With the strict nature of Italian regional cuisine, perhaps there is something to be said for interpreting it from the outside looking in, applying modern techniques and offering a fresh perspective to dishes that have barely changed for centuries. Chef Simon Moss, born, and having achieved considerable success (Cin Cin, One Tree Grill, Orbit), in his native New Zealand, before a stint at Sydney’s Wildfire; is revelling in his take of Modern Italian with French overtones, since joining Sapore in St Kilda three years ago.
The compelling design of the main room by architect Tom Kovac, with stylistic curves and esoteric hanging lighting, is perhaps a fitting context to showcase less traditional fare, with kerbside dining and clear views of the bay offering an alternate perspective. An upstairs function space and PDR offers the flexibility of three different experiences operating simultaneously, while not conflicting with each other. The centrepiece bar offers a wide selection of cocktails and spirits, with a thoughtful and diverse wine list compiled by David Wickwar, in most formats, and at favourable price points. It is always refreshing to see decent back vintages on a list, which unfortunately has become somewhat of a rarity.
Starting off nicely with a mild red pepper arancini ($8/$14), involving subtle use of Woodside goat’s curd to enhance the smooth consistency, is early evidence that a lighter touch is at play. The special of large ‘fleshy’ figs baked with gorgonzola ($16), and served with a pine nut salsa and aged balsamic, is a perfect example of a mature chef standing aside to showcase the star seasonal ingredient. The result is a simple, textural and harmonious dish that lingers longingly on both the palate and the mind.
The house-made gnocchi ($19/27) with tender braised rabbit, truffle butter and parmesan, is a rich warming dish that “gives you a hug”, perhaps leaning more towards a winter dish. Nonetheless, it delivers on its promise, albeit in need of a bowl for presentation, rather than a plate, even in entrée format. No such issues with the seafood linguine ($29.50), which drops the whole catch and taste of the sea straight into your bowl, with calamari, fish, plump mussels and prawns, with a residual but restrained heat note bringing it all together. It is amplified, by a sense of place, as the bay-side breeze gently blows in through the open facade.
Having consumed more pork, and every conceivable variation, than any medieval army that marched across Europe; it requires considerable execution (excuse the pun) to garner my attention. The ‘12 hour’ slow cooked belly ($34) however is exceptional, with the shaved fennel, radicchio, celery and granny smith apple puree cutting across the richness of the textbook crackling and luscious flesh. The ‘tre-modi’ of duck ($37), served on a velvety pumpkin puree, baby spinach with a thick sultana Marsala sauce, works nicely with the pink breast and confit element of the dish, without undermining the contrasting textures. Properly warmed plates and precise seasoning are noticeable throughout the savoury phase, with value and portioning in the diners favour.
Chef Simon Moss has a natural lightness of touch which clearly shines with desserts, often a rarity with good savoury Chefs. It is an intuitive sense that exists outside the weights and measures of the discipline, and excitingly that expression is only in its formative stages. The Lemoncello (house made) semifreddo ($15), with Manuka honey sabayon, teases the palate with sublime texture, and mellow yet profound flavour notes that are offset perfectly by the honeycomb and fresh berries. I have had far more complex desserts, but few that have been so pleasantly harmonious. The highly recommended ‘Lucchesi’ family tiramisu ($15) is simply the best I have had. Rich, intense ‘boozy’ espresso notes tick all the usual boxes, but the light texture really carries the generous portion, with some wafer like walnut bread for contrast and excavation for the more playful. Light moorish Italian style doughnuts round off desserts, which are reason enough alone to return.
Sapore is a vibrant bay-side trattoria, whose technique, execution and commitment to seasonal produce sets it apart from more clichéd alternatives, whilst mindfully respecting both its roots and the local demographic. With a choice of three courses for $45 (signature menu/Sun-Tue), and three for $38 (express lunch menu/seven days), both including a glass of wine, Sapore represents exceptional value for those options. The service under owner Luisa Lucchesi is as cheerful and lively as the food savvy crowd, who are welcomed on my visit long past the declared 10pm last orders. This is always a good barometer that the core essence of hospitality is alive and well. Consistency and evolution have firmly established Sapore as a “keeper” in a district now thriving as an emerging and credible food destination, which dare I say it, is now refreshingly more savoury than its past.
3-5 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Mon-Sun 12 to 3pm, 6 to 10pm
Licensed / (b.y.o Sunday nights/$10 corkage)