Il Gambero: the heart of Lygon St

Katie Johnson

With its warm, familial atmosphere, unrivalled hospitality and the ever-present smell of homecooked Italian, Il Gambero has been a well-loved gem of Lygon St for more than 50 years.

Completely family-run, owner Frank DiMattina operates the business with wife Angela, son Frankie, sister Angela, and nephews Xavier and Lance.

Mr DiMattina said Il Gambero had stood the test of time by serving unique, quality dishes which had kept customers coming back for decades.

“I think it’s the family influence, the care for customers and the quality food at reasonable prices which has kept people coming back,” Mr DiMattina said.

“We’re one of the oldest restaurants in Lygon St now.”

Before the DiMattina family took over in 1983, Il Gambero had already been operating on Lygon St for more than 10 years.

The restaurant was originally owned by the Malaspina brothers, related to Sisto Malaspina who was fatally stabbed outside his Bourke St restaurant Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar during a terror attack in 2018.

But when they decided to sell, Frank thought it was time to get into the restaurant business.

“I was the first one to move into restaurants and now a lot of the family has followed suit,” Mr DiMattina said.

Sharing the same passion for hospitality, all three of Mr DiMattina’s sons have followed in their Dad’s footsteps.

“Paul owns Lamaro’s Hotel in South Melbourne, Andrew is now in the Gold Coast with Matteo’s Pizzeria and Frankie has stayed with Il Gambero,” Mr DiMattina said.

Aside from being food connoisseurs, the DiMattinas also have AFL running through their veins.   

Mr DiMattina played for Richmond and North Melbourne in the ‘60s, while his sons Paul and Andrew played for the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood, respectively.

“All the family are football and cricket devotees, so we have a big following from the football fraternity,” Mr DiMattina said.

That football following meant that for many years, Il Gambero was the unofficial hub for the Sydney Swans.

“I had a close relationship with the coach, so every time the team came to Melbourne, they would get off the plane and come straight to the restaurant,” Mr DiMattina said.

“It was a really exciting time.”

Other famous visitors to the restaurant have included Jerry Lewis, John Farnham and Michael Bublé.

“It was definitely a highlight having Jerry Lewis come in as I was a fan,” Mr DiMattina said.

Using the best Italian and local produce, Il Gambero is well known for its authentic dishes based on family recipes which have been passed down through the generations.

Co-owner Xavier DiMattina said that many of the items had been on the menu for decades which kept generations of customers coming back.

“A lot of people will say ‘oh our parents brought us here when we were kids’, or people coming in for anniversary dinners because they had their first date here,” he said.

“We’ve had proposals, and people who would get takeaway From Il Gambero when they were having a baby since the Women’s Hospital used to be right around the corner.”

Popular menu items include their specialty marinara pizza, princess pasta, and Nonna’s meatballs – a homage to Nonna Rosa who used to make sauces in the kitchen.

But when asked about his favorite dish, Mr DiMattina deviated from the classics.

“You know what I’ve come to love is the risotto vegetarian,” he said.

“I have it all the time, worth a try.”

Visit Il Gambero at 166 Lygon St •

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