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400 Lygon Street,
Carlton, 3053,
Tel: (03) 9347 5657
website (and its a very nice, elegant website, might I add)

Trotters on Urbanspoon

Trotters adds further fuel to my theory that the block of Lygon Street between Faraday and Elgin is by far the best block and possibly the only part of Lygon Street actually worth going to (though there’s also the corner with Lazzat & Il Dolce Freddo).

I have always told visitors to Melbourne that Lygon Street is our Little Italy, and yeah, sure, it is. But the inference one draws from that is that there is good pasta and pizza to be had, right? Mostly, wrong. It is actually kind of difficult to get good Italian food on Lygon Street and for the uninitiated it can be a little like playing roulette. You walk past shopfront after shopfront, some with touts offering you free wine, some with heaps of people sitting outside, but you still have a 90% chance of getting a glorified La Porchetta pasta with the cheapest possible ingredients or a glorified Pizza Hut pizza, but smaller and with less taste. And don’t even get me started on the coffee.

Forgive me if I sound bitter, but I studied at Melbourne University (just next door) for six years. Six years of the pain and suffering of wandering up and down that street looking for something decent to eat and getting bitten. But no longer! Rejoice! There is Trotters! A place you can go and be certain that for $15-20 you will get a decent pasta.

Now Trotters is not the only good restaurant on Lygon Street, I for one rather enjoy Tiamo and D.O.C. for example, but, unlike D.O.C., it’s a Carlton stalwart and enjoys the history and the well-deserved status of being an institution, while, unlike Tiamo, not being stuffed full of tourists and other suburban types. Also, its pig mascot is cute.

Though I have been to Trotters for breakfast before (and can tell you that it’s good), my most recent trips have been mostly dinner (and therefore, pasta) related. Here’s the breakdown of what I tried in a recent sitting (and apologies for the lacklustre photos, my compact held up badly in the dim light).

First up, the linguini with pork and fennel meatballs in a tomato ragu ($16.20), this dish was decent. It wasn’t subtle, but then meatball pastas rarely are. The meatballs were fresh and on point, the fennel came through really nicely. The tomato ragu was heavy, possibly a little too heavy but I’m nitpicking. If you’re looking for a pasta that’s hearty, this one’s your choice. Just don’t expect anything ‘light’.

The risotto of chicken, mushroom and braised leek ($17.50) was probably the worst dish I’ve had at Trotters. Now, I’m going to be careful here, because risotto is one of those divisive dishes that everyone seems to have a (conflicting) opinion on. I believe that the rice and the broth are both equally important to risotto, however, I do not think a risotto should be so drowned in broth that it almost becomes congee. This is what the risotto at Trotters tasted like to me. Not a fan.

Next up, the linguini tossed with prawns, tomato and broccoli, chilli and garlic oil ($18.60), to me, this dish is one of the stars. It’s by far the most elegant dish I tried all evening, the sauce was delicately light but delivered enough flavour while still allowing the seafood to work its magic.

Now, Trotters also do some great burgers, which I didn’t have that night so I won’t describe them in detail but I do recommend you try them. However, my regular dish at Trotters is the Spaghetti Putanesca, in a sauce of Western Australian anchovies, lilyput capers, kalamata olives and a hint of chilli ($15.50). Putanesca is one of my all time faves for a few reasons. The first, and simplest, is that I love all the ingredients. Anchovies, olives, capers, chilli is a recipe for delicious. The second is that it’s not normally overly saucy, which is something I prefer to heavy pasta dishes smothered in either half a litre of creme fraiche or a napoli sauce that sits in your stomach for a week.

Now I’ll be honest, the putanesca is objectively probably not as good a dish as the seafood linguini above. I mean, it’s not perfect, for starters it’s very salty and at times can be overpowering, but it’s still one of the most consistently well executed ones I’ve had in Melbourne. The saltiness is pleasant because it is of the natural variety but for those of you with sodium problems, stay away.

Oh and, by the way, their desserts are also delicious. Try the sticky date pudding. The coffee, not so much, but it’s better than Brunetti.

Alex’s Ratings:

Taste: 8/10. You can rely on Trotters for decent, well-priced pasta. Not perfect, but consistently reliable. There’s also great burgers and desserts. It all adds up to a pretty great menu (apart from that risotto, perhaps).

Authenticity: 7/10. We’re talking relatively here. It’s Italian owned and run, much like other restaurants in Lygon Street, however it has not sold its soul for money and a slice of tourist dollar. Ingredients aren’t cheap and effort is taken to stay true to Italian roots.

Value: 8/10. $15-20 for a pasta is pretty standard and this is definitely the higher quality end for that price range.

Ambience: 9/10. What I like best about how Trotters feels is the authenticity of the place. Nothing here is contrived, there’s history (since 1988, that’s over 20 years) and there’s love, and you can feel it within the tiny walls. Oh and, as I mentioned earlier, the pigs are cute.

Service: 7/10. Well, they do take their time at Trotters, which is normally ok because service is still polite, attentive and personal. But sometimes they do give the impression of being slightly understaffed, particularly when they get unexpectedly slammed (such as… on a Sunday night with a thunderstorm approaching, maybe?)

Overall: 8/10. A true Lygon Street institution that has never let me down.

Written by alexlobov

March 9, 2010 at 2:55 am

6 Responses

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  1. Hrm. I do agree with you that Trotters does fine pasta, and also that it’s on the best block in Lygon St, Carlton. Let’s have the debate about Lygon St East Brunswick another time, and let’s try to forget the fact that the charcuterie that does duck pies moved down towards Grattan St.

    However, I can’t agree with you on the burgers. I go to Trotters quite often, as it’s my best friend’s favourite place in Lygon St. So needless to say, I’ve tried a lot of things on the menu. I’ve only ever had the burger once, and I’ll never have it again. It might have been a one-off bad night, but the burger tasted like it had more hamburger helper in it than it did meat. Such a let down, when the quality of the other food there is usually impeccable. Like the chips: impeccable.

    Definitely go to Trotters, but steer clear of the burgers, I say!


    March 9, 2010 at 9:54 am

  2. I should probably have specified that I consider it the best block of Lygon St Carlton (are you talking about that French deli?). Lygon St East Brunswick is a pretty awesome strip in its own right (I’m an Atticus Finch fan) but it can’t really be compared to its flashier, more mainstream cousin down south.

    Re: the burgers, I’ve had a chicken burger there which was quite good and I had a small taste of beef burger there once, tasted fine. I suppose I should probably give it another go. The chips didn’t impress!


    March 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm

  3. I’ve never been to Trotters! That’s because in my view the best pasta is at Donnini’s (Tiamo is only good if you’re super-hungry and in a super-hurry).

    I will try it for the pasta – but I’d never go to an Italian place for a burger so guess will give it a miss.

    Jetsetting Joyce

  4. I am not a lygon fan and never been to Trotters. May be time for me to venture that way 🙂

    penny aka jeroxie

    March 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm

  5. Joyce – Despite the fact that Donnini’s is run by the family of a dude I went to school with, I’ve never been there. Will add it to the list 🙂 Tiamo’s isn’t that bad, but they do their pasta in a particular style which not everyone loves.

    Penny – I know what you mean about Lygon but it does have it’s benefits. Readings is one of the best things… and D.O.C.!


    March 10, 2010 at 12:29 am

  6. I just went to Donnini’s a few weeks ago. See here. While I agree with Joyce that it’s good pasta, I’m not sure it’s the best, and I wasn’t particularly won over by the service or the ambience. To each her/his own, I guess.


    March 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

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