Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: 9602 2285
I'm constantly surprised by the gems that are hidden within Melbourne's many laneways. You would never be able to find half the places or know what's inside from the external facade. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. It means that your favourite place stays slightly exclusive so you can enjoy it, but it also means that if you're not in the know, then you will never find such gems. Luckily, with the Internet and food blogs, those hidden gems aren't too hard to find.
Sotto e Sopra is one of these gems. It's hidden along Howey Place off Little Collins Street. Even though I knew the address, it still took me a bit of time to find. Along the laneway, you need to look for a small sign which pointed you to go down a set of stairs, which at the end exposed a cavernous dining area and bar.
The restaurant serves simple Italian cuisine, so we start our meal with some Antipasto. The platter consisted of the usual suspects of salami, prosciutto, roasted vegetables, yoghurt dip, breadsticks and in this one, smoked salmon and artichoke hearts. My litmus test for how good an antipasto platter is is to taste the salami. If the salami taste off, to me it indicates that a restaurant doesn't have high food standards if they don't throw that out and use fresher salami. Sotto's salami was delicious, as was the rest of the platter, even the artichoke hearts.
The Fried Calamari ring was crispy on the outside but still tender on the inside. I liked the rocket salad and pesto sauce served with it. I found the calamari just a tad salty, but my friends really liked it and thought it was just right.
For mains, we shared three dishes between the three of us. We chose a Braised Beef Pappardelle, Prawn Spaghettini and Mushroom Risotto. The highlight was definitely the Pappardelle. The pasta was silky smooth and the beef was so deliciously soft and full of flavour. We, ok I, lapped up every last drop of that dish. The spaghettini was also very good, cooked al dente and served with prawns and lots of garlic. The mushroom risotto, I can thankfully report, was cooked well. Although there was lots of mushroom in the dish, it just didn't have that lush mushroom flavour. It wasn't bad, but wasn't as good as the other dishes.
To finish off our meal, we had the Cheese Platter. The platter contained three cheeses, a blue cheese, a ricotta type cheese and brie. I could not stand the smell of the blue cheese but the others loved it. We all loved the brie and were a bit unsure about the ricotta type cheese. It was quite bland and tasted like a mouthful of cream, which isn't bad but not really cheese like. The lavosh was crispy and tasty. Fruit and quince paste was served with the platter, but olives were a strange addition. A bonus treat I guess. Be warned that this cheese platter is huge and could easily serve 4 people.
The atmosphere in the restaurant was quite good. I like the way it's set up. Tables are situated a good distance apart and the noise levels are good. The underground location feels very cool and I really like it. On the night that we were there, an amateur comedy night was happening, which added to the fun. The service was quite good and friendly. The food is simple but done well and at good prices.
Overall Rating: 14/20, Good Italian food in a hidden location.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.
My guests and I dined courtesy of Sotto e Sopra.