Savour experimental Italian at Mario’s – the new restaurant and aperitivo bar from the Mama Taco crew
The Luigi’s Italian crew has been a fixture on Hardgrave Road’s dining strip for years, luring in tastebuds thanks to its envelope-pushing take on Italian fare and with its recent foray into Mexican cuisine at Mama Taco, a few doors down. This year sees the team returning its focus to its Italian roots, transforming the Luigi’s space into Mario’s – an enticing dining and street-side aperitivo spot taking a contemporary approach to the storied cuisine.
Raffaele Persichetti isn’t one to sit idle. In addition to running his own bespoke eyewear brand Holloway, this modern-day renaissance man is also the culinary mind behind Luigi’s – the West End-based neo-Italian restaurant and bar that was beloved by many for its mouth-watering traditional Italian fare modernised with left-field ideas. Last year Raf and his team opened Mama Taco, a love letter to the taquerias and mezcalerias of Mexico, gradually building it into one of the strip’s buzziest new eateries despite 2020’s stop-start progression. Even as Mama Taco was taking off, Raf’s mind was already tossing around ideas for the Luigi’s space, settling on a concept for the venue’s evolutionary successor in September 2020. Mario’s is the name of this new venture, an aperitivo bar and restaurant hybrid that furthers its predecessor’s ultra-contemporary lean while adding a bit more of a freestyle approach to its flavour combinations and menu construction. The site (comprised of a bar and restaurant space fit for 40 guests and a private-dining area next door) has been given some small cosmetic touch-ups, with some new furniture and a few licks of paint giving it a fresh feel inside.
Mario’s culinary mandate is to take the spectrum of traditional Italian gastronomy and craft a new dialogue around its possibilities and format while retaining the cuisine’s foundational integrity. The restaurant revolves largely around a tasting menu-style experience, the composition of which regularly oscillates (sometimes daily, sometimes weekly), to include new dishes made from hyper-seasonal and of-the-moment ingredients. Raf, in constant communication with local growers and foragers, is building upon his own Italian heritage and love of the experimental, creating tastebud tantalisers like scampi crudo with creamy buffalo stracciatella and raspberry dust, luxurious lobster lasagna, hearty venison gnocchi, funghi calzone fritto, bread made using Mario’s own mother-culture sourdough, and pecan-smoked grappa gelato or dragon mango fennel sorbet for a sweet finish. The Mario’s/Mama Taco crew is also growing a small assortment of chillies, herbs and garnishes in the back garden, giving the team further control over the smaller details at both locations. On any given day the team might have a special off-menu item available (last week it was cold-smoked swordfish belly), which means it always pays to have a conversation with your waitstaff when poring over the selection. Aperitivo is also a large area of focus at Mario’s, which is great if you’re after a laid-back grazing and guzzling experience. The restaurant’s snack menu encompasses meat and cheeses available by weight, Mount Zero olives and various pickled morsels.
Helping execute the locale’s beverage component is Leroy Martin-McEwan, a top-notch alchemist who is overseeing the bar’s ever-evolving drinks selection. Raf is keen to do for grappa and amaro what Mama Taco has done for mezcal (Mama Taco now boasts one of the largest selections in the country), with more than 50 labels of each featured in the back bar. Leroy is transmuting this astounding range of sips into a handful of aperitvos di casa, which include the Arbusto (Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro with dry white, rhubarb, verjus and cucumber), Amico Viticoltori (Fino sherry, Amaro Montenegro, honey, cucumber and malic) and House Chinotto (Cynar, limoncello, white vermouth and soda), as well as playful riffs on familiar concoctions including the Americano, negroni, Garibaldi and smashable Aperol spritzes. Mario’s wine list features a mixture of Italian and Australian vino, with a sharp focus on Italian grape varieties. Drops from recognisable labels like LS Merchants, Unico Zelo and Athletes of Wine sit alongside a grechetto from Umbria, a fiano from Campania and a Calabrian greco. A range of high-roller barolos and nebbiolos are also available via the bar’s ultra-luxe reserve list, with these high-end sips delicately poured via Coravin.
Mario’s is now open for dinner from Thursday to Sunday. Hit the Stumble Guide for operating hours, contact details and booking info.
The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.