NYC and Italy collide at Carmine’s Bistro, Carlton

Please note: I attended Carmine’s Bistro as a guest of the restaurant.

There is just something special about Italian food. It is comforting, warming, brings people together. Whenever I am organizing an event I know that I am safe with Italian food as it is unlikely I know anyone that wouldn’t enjoy it. Even nowadays, Italian seems the easiest option to cater for my gluten free and FODMAP friends. Carmine’s Bistro in Carlton is a place where you can find this warm, comforting environment that is the perfect place to meet with friends for a casual meal or special occasion.

A friend and I visited Carmine’s Bistro in Carlton on a cool Saturday night for a long dinner, and we were quickly warmed up by the delicious food and gracious hospitality. Aesthetically, Carmine’s is a NYC style Italian bistro. Decked out with big candelabras, plush leather booths and wooden panelling, it is ambient and comfortable whilst still being casual. Small touches, like little lamps made from wine glasses, or Jim Beam bottles converted into handwash pumps in the bathrooms, give it a more eclectic feel than your standard chequered table-cloth Italian restaurant on Lygon St.

Food-wise, I liked that Carmine’s offered more than just pizza and pasta and your standard Italian mains. Don’t get me wrong, I completely appreciate traditional Italian cuisine, but I do like to see restaurants trying to modernize or innovate something traditional to create a fusion between old and new which is what I saw at Carmine’s. Whilst the traditional pizza and pasta options that Lygon St is so famous for are on the menu, so are some new and interesting food choices, like sliders, calamari cones and tapas options (see below).

We opted for the ‘Feed Me’ menu, which at $59 a head is incredibly good value. We literally (I am not kidding) couldn’t finish this chefs selection menu and had to tell the waiters to stop bringing out food before dessert because we could not fit anything more in… I’m talking food sweats! The food we did try was varied and gave us a great taste of what Carmine’s has to offer.

  
We started with some more tapas style dishes. I loved the Caprese salad in a shot glass. It was so different than anything I have ever tried! Soft creamy cheese topped with pesto and tomatoes, eaten with a spoon. This was accompanied by mixed bruschetta, all which were simple but delicious, and some delightful seared scallops with garlic butter which were a definite highlight.

   
 Next up was arancini and meatballs, two different kinds of ‘balls’. Both were nice but were not the stand out dishes for me.

  
I loved the Funghi Al Forno, mushrooms stuffed with chicken, crumbed and fried, served with crispy polenta and a herb cream sauce. It was such a different take on chicken and mushrooms. My friend didn’t like mushrooms, so I was the sole consumer of this dish and didn’t complain one little bit!

  

The tapas style offerings continued, with Broccoli and Zucchini lightly battered and fried and drizzled with olive oil and fresh parmesan. I love vegetables in all different forms, but sometimes it is completely okay to batter and fry veggies and this was one of those instances. Crispy, juicy and delicious.

  
Only then did we move onto the mains- do you see why we struggled to finish? So. much. food. I really liked the Miss Italia pizza, the managers special, topped with napoli, proscuitto, rocket, shaved parmesan and fresh tomatoes. It was a fresh, zesty pizza topping and very enjoyable. At this point I made the decision to slow down and only had two pieces, while my friend smashed the rest… and probably regretted it by the next course.

  
Our final main (and the last thing we could possibly fit in) was a gorgeous pasta- pappardelle with Morton Bay bugs and cherry tomatoes in a cream sauce. I enjoyed the tapas style dishes and the pizza, but this was probably my favourite dish. The pasta was homemade, cooked perfectly and the sauce simple but beautiful, with plenty of tender bug meat throughout it. It did remind me of pasta I have eaten in Italy.

  
At this point, we could no longer eat anymore but it is my understanding that dessert would usually be included in the set menu. I would have loved to have tried dessert but actually could not physically manage it.

I have a friend who always asks me for restaurants to visit where her boyfriend would actually be full after a meal because he eats so much- this is that restaurant, and the quality isn’t compromised at the same time as it being filling. If the ‘Feed Me’ menu wasn’t your style, all of the dishes are also on the main menu and would be ideal for sharing. Carmine’s would also be a great venue for a birthday celebration, as a few times during the night the birthday song would play and the staff would spoil the birthday girl or boy, and have a photo of them with a big Instagram placard/frame which I thought was very cute!

I hope you had a delicious weekend,

Foodie Melbourne
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