Marchesa Italian bistro joins the Piper Street eat street


I may sound like the pied piper of Piper Street, but I can’t think of another country street in any state that has so many good places to eat and drink.

Dani Valent

14.5/20

Italian$$

Before a recent weekend in the Macedon Ranges, it had been years since I’d visited Kyneton. I admonished myself for the omission as soon as I arrived on pretty Piper Street. After all, this town of 7500 is only one hour north of the city by car or train and I can’t think of another country street in any state that has so many good places to eat and drink in such close proximity to one another (tell me if I’m wrong and I’d be delighted to investigate).

Piper Street dates back to the 1850s and slopes down gently from Mollison Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, to the Campaspe River, about a kilometre away. It’s framed by shops and restaurants behind bluestone-flagged pavements, a church green that hosts a weekend farmers’ market and other buildings that track the history of the street: a groovy motel, weatherboard stayers, a couple of pubs. The homewares pickings are bountiful, but I went hard on the food.

I may sound like the pied piper of Piper Street, but I can’t think of another country street in any state that has so many good places to eat and drink.

Places I didn’t review but could have include Tansy’s, a treasure run by influential chef Tansy Good (she trained Karen Martini) and her partner, John Evans, who deliver a confident, French menu du jour in a homely parlour. Good’s souffle is an impossible suspension of cheese in a cloud, her salad is pert and perfect, each leaf arranged with an artist’s eye.

Fook Shing is a fun, casual Asian restaurant in a pub named after a Gold Rush-era detective (order the prawn on betel leaves). Botanik is a vermouth bar, the pot-plant-lined verandah a cheery place to ponder the subtleties of a martini. There’s also the Piper Street Wine Company, a glorious, high-ceilinged bar and dining room that works as interlude or destination. Meanwhile, Midnight Starling offers accomplished French food: regulars are excited that the duck a l’orange is back.

Go-to dish: Hare raviolo with cheese sauce and chianti reduction.
Go-to dish: Hare raviolo with cheese sauce and chianti reduction.Bonnie Savage

And then there’s Marchesa, the place I decide to review because it’s only been here since February and is a paragon of hospitality. Co-owner and chef Daniel Whelan ran the casual Spaghetti Bar in this modest shopfront for five years, long enough to get tennis elbow from his hand-cranked pasta machine. His business partner, Daniel Saligari, was running the dining floor at Midnight Starling next door.

The pair have known each other for 15 years, ever since a four-year stint at Annie Smithers’ Bistrot, which was down the road before its namesake owner (and national treasure) shifted to nearby Trentham. The Daniels even had a stint running the bistro together when Smithers went on holiday and let her employees do their own thing.

That cat’s-away period was the kernel of Marchesa. Spaghetti Bar closed in December and two months (and a lick of paint and a bit of carpentry) later, Marchesa opened in its stead. It’s a warm, lively, 26-seat Italian bistro doing food that’s peasant at heart but executed with fine-dining finesse.

Vitello tonnato is a nice demonstration of Whelan’s approach to tweaking classics. His veal is roasted rather than poached, as is traditional. It’s dressed with a confit tuna mayonnaise and very crisp capers, finding the meeting place between zingy and luscious.

Who knew you could become obsessed with hare raviolo? The pasta has bite before slipping into succulence, the filling (hare, pork, liver) piquant and bold; the cheesy sauce is sleek, the drizzle of chianti reduction so moreish.

Pork cutlet with red-wine-braised cabbage and apple sauce.
Pork cutlet with red-wine-braised cabbage and apple sauce.Bonnie Savage

There’s usually pork on the menu, brined in salt and honey. I had a cutlet served with red-wine-braised cabbage and apple sauce: it was blush-pink and juicy.

The daily menu includes two ($65) or three ($85) courses. Greens are extra ($14) but recommended: the cime di rapa and chard are sourced from local farm Northumberland Growers. You taste demure winter sun, the sly generosity of granite soils.

Whelan’s tiramisu tops up Saligari’s wine offerings with its inclusion of three types of alcohol: the coffee is laced with herbal liqueur Strega; there’s marsala in the zabaglione, and Galliano in the mascarpone. It’s a fluffy collision of cocktail, dessert and utter joy.

The tiramisu involves three tipples.
The tiramisu involves three tipples.Bonnie Savage

Small, busy restaurants can feel chaotic, but Marchesa is as in sync as a barbershop quartet, delivering a well-rehearsed repertoire but nimble enough to weave in the harmonies of diners who bring their own sing-song energy to the room.

I may sound like the pied piper of Piper Street but I know it’s not easy for restaurants these days, especially outside the big cities. In my opinion, Marchesa has all the elements right: experienced owners holding down key roles, a clear vision and – crucially – food that I’m thinking about two weeks after eating it. Marchesa is a parcel of Piper Street perfection.

The low-down

Vibe: Intimate farm-to-table Italian

Go-to dish: Raviolo of hare and pork (part of a set menu)

Drinks: The 110-bottle list has plenty of local labels but also wanders through Italy and France. Wines by the glass change weekly: I lucked into a gorgeous Barolo ($36).

Cost: Two-course menu $65; three-course menu $85; excluding drinks

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

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