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Home > Melbourne > Bars | Dinner | Food and Wine | Gluten Free | Restaurants
by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published February 5th 2023
Who knew gluten-free food could taste so good?
It can be difficult for people who are gluten intolerant to find the right place to dine out. And if the venue is not totally gluten free, there's always the concern about cross contamination of food. But Rufio, newly opened in St Kilda, has solved the problem. Rufio offers mainstream Latin fusion food, that is completely gluten free. The restaurant also prides itself on being vegan friendly.

The street front signage for Rufio is, one could say, discreet. So it did take us a few moments to locate it. But if you see a building with a red painted upper storey, next to Edward Scissorhands, then you've reached your destination. The red-painted upper floor is also a hint as to the venue, as 'rufio' originates from 'rufus' in Latin, meaning red, or red headed.

Rufio Restaurant
Rufio - discreet signage, but head upstairs for a fabulous food experience.

We received a friendly greeting on entering the restaurant, located at the top of the stairs. Rufio occupies a large space, over two split levels accessed by stairs. Our table was in the downstairs section, in what the folk at Rufio like to refer to as 'the jungle'. This is because the area is decked out with palm trees, and features a retractable roof. In better weather, the roof is open, to give the place an 'indoor/outdoor' feel. But Melbourne was having none of that, offering freezing conditions in mid-summer. On a positive note, I can report that the wall heaters were very effective!

Rufio Restaurant
Rufio offers an extensive 'indoor/outdoor' space, with a retractable roof. Thanks to Melbourne's atrocious weather, the roof was firmly closed on the day we visited. (Image supplied. Image credit: Michael Woods.)

I had pored over Rufio's menu before visiting, and knew it was going to be tough to decide what to order. There are so many delicious sounding options that it's going to take several visits to get through them all.

We started with a fairly simple dish - oysters with gazpacho dressing ($36 for 6). It's a good test for any new restaurant - what can they do with such a simple dish to take it to another level? This test Rufio passed with flying colours. As you can see in my image, the dish is instantly appealing, with rich, luscious colours in the gazpacho. It was the perfect first course, light, with clean, fresh flavours and a slight zing.

Rufio Restaurant
Oysters with Gazpacho Dressing

The second of the 'small' dishes we chose was the slow-cooked chargrilled octopus ($24). I'm sure if I tried to slow-cook and char grill octopus, it would end up like rubber, but the opposite was the case with Rufio's rendition. The octopus was tender and juicy, as you'd expect, but what made this dish a hit was the complex and complementary flavour of the bed of black bean paste on which it rested. A squeeze of lime balanced out the flavours to perfection. Even the potato terrine accompanying the dish had a delicious char flavour.

Rufio Restaurant
Slow-Cooked Chargrilled Octopus

Deciding what to order next proved a bit of a dilemma. There were three tostadas on the menu, all of which sounded delicious. You could choose from braised beef cheek ($14), lobster with coriander ($18), or wild mushroom ($12). However, we decided to skip right over that section and dive into the 'grill' section, opting for the Spiced Half Chicken (with black pudding, pumpkin and Bolivian pepper sauce) ($34), and the Wood Fired Eggplant (with red miso glaze, spinach puree, chilli, coriander, bean sprout salad and puffed quinoa) ($28).

Again, the chicken looked instantly appealing on the plate. A lot of thought had gone into the presentation. The colour combination of orange and green is not exactly traditional, but perhaps it's the tonings of these colours that draws the eye. As for the dish itself, it was genius to pair the salty little cubes of black pudding with the chicken, balanced out by the slightly sweet note of the pumpkin. A first-class dish.

Rufio Restaurant
Spiced Half Chicken

Eggplant is, I feel, an under-utilised ingredient. I love the Japanese dish Nasu Dengaku, and so was keen to see how Rufio approached their eggplant offering. As you can see in my image, Rufio's Wood Fired Eggplant is presented under a shroud of other ingredients. The eggplant itself had a wonderful flavour from the charred miso glaze, enhanced by the added elements of fresh coriander and bean shoot salad, and the delightful pop of the puffed quinoa. But what really won me with this dish was the spinach puree. The flavours were so complex and tasty, I could have eaten a dish of it on its own! Not for the first time during this meal, the plate was scraped clean.

Rufio Restaurant
Wood Fired Eggplant

If you like to round out your meal with a dessert, there are a couple of options available. Choose from Espresso and Vanilla Crème Brûlée, or Passionfruit Coconut Panna Cotta (each $15). There's also Cheese with Quince Gel ($22).

Rufio also has an extensive drinks list, including a dedicated margarita menu. I selected a glass of deliciously smooth Argentinian Casarena 505 Malbec 2020 ($15), which seemed appropriate for the Latin influenced cuisine.

By the time we left Rufio, the restaurant looked to be pretty much full, but what we appreciated was that the service from wait staff had been consistent, attentive and friendly, and also, that the noise levels were acceptable. I wish Rufio was located just a little closer to where I live; I'd return in a heartbeat!

Rufio is located at 188 Carlisle Street, St Kilda (near the intersection of Carlisle and Chapel Streets). It is open from 5pm - 11pm, Wednesday to Sunday.

Click here to reserve your table, or call (03) 7003 4393.

Except where indicated, the images in this article were taken by the writer.

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*Fiona Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? Top class food, friendly staff, great environment.
When: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 5pm - 11pm
Phone: (03) 7003 4393
Where: 188 Carlisle Street, St Kilda
Cost: See menu for prices
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