San Paolo Solarino

7 Howey Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 2636

Last week, I experienced The Best Day of My Life; I finally got to see New Order (aka My Favourite Band in the World) perform live. And even better, I was there at close range to see them at Future Music Festival. If I were to sum up that one hour I spent literally metres away from Bernard Sumner et al, I’d say that it was like experiencing a degustation dinner at Vue de Monde times 586 – and that would have only been enough to describe the first 45 seconds of ‘Blue Monday.’ Yeah, that good.

The Best Day of My Life didn’t exactly start off swimmingly, though. I was tired and wanted to sleep in until at least 2pm, which is normally the case on any given Saturday or Sunday. On this particular day, however, I couldn’t do that. Instead, I forced myself to take a shower (grumble, grumble), dress myself in appropriate music festival attire (grumble, grumble), find appropriate music festival attire for Marty at the shops (grumble, grumble, who the hell buys festival attire only HOURS before showing up?!) and find something to eat.

I wanted greasy Maccas fare but thankfully, Marty, for once, had more sense than me by suggesting we eat light. We wanted something with lots of animal protein and vegies to give us energy for the day, without feeling nasty. We couldn’t be bothered walking around looking for a café that specialised in very light meals and we just so happened to be at Howey Place where Solarino, a Sicilian-influenced café, was, so we decided to eat there. Although the tiny Italian café specialised in delicious pastas, we figured that they would at least have two or three light dishes on the menu.

I resisted the temptation to order pasta; instead I let my eyes roam down the list of salads. On any other day, I would have happily ordered the rigatoni with aurora-style pork bolognaise or the linguini with calamari, tomato and pesto. However, the sight of an Asian lady shovelling pasta from a dish the size of Flemington Racecourse at a nearby table was enough to unsettle me. Oh, the carbs! The bloating! Next, picture a festival port-a-loo and, well, everything goes green. Bad idea.

After choosing a salad, I grabbed myself a copy of the Sunday lift-out from a certain tabloid newspaper, hoping that the pretty fashions and drool-worthy Donna Hay food photos would perk me up. Instead, all the colours just put me in a greater state of confusion, causing my head to go round and round. Thankfully, help in the form of caffeine arrived. The Best Day of My Life suddenly got better as soon as I took a sip of my long black. I don’t normally drink black coffee, but the thought of milk that morning just made me feel queasy. I took a sip of my brew, preparing myself for the bitterness; but to my surprise, there was none. I was shell-shocked. The coffee might have felt a little coarse around the edges, but overall it was fantastic and the caramel-like flavour was akin to receiving a perfect kiss. As a result, my mood (and my body) immediately perked up.

Then came my salad: the calamari fritti in semolina with rucola, tomato and balsamic dressing ($21.90). The semolina-dusted calamari rings, so beautifully tender, may have been the star of the gig but they still managed to create perfect harmony with the diced tomatoes and the peppery rocket leaves (pfft rucola). The light balsamic dressing, like Hooky’s bass guitar, then held everything together to form one cohesive unit. My salad was virtually a mood-lifter and after I finished eating (not all of it – there was just too much, thanks to the very generous portion size), I was wide awake and happy, ready to face the day at Future Music Festival. Stuff Prozac, this was much better.

My calamari salad to Marty’s chicken salad ($21.90) saw a smooth transition from sea to land. The transition was as seamless as when The Wombats finished their set with ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’ as a clever segue to New Order who appeared on stage 20 minutes later that night. If my calamari salad was the tits, then Marty’s chicken salad was a pair of massive Gold Coast slurry bolt-ons. The combination of shredded poached chicken breasts (no pun intended, honest), ricotta and currants may sound like a bizarre love triangle, but it tasted incredible. Throw in some spinach leaves and almonds for texture and you have a mighty meal full of substance.

In fact, Marty loved it so much that he insisted on returning to Solarino the following afternoon to have the chicken salad again. And two nights ago, back at home in Queensland, he even attempted to make his own version of the salad. Although he loved his creation, it wasn’t exactly the same as Solarino’s but he reckons he’ll get there with more practice. Now, that’s true faith.

With two pocketfuls of renewed energy we left Solarino on The Best Day of My Life, delighted that we had found another place that Marty can return to on regular basis when he’s in town. The fact that Solarino was able to make a long black that was actually a pleasure to drink was enough for me to come back. But for them to then whip out one of the best chicken salads I’ve ever tasted made it a clear winner (winner, chicken dinner) in my books.

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  1. Yay! So happy for you have the chance to see your favourite band! And well done for you and Marty for being good and ordering salad and not go to maccas! Mr Bao always gives in and ends up going to maccas or KFC when he s lazy :p

      1. Why, how disappointing when I am sure your readers look to you for MUSIC advice as well as nice places to eat in addition to an, overall, entertaining read.
        I mean, you couldn’t write Marty was “lovesick” (Friendly Fires) with the chicken salad and that made him want to “bring back 1996?” then “Jump into the Fog”? (The Wombats)

        Libby, all I can say is “I don’t know what to say… YOU DON’T CARE, ANYWAY! :p

  2. It’s so great when you’re able to get tickets to your favourite band. The food looks great and so much better and more highly full of nutrition than you could hope to get at Maccas – good decision xx

  3. Thanks lovely caterpillar…….
    now hows this for funny??? New Order is my superdupurest band ever…..way back to Joy Division days…..
    Thank you ever so much for your very kind words…..SOOO happy you enjoyed better than Macca’s.:-p
    Love grant..San Paolo Solarino…..( chef and owner……)))))))

    1. Awesome dishes, Grant. They got us through a long, hot, crazy, booze-fuelled day. But sorry, Friendly Fires and The Wombats were WAY better!!! 😉

    2. Thanks for stopping by, Grant. Love your work and love your taste in music, looking forward to coming back very soon!

      PS. Please ignore Marty. His opinion on music – and, well, everything in life – is rubbish! 😀

      1. Hey libishski…
        hey no worries…..kinda a Smiths fan now,must be mellowing………Hey lay of Marty….. most music lovers are nazi’s……lol.
        Thanks again guys, hope your holidays are full of fun.Love to meet you when back to sunny Melbourne.!!
        love and respect

  4. Found out about Solarino when we visited from Queensland 3 years ago, were super impressed with everything about it. Have returned to Melbourne several times since and ensured we stayed in the city, and not too far from Solarino’s so we can go there regularly. Incredible food, excellent service. I tell all our friends who visit Melbourne that this is THE place to eat. Will be back in November and I’m looking forward to trying something different each night. Love it.

    1. Hi Jayne,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s great, isn’t it? I know there are a lot of wonderful places up in the sunny state but it’s good that you have a place in Melbourne that you can keep coming back to. Feel free to send me an email if you would like some more recommendations though 🙂 x

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