When you walk out of Osteria Ilaria, as I did with a group of girlfriends, you will be happy. You will be thoroughly enamoured with the food and drinks on offer, but you will also have had a great time in a welcoming, happy place. Your meal will have had all the requisite flavours, whether it be fish, meat or a pasta dish. And you were able to hear each other, a bonus when you get past the age of 40.
In the somewhat fickle world of Melbourne restaurants (here one year, gone the next, no booking policy etc.) this restaurant ticks all the right boxes. As a sister restaurant to Tipo00, the popular and excellent Italian next door specialising in pasta and the best gnocchi I have ever tasted, Osteria Ilaria has no easy task to make its own mark on the restaurant world.
Modern Italian food, as presented in Osteria Ilaria, is all about traditional recipes but with a modern approach. So for example, the traditional carpaccio will have a slight red currant tinge and taste to it and will be served with dried freeze purple kale as well as the traditional parmesan. The risotto, made with carnaroli rice, is pure velvet with a bite to the rice, as it should be, and flavours that will have you salivating even after you have finished the meal. The paccheri pasta with Crystal Bay prawns is a staple and reflects its popularity.
The menu changes regularly, depending on seasonal fresh produce but you can see samples of what is on offer here . At lunchtime, alongside the a la carte menu, there is a 2 or 3 course special ($40 and $50 respectively) with 4 choices in each course.There is a very large and broad wine list, or rather book, with wines from all regions of the world. As my visit was at lunchtime, ordering cocktails seemed a bit too decadent but the list of cocktails and arranged bottles in the bar seemed very impressive.
The atmosphere is happy and bustling yet you can hear each other talk, especially if sitting in the back section of the restaurant. The decor is exposed bricks, wood and leather seating, including a few booths and it all works to provide a modern yet cosy ambience. Friendly, very competent wait staff make this relatively new restaurant well worth trying.