Tipo 00 wears its heart on its sleeve. Not just in the name - although a pasta bar that names itself after the finely milled Italian pasta flour is a pretty straightforward mission statement - but in the way it looks. First impressions: clean lines, concrete floor, white marble bar and kitchen pass, window benches, meticulously selected light-fittings, artfully arranged collection of amari down one end of the bar.
Yes, you say. I know exactly what this is. It's a modern Melbourne Italian restaurant. It has smart, Euro-minimalist good looks that reflect budget as much as aesthetic. It will have a passion for good produce, authentic family recipes and excellent salumi sliced to order on a good-looking, glossy, hand-cranked machine. I will probably be able to eat and drink well here, though chances are there'll be nothing on the menu that's going to particularly blow my skirt up.
Mostly you'd be right. But just as you notice that the pattern on the dining-area floor is not tiles but a clever geometric paint job (painted on the polished concrete by artist-designer Aaron McKenzie and echoed in patterns on the timber tabletops), there's a corresponding revelation that Tipo 00 is perhaps not just modern Melbourne Italian business-as-usual.
It may be that it has a few tricks up its heart-adorned sleeve. The theory appears sound from the get-go when house-made rosemary-fragrant foccacia arrives, warm and crunchy at the edges and served with a generous dollop of fresh ricotta. The bread is made fresh at the beginning of each service and sits on the open kitchen's wide marble pass where it's sliced to order. You'll want more.
Entrées strengthen the foccacia's opening argument. Exhibit A is "Lingua": a beautiful dish of ox tongue, cooked for 24 hours with garlic and bay leaves before being peeled and shaved like ham on the slicer. It's served warm and looks beautiful - the deep-pink meat ripples on the plate from having been threaded onto skewers before being quickly heated on the grill. Dressed with pink peppercorns, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and baby parsley, the meat - as delicate and frilled as it appears - comes through as a powerful and skilfully handled force.
Exhibit B is the excellent "Salmone": salmon that's been very lightly cured with salt and lemon zest before being sliced in ultra-thin, semi-translucent pieces that emphasise the fish's geometric grain. The salmon comes with delicate slices of pickled lemon, clumps of salmon roe, halved caperberries and blobs of mayo, all glistening under a dressing made from olive oil mixed with some of the lemon pickling liquid. Lovely stuff.
There's further evidence with "Polpo": an absolute cracker of an octopus terrine, both looks- and flavour-wise. The octopus is vacuum-sealed in plastic and slow-cooked for four hours with vin santo, bay leaves and thyme. It's peeled and pressed into a terrine mould, mixed with reduced liquid from the cooking juices combined with a little more vin santo and olive oil.
A slice of this terrine looks almost cartoonishly lovely, made up of a series of cross-section circles of octopus tentacles. It arrives accompanied by a dice of potatoes and celery, and little cubes of vin santo jelly. It's important to combine all the flavours here: the background rockpool saltiness of the octopus works so beautifully with the sweet jelly and the earthiness of the vegetables that they deserve to be eaten together.
Obviously, this is not rustic Italian food like nonna used to make. Techniques are used throughout the one-page menu - sous-vide, smoking, dehydrating, freeze-drying - that come from restaurantville but they're applied sparingly and with a steady hand. Nonna's cooking is respected and acknowledged, a kind of touchstone.
The presence of restauranty techniques creates an interesting tension when contemplating the main pasta event. Are they going to play with that formula too? And if they go there, how far are they willing to take it?
Given the talent in the kitchen they're not silly questions. Co-owner and chef Andreas Papadakis was a Vue de Monde long-termer and his head chef, Alberto Fava, has done stints at Merchant and Scusa Mi. It's not surprising that the cooking at Tipo 00 hit the ground running, but there's also a broad skill set in those CVs that summons the ghosts of gastronomy past. Watching these chefs work together with calm efficiency in the open kitchen, though, does inspire confidence that all will stay on track. The front of house, overseen by Luke Skidmore (Saint Crispin, Estelle, Vue de Monde), further adds to the feeling of confidence. Skidmore makes Tipo a calm and collected place with a relaxed friendliness to its service culture underscored by a present, but understated, knowledge and efficiency. Add the room's reassuringly familiar design tropes and the feeling of being in a safe pair of hands is strong from the moment you walk through the front door.
