Scorcher reviews: 38 Chairs
4A Bond Street, South Yarra
Click PLAY below to hear Scorcher’s review on 3AW Breakfast
Where does a hungry American mafioso choose to dine when he visits Melbourne?
Somewhere on Lygon Street, you might guess.
Or perhaps he’d head for a glitzy establishment in the city.
The answer might surprise you: buzzy, neighbourhood Italian pasta palace, 38 Chairs in South Yarra.
And who would argue?
Before Matthew Guy was caught out having lobster with a mobster in Beaumaris, the 3AW Breakfast crew had ribeye with a wiseguy – specifically, reformed New York mob boss turned motivational speaker Michael Franzese when he visited our shores a few years back.
There we all were – Ross, John and us lackeys – having lunch with a former racketeer, once one of America’s richest gangsters, on his recommendation, having told us the day before that he was served the “best Italian food he’s ever tasted” at this restaurant.
With that kind of tick of approval we had to check it out for ourselves.
But if “Mikey” were to head back to 38 Chairs today he’d barely recognise the joint, with the restaurant having undergone a significant facelift.
What used to be a dark, squishy 38-seater – barely enough room to swing a tommy gun – now has space for around 70 punters.
The space is brighter, more inviting, with a whiff of Italian sophistication.
Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that 38 Chairs is a hotbed of hustlers and gangsters.
Far from it. Each day, for lunch and dinner, 38 Chairs swells with South Yarra’s great and good, hungry locals eager for an authentic Italian food experience in Melbourne.
Franzese would, however, be happy to find calibre of the food – chiefly, freshly-made nonna-style pasta – hasn’t changed a jot, although the menu has had an upgrade too.
Trying to improve on “best ever” is a tough ask but head chef Mirco Speri has certainly had a crack.
The cavatelli (chewy little semolina shells) with braised octopus, yellow tomatoes, crumbled pistachios and anchovy colatura (a delightful sauce from Cetara in southern Italy) is like a loving hug from nonna. A beautiful and satisfying dish.
The hand-made linguini comes stuffed to the brim full of seafood. Whole scampi waves at you seductively, sitting on its plump bed of pasta, with mussels, clams and scallops peering out from underneath the covers. It’s like a little bit of Sorrento in South Yarra.
There’s a great list of starters as well. Suckling pig and potato croquettes on beetroot puree were crumby and scrummy.
And after having devoured the 24-month-aged Parma prosciutto with creamy barrata balls my dining companion declared: “I could eat this every day.”
In The Godfather, McClusky asked Sollozzo: “How’s the Italian food in this restaurant?”
We know how Franzese would answer that question if asked for his view on the fare at 38 Chairs, and while “best ever” may be a big call there’s no doubt it’s right up there as one of Melbourne’s best pasta restaurants.