La dolce vita: where to find a taste of Italy in Melbourne

Risotto dish

Blanche Clark

Posted June 04, 2023

Dreaming of a holiday in Italy? Before you go, discover the multitude of Italian-influenced experiences in the heart of Melbourne.

Italian food culture has long captivated our taste buds, and it’s hard to imagine Australia without pizza, pasta, and pesto.

Whether it’s sipping a negroni in a laneway bar such as Sojourn, getting a gooey, cheesy fix in a bustling pizzeria, or sharing a tiramisu in a fine-dining institution, you’ll find Italian influences throughout Melbourne, including RACV Club.

It’s no surprise that Italy is one of our favourite travel destinations, and our ultimate guide to Rome gives you an overview of the city’s unmissable ancient wonders and culinary delights. Or find why Italy’s second most populous city is famed for its fashion, design and cuisine in our travel guide to cosmopolitan Milan.

But while you’re planning your trip overseas, immerse yourself in one of Melbourne's famous cultural food hubs – ‘Little Italy’ in Lygon Street in Carlton, and find out where the best gelato joints are in Melbourne and Victoria.


Let your tastebuds travel the world at RACV Clubs and Resorts | RACV

Savour Italian influences around RACV Club

RACV City Club Executive Chef Jason Camillo says there are many Italian influences around the Club, from antipasto in Sojourn to Risotto Milanese with scallops in the Members Dining Room, and Pizza Diavola (devil pizza) with chillies at Bourke Street Green.

Hailing from a family with Italian heritage, Camillo says he has inherited that simple, fresh approach to cooking. "It is the basis of everything I do." he says. "That influence comes through with a lot of the dishes." 

He has joined forces with Melbourne-based food historian Dr Tania Cammarano to create a special dining event: Italian Migrant Journey: Dinner & Masterclass, drawing inspiration from The First Australian Continental Cookery Book. The event was so successful in October last year, a second dinner and masterclass is scheduled for June 2023.

Chef making gnocchi

RACV Executive Chef Jason Camillo's Italian heritage influences his cooking. Image: Shannon Morris


Gain insight into Australia’s culinary past

Cammarano discovered The First Australian Continental Cookery Book in the State Library of Victoria when she was researching the use of pasta between 1864 and 1975 for her PhD.

“The cookbook was published in 1937 by Italian migrants, and they had a clear vision for Australia’s culinary future,” Tania says. “What comes through in the cookbook is they thought Australia was fantastic and that Australia had great produce, but they didn’t think Australians knew how to cook!”

She says the cookbook has recipes for lasagna with pesto, pizza, and arancini, but those names weren’t used in 1937.

“The authors assumed people wouldn’t know what they were talking about, so lasagne is called ribbon macaroni – the term pasta wasn’t used until the 1950s – and pizza is called ‘The Neapolitan recipe’.”


Lasagne dinner

This vegetarian lasagna is easy to make at home. Image: Getty


Enjoy Italian recipes at home

Now known as the foodie capital of Australia, Melbourne has come a long way since The First Australian Continental Cookery Book was published.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next family meal, you can try these RACV Club and resort recipes for a taste of Italy at home. There’s the winter-warming slow-cooked beef ragu with potato gnocchi, the quick and easy Mediterranean roasted vegetables with spaghetti, and a delicious vegetarian lasagne recipe.

Camillo has also devised a vegan and gluten-free zucchini pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce.

"When I was growing up, I pretty much ate pasta every day. I love it because there is no limit to its variations. Pasta is designed to carry the sauce, or it is made for the sauce to stick to the pasta itself. That is why you get all these wonderful shapes."

Discover the best salami and cured meats

The cured meats chosen for the antipasto in Sojourn and similar dishes in other Club dining venues are of the highest quality.

"There's usually a prosciutto, a nice salami, whether it's a sopressa or cacciatore and some air-dried wagyu, which is cured wagyu beef that melts in your mouth." Jason says.

For the uninitiated, these are three main types of prosciutto - each named after Italian regions - Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, and Prosciutto Toscano.

Jason says he prefers San Daniele prosciutto because it's more delicate in flavour than the Parma prosciutto, which is cured for longer. "I'm also fond of it because it comes from the region where my uncle still lives," he says.

Rome travel

Enjoy a taste of Italy in Melbourne before discovering the culinary delights of Rome. Image: Getty


Try Italian-influenced wines

Italy is one of the major players in the wine world and has always competed against the French for dominance in Australia. You’ll find several Italian varietals on the wine lists around the Club.

It’s the chance to try Box Grove Vineyard’s fine vermentino, a white varietal from Italy’s Liguria region that the central Victorian winery has made its own, while Quealy on the Mornington Peninsula produces several different versions of Friulano, a dry white that is often compared to Sauvignon Blanc.

You’ll also find Italian classics such as the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo on the wine menus at City Club and Healesville Country Club & Resort.

Italian wine and scenery

RACV Club serves Victorian made with Italian varietals. Image: Getty


Relax with Aperitivo Hour

RACV Club Members who book accommodation at Healesville Country Club & Resort get to enjoy a daily Aperitivo Hour, with complimentary drinks and canapes served from 5pm to 6pm. It’s a lovely way to relax before an evening meal at either Banyalla or Riddell’s Green, and it’s one of many RACV Club Member benefits.

Aperitivo comes from the Latin word aperire, meaning "to open”, and refers to an alcoholic drink consumed before dinner to stimulate the appetite.

In keeping with its Italian origins, the Aperitivo Hour at Healesville Country Club & Resort is all about slowing down, socialising and, ultimately, eating.

There is also a similar service for Club Members staying on The Retreat level at City Club.

Aperitivo hour

Healesville Country Club & Resort has a Members Lounge, where Club Members who are staying in-house can enjoy an exclusive Aperitivo Hour. Image: Shannon Morris.


Getting the good oil

You can also take the taste of Italy home. City Club lobby shop sells Mount Zero olives and olive oil. "The oil is a frantoio, a single Italian varietal," says Camillo.

“Some olive oil producers will blend several different olives. I prefer a single variety like a frantoio, which is nice and fruity and great for salads. Some olive oils have a more grassy, stronger flavour, which is good for dipping bread in.”

Jason says he avoids cooking with olive oil because it has a lower burning or smoking point. “It smokes quickly and that will make your food taste a bit bitter. I prefer to use olive oil for salads or dressings, and I like finish off a lot of dishes with just a drizzle of olive oil.”


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