22 Jan 2024 | 3 mins

Legendary restaurant set for its biggest change in 35 years -The Age

Legendary restaurant set for its biggest change in 35 years -The Age

Famed restaurateur Rinaldo Di Stasio has put his Yarra Valley estate on the market and is amping up his restaurant business with an art gallery and more.

The legendary Melbourne restaurateur is embarking on Cafe Di Stasio’s biggest change in 35 years, as he adds an art gallery above his St Kilda restaurant and prepares to go “boots and all” into a revival of his first venue, which has lain semi-dormant since the pandemic.

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Rinaldo Di Stasio and artist Shaun Gladwell upstairs in a new (but not finished gallery space). The artist will be showing his work in this space in a complete overhaul of Cafe Di Stasio.

But the famously cautious businessman is not on an expansionist path. He is also selling his Yarra Valley property, which includes a vineyard, to focus on the project.

“We haven’t got enough time for it. As much as we love it, that time has passed,” says Di Stasio of the Coldstream property he bought nearly 30 years ago.

Backing on to Warramate Hills Flora and Fauna Reserve, the 32.4 hectare property includes nearly three hectares of vines, an Alan Powell-designed house with three bedrooms and a guest suite, a gallery, a pool and a chapel tucked under a hillside.

“It’s a property that needs to be managed, from the vineyards to the roads to the burn-offs,” says Mallory Wall, Di Stasio co-owner.

“The mental energy as well as the physical energy, [we want] to invest that into St Kilda,” she says.


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The indicative selling price is $9.5 million to $10 million, according to agents Forbes Global Properties, who are initially offering the property off-market.

“It won’t be an active buyer in the market,” says Robert Fletcher, co-director Australia-Pacific at Forbes. “It’ll be an ultra-high net worth individual who gets [emotionally] connected to it in a way.”

“Rinaldo is Melbourne history, Melbourne culture,” adds Tracey Atkins, co-director Australia-Pacific. “There’s a lot of [beautiful places] in the Yarra Valley – there’s much more to this. It’s not just a property, it’s the provenance.”

Despite receiving two offers on his St Kilda restaurants since 2020, Di Stasio flatly denies that any of his restaurants are for sale.

“Absolutely not. The farm [is for sale], not the restaurants.”

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Cafe Di Stasio in Fitzroy Street circa 2012.

“I’m going in boots and all to St Kilda,” he says. “We have to make it work… It reminds me of when I first took it over, failure was no option. You put everything into it.”

Spazio Di Stasio is the name of the gallery space above Cafe Di Stasio, and when it opens in February it will be akin to an art salon, with a gallery and courtyard space devoted to a new artwork by Shaun Gladwell. The space will also include “situation rooms” where Gladwell can invite other artists to work, spaces for discussion and a mini bar.

“It’s a laboratory for culture,” says Di Stasio.

The addition of the gallery will coincide with the first proper reopening of Cafe Di Stasio and adjoining Bar Di Stasio since the pandemic closed the doors of the two St Kilda venues, which have operated since 1988 and 2013, respectively.

Trade will step up from just two dinner services a week at Cafe Di Stasio to about seven services a week at each venue.

Bar Di Stasio will get a whole new Neapolitan identity, serving street food such as palle di riso (Naples’ answer to arancini) filled with crayfish risotto, small serves of baked pasta, and cones of fried seafood such as anchovies, sardines and calamari. Drawing on Di Stasio Carlton’s pizza expertise, there’ll be hand-held folded pizza (pizza a portafoglio) with toppings including marinara. Bitter greens sauteed with anchovy, chilli and olive oil will be turned into a bar snack.

At Cafe Di Stasio, the menu will revive favourites from its early years, such as crayfish omelette and roasted duck, along with new dishes from the CBD and Carlton restaurants, mixed in with mainstays like beef carpaccio.

“It’ll be the best of the old plus the new,” says Wall. “A lot of these dishes when we served them 30-odd years ago, people didn’t know them… They were new back then for different reasons and now they’re new to a new generation.”

Upstairs, three apartments are being converted into gallery and studio space designed by Di Ritter of Hassell architects (also responsible for Di Stasio’s city and Carlton restaurants). Ritter is part of a steering committee Di Stasio has assembled for the project.

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Artist Shaun Gladwell’s video art installation at Di Stasio Citta.

Gladwell is a Di Stasio collaborator of 10 years whose work hangs in all three of his restaurants, plus Bar Di Stasio. For St Kilda, the artist, who has exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria and represented Australia at the Venice Biennale. will create a work involving drawings, paintings, sculptures, videos and extended reality that will evolve while it’s on show. It will draw on a long-standing dialogue Gladwell has had with Julian Assange.

Di Stasio has not seen the work.

“I’m not pretending to be a gallery owner now. I’m just facilitating Gladwell to be there,” he says.

“Hospitality is my business. Art is like a religion to me.”

The return to nearly full-time trade may be the tipping point for beleaguered Fitzroy Street, which has been a bugbear and constant policy experiment for the local council over the past five years as it has tried to revive its fortunes.

“St Kilda’s on the cusp again,” says Wall.