Cheap and cheerful is often used as a description for somewhere that just actually is not very good. It has become a clique rather than maintaining what it should mean, which is a place that is informal, friendly, and doesn’t break the bank.
To be transparent, I was not planning on writing a blog on South Yarra Trattoria. My friend had organised dinner for a group, and this was a safe option from her significant South Yarra experience, describing the restaurant as “cheap and cheerful”. Organising a group dinner is always a challenge, and luckily tonight was properly cheap and cheerful.
The reason I decided to do a short review is that South Yarra Trattoria is worth knowing about. The menu is a novel of everything fitting into the description of informal Italian with the exception of pizza. Within each grouping of pasta, veal, gnocchi and other staples there is around six or more options. Mathematicians would have difficulty in coming up with the number of possible combinations for entrée, main and dessert.
Seated at a large table at the back of the restaurant was genius by the floorstaff as we long outstayed our welcome, even for a Saturday night. BYO wine will do that to you. But the staff didn’t do any packing up immediately around us, making all aspects of the service experience great. In fact, the tempo, and attentiveness of our waitperson was excellent.
The food is incredibly well priced, but given the pricing you get the formula you would expect. It is tasty food, but there is nothing surprising, with ingredients that the average shopper would be using from a supermarket chain. Our entrée calamari was lightly cooked, but still had some toughness to it, suggesting either lack of quality, or lack of tenderising.
On the flip side, my gnocchi Calabrese was delicious with a sauce not holding back on chilli spice, and a serve not holding back at all. The gnocchi in this case is a nice quality and comparable to more expensive versions. Catherine’s lasagne was decent, without that higher level of love that you can taste when execution is more fluent, and ingredients are higher in quality.
The desserts were the same. Tried and true sweet treats, like our tartufo (Italian ice cream dessert, rolled in chocolate in this case), tasted nice, and for $8 that is a very reasonable dessert. But this place isn’t purely just about food, it is about sharing a meal with friends, in an environment made particularly convivial by the waitstaff.
There are ways to do cheap well, and a completely full restaurant here, in an area with some Italian powerhouses (Da Noi, E’Cucina, 38 Chairs) shows that South Yarra Trattoria is doing a good job.