Scorcher reviews: Ciao Cielo
115 Bay St
Click PLAY below to hear Scorch’s review on 3AW Brekky
From the moment you step in from off the street, from beachy-industrial Port Melbourne, you’re hit with the sensation that you’ve fallen through a teleporter and been spat out in the middle of a snazzy, spruced-up Italian farmhouse.
Elegant Italian fine diner Ciao Cielo, with its designated spot of turf for bocce and fairy light-strewn beer garden, is a calming sanctum of Italianate charm in the middle of buzzy Bay Street.
Contained within the walls of a former 19th-century courthouse and lock-up, Ciao Cielo has an air more akin to Portofino than Port Melbourne, yet at the same time it feels inviting and familiar.
This duality may stem from the fact that Ciao Cielo is, in effect, two restaurants; its more subdued, sassy sister Ciao Cucina next door – enter via grave path, through a see-through marquee and into a neon sign-lit, pastel-coloured room – serves up super sumptuous woodfired pizzas, hearty bowls of handmade pasta and sparkly spritzes at more budget-conscious prices.
Ciao Cielo, however, is rather more refined, with a focus on fine, contemporary Italian dishes that have been collected and tweaked by chef Bryan Nelson and his wife, Kate Dickens, from years of culinary adventures around Italy.
The couple first opened the restaurant in 2010, at a different address just up the road, but after a $1.5 million renovation of this historic building that’s been two years in the planning, Ciao Cielo reopened in its brand new digs in April.
The soaring sandstone walls, baby blue booth seats and open fire lend the room a companionable vibe that brings to mind fond memories of boisterous family meals and lazy holidays; the wine glasses scream “ciao” at you with a tacit wink of approval – they have witnessed many a bacchanalian feast here and goad you into having one yourself.
Our feast got off to a flying start with a plate of puffy, creamy scallops, served with a delightful, solitary fish croquette intruder.
The scallops are seared at an intense heat, locking in the moisture and sweetness, and the absence of a sauce allows the flavour of the scallops to speak for itself.
Kate said her mission with Ciao Cielo was to create a restaurant that her nonna would be proud of.
Well, I have no doubt nonna would be shouting from the rooftop after tucking in to the deliciously hearty Sardinian-style goat leg with polenta dumplings and pangrattato.
This tagine-like bowl of happiness draws on Sardinia’s Arabic past and packs in strong flavours, such as wild olives, marjoram, a load of sweet onions and fennel, to combat the gaminess of the goat. It’s a nourishing meal of humble origins, perfect to eat with that fire crackling away in the corner.
Other signature dishes include a comforting, spindly nest of spanner crab spaghetti, a local favourite, and whole rainbow trout with pancetta, thyme, lemon and garlic.
The potato gnocchi with picked pear is not something I’d normally order but I’m oh so thankful I did.
A velvety parsnip cream is applied sparingly – the sauce just hugs the gnocchi rather than drowns it – and sweet pops of pear and punches of taleggio cheese give the dish a real depth of flavour.
Ciao Cielo, for those wondering, translates as “hello heaven”, which is pretty fitting because as I got up to walk out and back into the world I felt as though I was floating on a cloud, having just enjoyed a meal that was pretty divine.