Mario’s Cafe

303 Brunswick St
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 3343

It was time for me to get my hair cut and given that I’ve yet to find a hair salon that I have been COMPLETELY happy with, I’ve been a hair salon slut for as long as I could remember. I’ve been to city salons, suburban salons, makeshift salons in a Chinese-Vietnamese lady’s garage in Donvale, cheap salons and high-end salons – and none of them have been good enough for me to make a return visit (though some have definitely come close). Today was my last free day off before I get back into the grind of full-time work (as opposed to a four-day week) and the university semester so I decided that I was not just going to get a haircut, but treat myself to some lunch and window shopping. My old Ticketek buddies love Heading Out so I decided to book myself a haircut at the Fitzroy branch just so I can have a legit excuse to have a late lunch on Brunswick Street (hey, the end justifies the means, right?). Given that one of the veterans and darlings of Melbourne’s cafe scene, Mario’s Cafe, has been on my list for a while and given that it was only a short walk from the hair salon, I decided to pop in an hour before my haircut for some pasta.

Perching myself atop a stool by the window, I ordered a coffee and a plate of penne amatriciana (which I heard was really, really good) and watched the world (well, Brunswick Street) go by. There is something about sitting in one of Melbourne’s iconic gems, underneath the very retro neon red signage and reading The Age while listening in on conversations around me. One conversation that amused me was one between the barista and a lady, who had ordered a skinny latte. She was told that Mario’s did not use skinny milk and that she MUST try a ‘full-cream’ latte because it tastes so much better and she’ll never go back to drinking skinny lattes again. While I do agree with the barista, I just think that it’s odd that they’d deny people the choice to have skinny milk in their coffee. What I found really funny was that my full-cream latte ($3.50) was not the best I’ve had. It contained more foam than a college foam party and it was so watery that I started wondering whether they had, in fact, put skinny milk in mine just to take the piss.

Two slices of white bread and a generous slab of butter. I don’t normally like milquetoast white bread (did I just make a pun? DID I?) but for some reason, white bread in a place like Mario’s works. They’re all about simple, unpretentious food that remains true to its 25-year history and well, if white bread was what they served back in 1986, then I have no issues with them serving white bread in 2011.

I was ready to open up the book that I am currently reading when the waitress plonked a plate of steaming hot penne amatriciana ($16.50) in front of me. AJ Jacobs will have to wait, I thought as I hungrily dug into my pasta. Now, I might be a food blogger but I happen to be a complete dunce in the kitchen. That said, I can make a mean amatriciana so I was curious to see how Mario’s version fared. Well, blow me away! This amatriciana slapped mine all over the face, leaving hit marks across the cheeks. It was rich and lovely, in all its tomato-y goodness. Shavings of salty bacon and lots of sweet caramelised onion bits competed for attention in the taste stakes, though they ended up working in harmony along with the fine, sprinkling of parmesan and fresh herbs on top. And if that wasn’t good enough, fresh slices of red chilli made an appearance to give the dish a bit of a kick. Loved it.

A carb-alicious affair, captured (almost) perfectly with my iPhone.

While I don’t rate the coffee (hell, if I was that lady, one sip of that latte would be enough for me to drink skinny lattes for the rest of my life), I loved my pasta dish. It was a no-fuss simple, tasty and extremely filling dish that was perfect for a chilly and windy day such as today. And for those who give a crap, my haircut was great, thanks. Good enough for me to return? Good enough for a former hair salon slut to consider being a hair salon monogamist, yes. But I’d be lying if I said that a pasta lunch at Mario’s Cafe was NOT a determining factor in any future decision to go back to Heading Out, heh.

Mario's Cafe on Urbanspoon

I eat too much.


  1. Hannah
    July 20, 2011

    Okay, so clearly this amatriciana would whoop the sweet buttocks of every amatriciana I’ve ever had, and surely the wake-up call of such tasty violence would negate the need for caffeine and watery lattes anyway?

    P.S. I, too, am in struggle-town with hair salons these days. My kingdom for someone who knows how to cut curly hair!

  2. thundermistress
    July 22, 2011

    Mmmmm, the pasta looks so good! (Although does it know Australia says no to violence against women?!)

  3. msihua
    July 22, 2011

    That does look good, and I will give the coffee a miss! Such a coffee snob 😛

  4. Kristen Bellisario
    July 23, 2011

    “I’ve been a hair salon slut for as long as I could remember” – You are not alone my friend. It’s a disease, I tell you and it won’t stop until you find that one perfect salon that can suffice all the, for the lack of a better word, craving, lol.

    I love coffee and I’m pretty sure that coffee you were having there was magnifique! I assume that this Mario place is a coffee shop-ish? If it is, then it’s on my list of the top 10 things I should check out!

  5. mappingthepeace
    July 29, 2011

    Ive only been into Mario’s for a coffee and maybe that was where I went wrong, because I havent been back! Although I think their little tux outfits are cute, I just think they look a little too pretentious for Brunswick St. Maybe I should give ’em another go.

    In terms of a haircut, I love “Green Butterfly” on High St, Northcote (can be a bit $$$). I’ve also heard Chainsaw Massacre in Carlton is good.

    1. libishski
      July 31, 2011

      Yes, avoid the coffee but load up on the food!

      Thanks for the recs, I’ll check those places out 🙂


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