The vegans of facebook have alerted me to yet another unexpectedly veg-friendly eatery! Maccaroni Osteria Italiana is a family-run Italian restaurant located in that funny little wedge of Queen's Parade bordering Fitzroy North and Clifton Hill. With a marble bar, high ceiling and elaborate light fixture at its centre, the restaurant has a sense of occasion.
The regular menu is dominated by pasta and risotti, meat and fish (including calamari and chips!). But there are also vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free labels across the board and an entire separate vegan menu, warmly inviting customers to "ask any question to the staff in order your food for religious reasons, environmental concerns, animal welfare concerns". Our group numbered more than a dozen, and the kitchen were kind enough to devise a $40pp vegan banquet that allowed us to sample numerous dishes across the menu.
The first deliveries to our table were huge platters of misto fritto (mixed fried foods, pictured left) - bolognese arancina (rice balls), ascolane (stuffed) olives, panelle (chickpea flour fritters), and potato croquettes (like crumbed fried gnocchi). These were fun to pick through, with everyone having different favourites. The lightly toasted bruschetta with olive and sun-dried tomato based sauces (pictured right) were almost overlooked.
Next came small bowls of macco di lenticchie (pictured left), a plain-looking red lentil soup with a startlingly rich, savoury flavour that reminded me of chicken stock, topped with herby croutons. The following pita panormous (pictured right) was a deceptively light and fluffy potato casserole studded with onions and black olives.
Little did we know, the hearty dishes would only keep coming! The lasagne (pictured left) had a very fresh tomato sauce and more pasta layers than I could count; papparedelle ai funghi (pictured right) featured thick pasta ribbons, creamy mushroom sauce and heady waft of truffle.
My favourite might have been the gnocchi forest - the lightest little potato dumplings I've ever eaten, in a bolognese sauce dotted with mushrooms. What a nice surprise to have a little vegan cheese to sprinkle over the top too.
Filling up, I was tempted to decline the fagottino di melanzane (bundle of eggplant, pictured left), but was glad I tried it - the pasta filling was elastic and fresh, and the slim eggplant wrapping was smoky and crispy edged, topped with a dab of tomato sauce and a basil leaf.
We were completely unable to do justice to the scaloppine ai funghi (pictured right), tender slivers of mock meat and mushroom in a creamy gravy, alongside parsley-seasoned potatoes. In hungrier circumstances, I'd have demolished the entire plate myself with gusto.
Dessert was mercifully miniature - creamy pannacotta topped with a berry sauce, and coppa di cioccolata fredda (cold chocolate cup) with a softened biscuit base and crunchy candied-almond topping.
Maccaroni Osteria Italiana set a very high bar for vegan Italian dining, with fresh and springy egg-free pastas and rich, creamy dairy-free sauces. Backed up with deep-fried entrees and a couple of desserts, it made for a heavy meal. While a salad or some more side veges might've lightened the experience, there wasn't a single sub-par dish on the table. This restaurant pulled off the far more impressive feat: opening the upscale, family-centred Italian restaurant experience to vegan and gluten-free dietary restrictions.
This particular dinner has already appeared on Veganopoulous.
Maccaroni Osteria Italiana
201 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill
Accessibility: There is a small lip on entry, and a few steps down to the front dining area where we sat. Tables are well spaced and we received full table service. Most toilets are located up a well-lit flight of stairs with a handrail; toilet rooms are gendered and dimly lit; toilet cubicles are narrow. On the ground floor there is a well-lit disability-access toilet with a baby changing station. (Thanks to the staff comment below for extra info!)