Photography by Parker Blain
Words by Jane Ryan on 27-Feb-2020
421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, Melbourne, VIC, 3053, Australia
Tel: +61 (03) 9134 8555
Website: View bar's website
Hours: Mon-Fri 17:30-23:00, Sat 15:00-00:00, Sun 12:00-23:00
Style: Restaurant bar
Recommended for: Aperitivos, Cocktails, Food, Wine
Price guide: Middling
Owned by: Casey Wall, Manu Potoi and Michael Bascetta
Carlton's Capitano might not look it, but this small Italian restaurant on the corner of Rathdowne and Palmerston serves up some of the very best drinks in Melbourne.
Opened by Bar Liberty owners Casey Wall, Manu Potoi and Michael Bascetta, it's designed to feel like a neighbourhood restaurant, albeit one straight out of 1950s New York that dishes out bowls of soul-hugging pasta and pizza laced with both umami and salty goodness.
Capitano does homely well – its Art Deco light fixtures effuse a warm and lazy vibe over the venue's palate of off-white, chestnut wood, and maroon. The restaurant floor is covered with white-clothed wooden tables, bentwood chairs and banquette seating while the bar and counter seating offers a more casual dining and drinking experience.
The bar, which runs alongside the far wall, looks like it could handle an order for a post-meal amaro and that's about it. More stacked with glassware than bottles, its shelves don't hint at any passion for cocktails either and there's not a shaker insight. But don't let that fool you.
Running Capitano's beverage programme is Darren Leaney, ex-Dinner by Heston and Dandelyan, who has a keen ability to produce hyper-delicious drinks that seem beguilingly simple (they're not) and are dangerously easy to drink (they are). Darren has created an Italian-leaning menu, meaning there's plenty of aperitifs and upgraded classics like the Grapefruit Americano or the Bellini with verjus, fermented peach, cognac, and bubbles. Drinks are in familiar territory yet unrecognisable, old friends with a fresh look if you will, mostly down to techniques the team are using to draw out flavours from produce. We're talking shrubs, fermentations, and cordials.
As a whole, cocktails here are on the lighter side, with gentle acidity and fizz – perfect considering the carb-loading you'll either inadvertently or very purposefully be doing. So while the front of house might not look it, there's serious prep going on to bring together what feels like an effortless menu of successful and modernised classics.
Considering this is the same team as Bar Liberty, wine is naturally just as big a deal. The list is tight, and the majority comes from Italy or classical Italian grapes, but just as Darren has ingeniously done with the cocktails, the wines have been picked to complement tomato-based sauces and cut through the heaviness of the food. Think textual savoury whites and bright reds.
Our final tip would be to skip dessert and order the Tiramisu Milk Punch, a clarified cocktail using dark rum, muscat, coffee, milk and biscuits. It's heavenly.