Lupo, Collingwood

Where: Lupo, 300 Smith Street Collingwood

What: Maybe the best tiramisu I’ve ever had

Who: Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Papa Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Mama Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Whatever Floats Your Bloat Bro

Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach

As is family tradition, we ventured to Lupo to celebrate Whatever Floats Your Bloat Bro’s birthday because nothing symbolises a special occasion in my family more than a big bowl of pasta (or a risotto if you’re the rice-loving Papa Whatever Floats Your Bloat).

Lupo sits where the old Saint Crispin and Broadsheet Kitchen used to. I hadn’t been since it was Saint Crispin and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was much more laidback than the fine diner – timber floors and exposed brick walls are the name of the game here and on the summer evening we visited, sunlight was spilling into the space, coating everything in a pleasant amber hue. Scott Pickett, of Estelle and Matilda fame, was behind Saint Crispin and the space’s reinvention. Lupo has received critical reviews from the likes of Good Food and The Herald Sun for a previous menu iteration but maybe they’ve upped their game with their latest menu because we enjoyed it.

Because we visited in the lead-up to Christmas, Lupo was doing a special ’12 days of Christmas’ menu where you could get a snack, a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine for $40. You couldn’t choose the snack, but you could choose whichever pasta you wanted off the menu and a red or white of your choice – it seemed like a pretty good deal seeing the pastas alone ranged from $30 to $34 so we went for it. Wines are high in histamines so I ordered a campari and soda instead – I couldn’t swap out my drink and had to pay extra for the campari and soda, but the kind waitstaff reassured me that someone else could have my glass of wine.

The set menu snack turned out to be prosciutto-wrapped rockmelon. It was a bit too 80s for me – I love prosciutto and I’m enough of a fan of rockmelon, but I didn’t enjoy the pairing.

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Lupo had so many interesting entrées so we broke out of the shackles of our set menu (on my insistence) and ordered the fermented potato focaccia with whipped eggplant and smoked chilli and the eggplant fritters, the second of which was off the daily specials menu. Because I made a snap decision, I didn’t stop to think that eggplant was a high-histamine vegetable and that I’d just ordered it in two different forms. RIP my gut.

Lupo’s approach to entrées is to treat them like finger food, meaning they won’t give you sharing plates unless you ask – which of course Papa WFYB did.

I expected the fermented potato focaccia to taste like Lesa’s famed potato flatbread, but it tasted more like standard (albeit high-quality) bread. The focaccia was served to us in chargrilled strips with an intense smoky flavour from being grilled over an open fire with olive oil, with an earthiness that was only compounded by the smoked chilli eggplant dip – akin to a baba ghanoush – that was served alongside it. I enjoyed this pairing – the bread was fluffy with crisp edges, and the dip was incredibly creamy.

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Served with an aioli, the eggplant fritters were crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. I’ve tasted limp and soggy eggplant chips due to the moisture of eggplant, but these suffered from no such shortcomings, though they didn’t hit it out of the park either. Papa WFYB, in particular, enjoyed them.

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Lupo showcases different sorts of pastas on its menu, from the flat and wide ribbon-shaped mafaldine to the short and smooth tubular canneroni – each of which they make onsite. I initially wanted to order the squid ink mafaldine with gluten-free pasta but was told the gluten-free substitute wouldn’t be squid ink-infused, which defeated the purpose of ordering that particular pasta, so I went for the hand-rolled macaroni, chicken and sweetcorn instead with a gluten-free penne substitute.

This pasta was reminiscent of a chicken and sweetcorn soup, and a quick Google search revealed that it’s a common pairing that’s been replicated numerous times by mum-and-dad chefs with pasta, though it doesn’t seem to hail from any regional combination of Italian ingredients – true to Pickett’s aim to cook untraditional Italian. I loved it. Keeping to the smoky theme, the chicken had a faint and pleasant whiff of the chargrill, while the perfectly al dente gluten-free penne was coated in a buttery, oily sauce. I’m a fiend for adding either chilli flakes or chilli oil to my pasta but this didn’t need it – it was light, summery and fresh.

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Mama Whatever Floats Your Bloat ordered the same dish, but with the original hand-rolled macaroni, which turned out to be longish tubes with ribbed surfaces quite unlike elbow macaroni. She enjoyed the lightness of it too.

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With no risotto on the menu, Papa WFYB opted instead for the canneroni with lamb ragu, rosemary and pangrattato. He was afraid this would be too meaty and rich but it was incredibly well done – the slow-cooked melt-in-mouth lamb ragu was scattered evenly across the canneroni, with the toasted breadcrumbs adding a pleasant textural counterpoint to the softness of the lamb and breaking up its richness. It was the most generous serve of all five pastas, but Papa WFYB did it justice.

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Picky as he is, Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat had only eaten the fermented potato focaccia before the mains arrived – no way was he touching the prosciutto-wrapped rockmelon – and was ready for his salsa di pomodoro gnocchi with salted ricotta and basil. Mr WFYB enjoyed this and let me try a piece of gnocchi – it was soft and pillowy, as all good gnocchi should be, but I found the salsa di pomodoro slightly too sweet, though Mr WFYB had no such qualms.

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The birthday boy we were celebrating, WFYB Bro, opted for the sher wagyu lasagne. This was hearty and rich, infused with tomatoey goodness.

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As is the case at every family dinner (read here, here and here), we ended with the tiramisu. But in Lupo’s case, this wasn’t any old tiramisu. The word ‘deconstructed’ in a culinary context usually conjures up an image of several disparate elements sitting far away from one another on a humourless plate, but in Lupo’s case, it was a deconstruction that worked well and one that’s been honed over several years. Instead of the typical presentation of tiramisu where coffee-soaked ladyfingers are layered with a whipped mixture, Lupo’s version featured a mini tower with a liquor-soaked almond biscuit base, a meringue wafer, and pipings of chocolate, caramel and mascarpone cream topped with a dollop of chilled vanilla ice-cream sprinkled with chocolate shavings. The blend of sweet, bitter and savoury was perfectly executed and it tasted exquisite – though Mama WFYB noted the coffee flavour wasn’t as strong as in a typical tiramisu, I thought it was perhaps one of the best I’d ever tried.

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Dining at Lupo was memorable – the pastas were inventive, the tiramisu a cut above the rest. I ended up with three bloats which manifested the day after, and I attributed it to the two eggplant dishes we had as our entrées.

Lupo is open Tuesday to Thursday from 6pm to 11pm and Friday to Sunday from 12pm to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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