtyard area and fits 150 diners. House-made pasta and woodfired pizzas, cocktails and beer is the go there.
115, Bay Street, Port Melbourne
(03) 9645 1568
Daily 12pm–3pm, 6pm–10pm
Photography: Arianna Leggiero.