There's a similar feeling with the wine list, a single-page document that leans heavily towards the Italian but chucks in a few Aussie labels that act almost like navigational devices for those unfamiliar with the sea of corvina, Friulano and nebbiolo blends.
A generous number on the list (around 14 or so) are available by the glass and 250ml carafe at reasonable prices, encouraging experimentation, which is a good idea in a smartly assembled list like this, friendly to familiar and unfamiliar alike.
In the list of reds by the glass, for example, there's Sicilian nerello mascalese, Victorian pinot noir (from Hentyfarm), Kasaura Montepulciano from Abruzzo and shiraz from the Clare Valley. Wine knowledge is spot on and the style and size of the list, neither too large nor too tightly directed, underlines the user-friendly strand of Tipo's DNA.
There's certainly plenty of good stuff to drink with pasta, which is good because the pasta at Tipo is excellent, whether you're opting for caserecce with a chunky Bolognese ragù with its robust foreground meatiness and intriguing background blink-and-you'll-miss-it hint of cinnamon and cloves, or a brilliant sunshine-yellow saffron tagliolini tossed with spanner crab meat, slivers of baby zucchini, garlic and chilli.
There might also be rigatoni with house-made pork and fennel sausage, broken down and tossed in a pan with tomato sugo and chilli, or perfectly textured gnocchi combined with braised duck (from Gippsland Farms) and porcini ragù, finished with pecorino pepato.
Although the setting for the pasta dishes is mostly turned to classic, there are moments when things push towards the experimental. Spaghetti affumicati in its original form was just that: smoked pasta tossed with New Zealand diamond clams, tomato, garlic and chilli. But a problem with the smoky flavour being lost to the boiling process has led to a more conventional adjustment. The tomatoes are now smoked rather than the pasta and the smoke flavour is certainly more pronounced. Less immediately interesting, it's still a great-tasting dish. Perhaps it's in the nature of pasta to resist too much fiddling about.
The menu does offer alternative paths for those averse to pasta. There's an excellent stinging nettle and saltbush risotto, a gorgeous deep-green colour with a great depth of flavour and satisfying crunch provided by crisp, fried saltbush leaves scattered across the top. There's also fish of the day, perhaps kingfish or rock flathead, simply pan-fried with the skin on, served with an eggplant purée and peperonata or cauliflower, pomegranate and fennel. A single meat dish - perhaps lamb rack served with fregola, cauliflower and salsa verde, or crumbed veal with artichokes - rounds out the options for those who come to a pasta bar looking for something other than pasta.
Desserts bring the more playful/experimental aspects of the kitchen back to the fore and they do it with skill, finesse and a fine sense of the right amount of sweetness. Anybody contemplating the sweet stuff at Tipo must give the "Tipomisu" a shot. A dense, rich circular brownie is hollowed out and filled with a mix of mascarpone, cream, egg yolk, dark rum and sugar. The brownie is capped with a circular lid of tempered dark chocolate and delivered to the table where a hot sauce (caramel, espresso, chocolate and salt) is poured over the top, melting the chocolate lid and turning the whole shebang into a soft warm and, surprisingly, not-too-sweet symphony of those classically simpatico flavours. Did you hear the cult-dish alarm, too?
The torta del giorno is also worth checking out, whether it's one made with, say, yellow peaches and yoghurt mousse or it's a pretty, artful take on a lemon meringue pie - all lemon frangipane, lemon curd and white meringues dusted with flakes of freeze-dried white balsamic vinegar.
There's absolutely nothing disingenuous about Tipo 00 declaring itself a pasta bar - that's what it is. This place is like an album that unveils more each time you listen or a painting that reveals more details under scrutiny. Sure, it's modern Melbourne Italian, sure, it serves pasta and salumi sliced to order, but it's also full of delightful, subtle and surprising small details that mark it as a special member of the species.