Chef Daniel Lidgard, front of house Jess Carr and co-owner Clinton Trevisi. Photo: Richard Cornish
Donna Maria is a modern Italian restaurant in the heart of Flinders run by a gun team who have worked at some of the best restaurants in the nation. Front of house Jess Carr cut her teeth at Movida. Chef Daniel Lidgard was at Attica before taking a senior role at Point Leo Estate and moving his family to Rosebud. There he met co-owner Clinton Trevisi, himself alumnus at The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, and later at the Flinders Hotel.
“My nonna was called Maria,” says Clinton. “So the name is a bit about her, but more a character who is about traditional Italian values of quality and hospitality.” He’s a South Gippsland lad but moved to the Peninsula to be closer to his family, especially his mum, who was living here. He and his wife Conchi opened the ever-popular Zarb & Ru in Rosebud, famed for its down-to-earth soup and jaffles. Clinton was part of the team at Terre in Dromana that went on to form Cook & Norman, where Donna Maria now stands.
The old corner weatherboard building has been home to a stained glass gallery and was built as tea rooms in the early 20th century. Today the dining room is warm, slightly homey, with heavy zinc-topped tables set with fine glassware with a choice of classic bistro bentwood chairs or leather banquette. The walls are lined with a mish-mash of fine modern photography and knickknacks that are artful rather than kitsch.
The wine list is heavy with Italian wines or Australian grown wines from Italian varieties. If you like pinot grigio and nebbiolo, you will love the wine list, with friulano from Balnarring sitting beside grechetto from Umbria. The carefully curated selection of white is appropriate in a restaurant with an extensive seafood offer. The succulent little morsels of fritto misto see Victorian whitebait, calamari, some prawns, and other seafood dredged in flour and deep-fried for this classic entrée. From Liguria comes what looks like a pizza, a round flatbread but made with chickpea batter and topped with smoked mozzarella; the farinata is a beautiful GF start.
Daniel’s experience in fine dining is not lost in this casual trattoria-style menu. Hand-made bronze-die extruded pasta and hand-rolled gnocchi are finished with sauces that are perfectly seasoned and layered with flavour – this is definitely not a red sauce pasta joint. Think fat strips of pappardelle with a rich ragu of wild boar and pancetta or a crisp pork belly served with pillow-like soft polenta redolent of black pepper and Italian hard cheese. The service is beautifully finessed without being forced, delivered by a team who seem genuinely pleased to be there. “We only work four day weeks,” says Clinton. “We all love living here and want to make the most of it. I am so glad we made the change to live down here. It is so special.”
Opening hours: lunch Wednesday-Sunday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Richard Cornish is a freelance food writer filing regular food news stories for newspapers and magazines across Australia, including The Age, SMH, Good Food, Eat.Drink and now each month in Mornington Peninsula Magazine. He is also an author and photographer and the host of live food shows including Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Apollo Bay Seafood Festival and Winter Wild Festival. www.richardcornish.com.au