Meet Melbourne's local dining legends

Published February 21, 2012 00:41, Source: Melbourne Times Weekly

This is taken from the article here.

You might not read about them on hip food blogs but that’s just the way these veteran restaurants and their customers like it.
THIS week it’s the Argentinian grill. Last week it was Mexican. The week before that – who can remember? Food fashions come and go as restaurants try to catch the next wave. But the real legends of Melbourne’s food scene are out in the suburbs, far removed from the bright lights and hype of this week’s gastronomic darlings.

They may not rate a mention in the glossy food mags or hippest blogs, but they have been keeping the locals coming back year after year, decade after decade, for lashings of hearty fare and old-fashioned hospitality.

You won’t find queues snaking out into the street as you do outside the latest no-bookings, industrial-chic dining halls, but these neighbourhood gems have the sort of rusted-on client base money and publicity just can’t buy.

On the eve of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s 20th anniversary, we go back to where the city’s food scene all began.

Amiconi Restaurant: 359 Victoria Street, West Melbourne. Call 9328 3710.

IN 1960, Italian migrants Angela and Franco Amiconi opened a social club in an area rich with recently landed Italians. Amiconi Restaurant symbolised what they’d left behind. Angela’s cooking fed those hungry for a taste of home, the espresso was strong and bitter, and the men played cards and conversed through curls of cigarette smoke. “It was basic food,” says current co-owner Michele Cardamone. “But then, ravioli bolognese was gourmet in those days.”

When the Amiconis handed on the business to their son Guy and his wife Paula a few years later, it really took off. “It was first in best dressed,” says Cardamone. “Guy used to take the phone off the hook at 10pm because it would be going crazy. You’d get three couples sitting at a table together because that’s the only way you could get a table in those days.”

The restaurant served simple slow-cooked Italian food with heart, and little has changed.

Michael Cardamone threw in his accountancy role and took over the restaurant in 1982. Chefs Vincenzo Alfonso and Joe Musso have since joined him in the business, tweaking the menu and starting the Amiconi Italian Cooking Classes for people in Melbourne to share their love of la cucina italiana.

Pasta still features strongly on the menu – as Michael says, “There’s nothing like a good plate of pasta if you’re hungry”. Framed photos of beaming locals, some now long gone, look down on today’s customers relishing the cooking and conviviality at white-clothed tables. “It all goes back to the basic needs of a human being,” Michael says, looking up at the memory-covered walls. “Give him good food and make him laugh and you’ve got him for life.”

There’s still a waiting list every Saturday night. Customers are often ushered next door to the pub for a tipple while their table is re-set. ‘‘Every session is a show,” Michael beams. “People think we’re in the food industry but we’re not. We’re in the entertainment industry. Tonight, people will come to the restaurant to have a good time.”

Longevity in the restaurant industry takes hard work. When we meet, it’s a Friday afternoon and the three partners have been at the restaurant since mid-morning. They’ll be lucky to leave before midnight, but Michael doesn’t think about the hours. “If you start counting the hours you’ll go nuts,” he says, grinning. “We live this restaurant.” Perhaps that’s part of the success? “Statistics say 90 per cent of cafes and restaurants fail within two years. Having survived 50 years here, I think we’re doing something right.”

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