If you thought you knew Il Fornaio from 20 years ago, think again! The long standing café has recently been transformed into a plant based retro health destination. Just off the Esplanade in St Kilda, Mark Fillippelli has reinvented the entire concept, menu and fit out the café was initially based upon. The menu has been re-invigorated by Chef Cameron Dening to bring his own revolutionary experience with plant based living to the public. The whole team are passionately harnessing the power to nourish Melbourne through sustainable practises, with the final product being nutritious and delectable dishes. We sat down with owner Mark to gain more insight.
Il Fornaio has actually been around now for 20 something years now! It was actually one of the original epic fit outs in the Melbourne Café seen. They had polished concrete and recycled furniture. That’s been here since the beginning and set the café evolution.
Where did the name Il Fornaio come from?
Il Fornaio actually means “the baker”!
What prompted you to change it up?
We bought the cafe about 6 years ago but we only recently decided to change the path of where it was going and continue to stay relevant. The Melbourne café seen makes it really hard, there is new cafes popping up all the time. If you’re not on top of your game you can quickly become forgotten.
So what did you change during the renovation?
We tweaked the fit out, the menu and the whole concept as well. We had an idea for a really cool cafe concept so rather than opening a new CAFE we decided to change the philosophy of one we already had and forge a new path for it!
How have you adapted the menu to this new concept?
The way we see the café evolution in Melbourne is; the more plant based options you have the better! We understand people still want their bacon and eggs so we have designed the menu so people can still have them but we’ve made sure they are still an intelligent choice.
In terms of the food, we’ve mastered the pastries and the bread but changed all the recipes to be plant based as to really push the sustainability message! The bread recipe has changed from usually having a lot of milk and the pastry recipes have changed from having a lot of butter. So we’ve managed to make it all dairy free and people love them! We believe, if you can make it taste and look good and it happens to be sustainable and plant based; that’s a win for everyone!
Who designed the menu?
The head chef here is from Circa, so his background is all fine dining. He used to be 150kg and didn’t used to take care of himself. He went plant based himself and nourished his body through healthy eating with no refined sugars and lost 60kg! Now he is super super passionate about nourishing people! That’s why it says “nourish you”, not “feed you” on our menu as he wants you to enjoy it but mostly to feel good after you’ve had it. He ate himself healthy and now is driven to get everyone else on board!
What’s your approach to sustainability?
The sustainability thing that we’re pushing is zero waste. So on the menu we have the “Zero Waste soup”. So instead of throwing out vegetable parts we are using as much as can and turning it into a soup that we have put on the menu!
The eggs we use are called “real eggs”, this means the chickens are allowed out on open fields living the free range dream which actually affects the colour and taste of the yolk.
What makes Il Fornaio different to other Melbourne cafes?
It’s all the small details that go a really long way. From the coffee to the cutlery, to the menu design to the philosophy to the whole experience. You can go anywhere now and get “instagrammable food” but it really needs to the whole experience for it to be successful and to keep people coming back. If the staff believe in it and if the food tells the story for itself we feel we have done our job!
What is your favourite meal on the menu?
I think we’ve taken the smashed avo to the next level. I really love “The Northcote”. The smoked almond curd is amazing. Our chefs cook the almonds twice, juice them and recooks them! It’s so cool when you know how much detail goes into one small element!