On the face of it, this month-old Italian restaurant/café hybrid is as modern as they come: bare bulbs are a-dangling, Rihanna is a-hollerin’, and touches of turquoise contrast against white washed walls and a central bar lined with blonde wooden stools. But don’t be fooled. Fancy fit-out aside, Stone Mill 347 is as old school as the Laminex-toting Italian Waiter’s Club, with the laissez-faire service, simple gutsy dishes and prices to match.
As you walk in you’ll be greeted with "buona sera" and Italy’s favourite party starter of bittersweet Aperol topped with prosecco for a thrifty $7. Your hosts are a pair of silver-haired gents in flour-flecked pinnies who still kiss the ladies, backslap the men who’ve bagged them, and serve their gnocchi in a frypan.
Get it if it’s on – we order it and one of said hosts ambles to the window to start lightly rolling and cutting the dough into big fluffy pillows, which are tossed with the most walloping, chunky pork ragu Lygon Street has going and plonked down, in pan, still bubbling. Buon appetito.
Bypass the lengthy menu for the specials board. Giant green olives are juicy, meaty and mild, served sizzling in a terracotta dish with a handful of parsley, garlic and a squeeze of lemon. The prawns, mussels and scored calamari that make up the seafood plate get the same short, sharp treatment with the slight embellishment of a lettuce-and-tomato-wedge garnish. This is simple, Sicilian-leaning food presented with very little window dressing.
Avocado bruschetta is about as avant garde as things get, even then it’s a straightforward tasty combo of Melbourne’s favourite breakfast – avocado mashed with lemon and feta – served on a wedge of fresh Casalinga bread that’s all fluff and chewy crust, draped with spicy sheets of fat-freckled salami.
Service here is laid back, which means you’re in for plenty of chats, but you might need to give the odd nudge when it comes to placing orders and getting wine. Which is fine on a quiet night like when we visit, but you can see how things could get a little hectic on busy days. Then again, this isn’t a place to go armed with expectations of whip-smart service. It’s a neighbourhood restaurant built for casual Tuesdays, where BYO is $3 and the compliments are free.