For a high-quality, delicious meal in the CBD that isn't extravagant in price, try Cecconi's Cantina on Flinders Lane. Decked out in marble and parquetry, with soft mood lighting and touches of character imbued by its charmingly embroidered cushions and chair backs, the atmosphere is intimate, elegant and semi-informal, without the hollow grandiloquence of some city restaurants.
Cecconi's is below-ground, with the cantina separated from the pricier restaurant by the partially open kitchen in the middle. The wait staff is attentive and professional – quick to attend patrons when service is required without hovering over the table at the slightest twitch or glance of a diner.
The impressive back-lit bar serves cocktails that can knock your socks off, mixed with a pointed precision that would make James Bond proud. Then there's the food. Italian inspired in the best sense, the menu doesn't limit itself to the simplified bastardisation of fare often found under the banner of cucina italiana. Instead, patrons can look forward to entrée morsels such as large crumbed olives stuffed with pork and ricotta and salted cod crocchettas; mains including such dishes as tender tuna with nicoise salad of tomato, green beans and delicate quail eggs on a dollop of caper aioli; and white chocolate custard and raisin ice-cream, sorbetti, tiramisu or cheese for dessert.
The prices are very reasonable for the quality of the cuisine – starters average at $14 each, mains at just over $20, sides at $8 and desserts at $13. The cantina also offers a lunch special of $30 per person for two courses.
While the restaurant is a little finer and has a more extensive menu, it's hard to go wrong with the cantina when it is by no means lacking in style, service or quality – especially when it's nearly half the price.