Truth be told I tend to avoid Italian restaurants in Melbourne. My experience is that the good ones aren't cheap, and the cheap ones aren't good. The major exception in the CBD was always the Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar but I think it now has a contender for value for money Italian meals in the city in Maccaroni Trattoria Italiana. The two restaurants are very different in style. The Cellar Bar is the more casual sibling of the upmarket Grill and top end main restaurant but still swish and stylish. Service comes with a side order of flair and while not as posh as the other two restaurants I always feel that I am eating somewhere a little special when I dine there.
MTI has much more of a homely, family run feel to it. Service is warm and friendly rather than a well oiled machine, but all the staff seemed eager to go out of their way to please. Food wise it seemed to me that sat somewhere between café and home cooked in style, that is if grandma was the best cook in the village.
Tucked away in Manchester Lane, MTI manages to fit twenty or so seats into a very narrow space. You'd think it would be hard to get a seat but we arrived at around 12.15 on a Friday and there were only a handful of people there before us although others did walk in while we were eating.
Vegetarians look to be very well catered for with Ms No Meat making special comment that there were lots of dishes she was interested in trying. Her choice was the grilled eggplant and zucchini rolls. Filled with bread, cheese, pine nuts and currants and served with an eggplant caponata I enjoyed my taste of this much more than I had expected. Avoiding both the bland flavours that put me off a lot of vegetarian food and the soggy eggplant I hate, as Ms No Meat pointed out it was much more a vegetarian dish rather than a dish for vegetarians. The serving size was very generous as well, with the requested entrée sized serve more than enough for lunch.
Snooze generally goes for a vegetarian option and the spinach and béchamel cannelloni caught her eye. Rich with the cheese and spinach centre and the béchamel sauce served on top, perfectly cooked cannelloni and a great warming and filling dish. Again not necessarily the first thing on the menu I'd order but something I'd be more than happy with.
Personally I considered the gnocchi with mushrooms and the squid ink risotto on the specials board before deciding on the osso bucco. With incredibly tender meat served on the bone and saffron rice on the side, my knife was almost superfluous as the meat came away under just slight pressure from the fork. After its rich meaty flavours and the creamy rice to soak up the sauces, we were left three happy little campers at the end of our mains.
We were pretty full by this stage but the siren call of the cakes sitting in the glass cabinets at the front led us to try the Cassata al Cioccolato and Melandorla cakes, the first a baked with a rich chocolate filling which had yet to fully set and the second a pineapple cake. Both were delicious if the Melandorla seemed a little dry.
It's very hard to see what's not to like about here. The seating area is a little small and split into two parts but that just renders it cosy, service is amazingly friendly for a city restaurant and the food is excellent for the price. It's the sort of place that you're torn between telling everyone about and saving for yourself.
Food - 8
Service - 8
Ambience - 7.5
Price - 8
10 Manchester Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9090 7634