How La Madonna became Melbourne’s dining and drinking destination
The restaurant opened in March 2021 at Next Hotel in Melbourne, Australia and navigated its business through the pandemic using TableCheck
La Madonna Bar and Restaurant opened its doors to guests in March 2021 as a day-to-night dining and drinking enclave.
Sprawled across Level 3 of the Next Hotel Melbourne in Australia, La Madonna seats about 130 people, has a vast main dining area, an open bar space, and includes an eight-seat semi-closed Barrel Room serving barrel-aged spirits, cocktails, and herbal liqueurs.
Helmed by Melbourne star chefs Daniel Natoli and Adrian Li, the food is as eclectic as both the chefs' backgrounds.
At La Madonna, both chefs have their culinary playground. Natoli, who was head chef of Zia-Rina's Cucina and Nepture Food and Wine, brings more of his Sicilian heritage to the dishes while Adrian Li, who was Executive Chef of Saigon Sally and Tokyo Tina in Windsor, Australia, brings a more Asian-inspired take to the La Madonna cuisine.
The two are also good friends, having worked together for many years in Melbourne's top dining spots.
“Whilst our partnership may not make any sense on paper, we have a synergy that is rare to find. Having worked together for so long now, we can let our ideas flow organically and trust in the training and techniques each other bring,” Chef Natoli said in NextHotelMelbourne.com.
Together, they curate and unite their heritages on La Madonna dishes while also staying true to their other passion, sustainable cooking. Most dishes use locally sourced ingredients and the chefs work together with local suppliers and farmers.
Navigating the pandemic
La Madonna Restaurant & Bar was touted as the next dining place-to-be in Melbourne when it opened back in 2021. However, the restaurant had its share of challenges operating during the pandemic, in a city known to have the longest lockdowns in the world.
“[The business faced challenges like] opening and closing the restaurant, finding staff and managing the margins,” according to Food and Beverage Coordinator Emma Spelman, who has been working at La Madonna since July 2021.
Spelman, who has worked in various hospitality venues over many years, says the TableCheck restaurant booking and guest experience platform has helped the business navigate their operations when they need to partly close due to COVID-19 city protocols.
“One of the best features of the TableCheck system I’ve found was the ease in making and sending out venue notices to guests. This was used a lot over lockdown when we had to stay closed. It was great as we were able to use this feature to quickly send out a notice to guests to communicate with them,” Spelman told the Tablecheck content team.
“Honestly TableCheck has been a breath of fresh air! It is very user friendly, easy-to-use and navigate, and easy for guests to make bookings." – Emma Spelman, F&B coordinator.
Following safety protocols
When the restaurant is open, Spelman says they make sure to continue following COVID-19 safety precautions.
“We make sure to adhere to the current covid restrictions (which have changed and varied over time). An example of this was when we were only allowed a particular amount of people per square meter within the restaurant and bar. Our bookings were restricted in order to adhere to these rules.
“[At the same time], we have QR codes for the restaurant and bar that guests must check in with and show us that they have had their second Covid vaccine injection."
New opportunities: Perfecting dishes
The lockdowns allowed Natoli and Li to perfect and experiment their dishes and think of creative ways to get people back in their restaurant. In October 2021, they staged a Sunday Get-Togethers in La Madonna geared for family and friends.
“What we really missed during lockdown was seeing our extended families and friends. Even though we annoy each other, being able to have that simple act of a long, shared group meal, eating, drinking, and telling stories. That’s what we’re looking forward to the most,” Chef Li said on NextMelbourne.com.
While restrictions are still in place all over Australia, Spelman says the team is keeping their spirits up, with a target to make the restaurant boost more bookings when Covid peaks out.
“Speaking for the team, we are doing our best. Staff has been hard to come by and the City is extremely quiet. Guests are more reluctant to go out, so we are not booking anywhere near to our full capacity. In the meantime, we are slowly building our team up and learning to live with Covid," Spelman said.