This two-storey terrace along tram route 86 might be Melbourne's most trend-checking restaurant. Bar seats overlooking the kitchen? Check. Coal-grill kissed meats? Check. Hip, short wine list? Check. And most of all, Casa Ciuccio is in Melbourne's latest dining focus, the right angle bounded by Gertrude and Smith streets, Fitzroy.
All that puts this recently opened spot from the team behind the CBD's Bar Lourinha firmly on the list of The Age Good Food Guide's hottest new restaurants. The 2013 guide, to be launched tonight, notes the proliferation of new Gertrude Street restaurants has transformed Melbourne dining this year.
Added to that, the new guide notes a bundle of other trends, all of which are reflected among the "Hot and New" restaurants of the year – from great sake lists, to upmarket tacos, to raw bars, to restaurant kitchen gardens.
And, while Melbourne dining had a bit of a Mexican revolution, the new guide notes that a culinary Italian Renaissance was much more influential, marked by the opening of terrific casual Italian eateries like Lupino and Mr Bianco.
The Age's chief restaurant reviewer, Larissa Dubecki, also noted the rise of the all-day diner, places like Albert St Food & Wine, which segue easily from breakfast, brunch and lunch to afternoon drinks then dinner, with a little provedoring on the side.
And she listed one of her favorite new dining experiences as a neighbourhood bistro, run by two chefs, which is a favorite Tuesday-night haunt of many of the city's other top chefs – The Estelle Bar & Kitchen.
Guide editor Janne Apelgren said chefs and siblings Matt and Andrew McConnell's transformation of the Gertrude Street precinct was exciting for Melbourne. "It's one of Australia's hippest streets, and Moon Under Water will no doubt become one of Australia's most influential restaurants."
2013 awards finalists:
Best new restaurant: Albert St Food & Wine, Casa Ciuccio, Circa, The Estelle, Pei Modern.
Chef of the Year: Andrew McConnell, Neil Perry, Michael Ryan, Ben Shewry, Philippa Sibley, Aaron Turner
Regional restaurant of the year: Loam, Provenance, Stefano's, Sunnybrae, Ten Minutes by Tractor
Best new regional restaurant: Gladioli, Kazuki's at the Raglan, Terminus at Flinders Hotel
Hot and new
Shed 7, 33 Dukes Walk, South Wharf. Phone: 9245 9900
Izakaya-style dining, or Japanese tapas if you like, this airy, modern open-to-the-Yarra spot is about sharing, drinking and fun.
Albert St Food & Wine
382 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Phone: 8354 6600
Handsome, accommodating, and tasty – what's not to like? Philippa Sibley presides over the all-day menu, so don't skip dessert.
41 Little Collins Street, City. Phone: 9639 0333
Got no nonna to call on when the urge for big-hearted Italian strikes? Here's your spot. The neighbourhood restaurant everyone deserves.
2 Acland Street, St Kilda. Phone: 9536 1122
Can a restaurant that's had more lives than a cat be new? Circa is now overseen by Paul Wilson under new owners. Same chef, new fitout, ridiculously delicious cuisine "Pacific rim" cuisine.
Collins Place, 45 Collins Street, City. Phone: 9654 8545
Sydney chef Mark Best's smooth all-day bistro. Prop at the bar, drop in for breakfast, or come for the full three courses.
15 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8488 8150
Melburnians are flocking to the top end of Gertrude. Ciuccio (pronounced: choo-cho) has a buzzy, confident vibe and a share-friendly mod-Med menu.
Moon Under Water
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. 9417 7700
The only offering is a four-course set menu, elegant and beautifully spare, in a restaurant that breaks the McConnell no-bookings, share-plate mould.
The Estelle Bar & Kitchen
243 High Street, Northcote. Phone: 9489 4609
Winemakers and chefs were early adopters of Scott Pickett and Ryan Flaherty's idiosyncratic Northcote eatery, Tasting menus only, five to nine courses. Just do it.
14 Meyers Place, City. Phone: 9650 5525
Argentinian tucker is not too familiar here, but San Telmo could change all that. Few expenses were spared in making this wood-and-leather shrine to charcoal-seared beef.
213 High Street, Prahran. Phone: 9514 2444
The global menu matches everyone's mood, or opt for The Age Good Bar Guide's favourite cocktail, the Toorak Princess. Party time, excellent!
The Age Good Food Guide 2013 will be available on September 1 for the special price of $10 with the purchase of The Saturday Age.