Is it a restaurant? Is it a cafe? Is it a bar? Turns out Cavallero, just south of the Johnston/Smith Street intersection, works well as all three.
By day it’s a great spot for coffee and the newspapers or a long brunch, but after the sun goes down, Cavallero slinks into low-key bar mode, serving creative cocktails and a serious wine and beer list.
The decor is cosy and inviting, and on the wet winter’s night that CW visited, it felt like a sanctuary from the frostbitten hell outside.
A deer head takes centre stage above the bar. Exposed brick walls painted white, retro tables, wooden floorboards, high ceilings and industrial lighting all come together to give it that Fitzroy Neutral look.
But Cavallero’s no follower. It’s been here since 2006, well before Smith Street’s gentrification started. Only the no-frills outdoor toilet hints at a shabbier past.
The staff here move from baristas to cocktail shakers with ease and are chatty and polite as they run through the menu.
Try a Lady Grey Martini made with tea-infused gin or, if you’re feeling a little fragile, their Bloody Mary will sort you out and comes with so much celery you could call it lunch; hair of the dog never tasted so good.
A Pisco Sour was a little sweeter than I normally like but otherwise refreshing and a Menorca Garden (gin, apple juice, elderflower, lemon and cucumber) was a taste of Spain in a martini glass.
Cavallero’s single beer tap highlights a rotating roster of microbrews but otherwise the drinks list here is global. Beers in the fridge include rare Italian lagers, Quilmes from Argentina, Kingfisher from India and some Aussie choices from Stone and Wood, Bridge Road and Holgate breweries.
The 60-plus wine list offers a taste of Victoria, France, Italy, Germany, California, New Zealand, Spain, Greece and more.
Cavallero, 300 Smith Street, Collingwood. Call 9417 1377