“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use, do the work you want to see done.” Austin Kleon
MELBOURNE’S hottest restaurant isn’t in The Age Good Food Guide, it changes location weekly, and with a waiting list of 4000, it’s booked out for the next year.
Zingara Cucina — Italian for “Gypsy Kitchen” — is Australia’s first “underground” restaurant. It is unlicensed, illegal and transient, but has won the kind of word-of-mouth accolades most legitimate establishments only dream about.
And with the identity of the people behind it a secret, it’s also the city’s biggest culinary mystery.
It began almost three years ago when dinner parties held for friends by the operator and chef developed a cult following. Now, Zingara has developed into a weekly dining experience, roaming inner-city locations from car parks to lanes, rooftops, bridges, beaches and galleries.
The chef will not reveal his identity except to say he is not a professional, was taught to cook by his Italian grandmother and mother, and works in an advertising agency during the day. He says that “fine dining has become boring”.
“The whole concept is around conviviality and creating that feeling you get when you have a nice meal with like-minded people. It’s not about making money, but about enjoying good food and good wine,” he says.
Entry is by invitation only — each guest gets two referrals to pass on to friends — and diners are told the location via email or SMS the night before.
A diner who has experienced Zingara Cucina — he asked to remain anonymous, although he will reveal he is a chef at a well-regarded CBD restaurant — described the experience as “phenomenal”.
“I’d go once a week if I could, to be frank, because it’s an incredible experience … the presentation, the food, which was as good as any two or three-chef’s-hat restaurant in Melbourne.”
At this particular dinner, held several months ago in an obscure city lane, guests were fed rustic Italian fare including handmade ravioli in sage butter with crushed pinenuts, and whole suckling pig — “all really simple flavours that were extrapolated in a beautiful way” — and serenaded between courses by an opera singer.
The diner estimates the meal would have cost $150 in any other restaurant, although Zingara diners are asked to pay what they see fit.