A Lygon Street institution has been transformed into a sleek late-night Italian bar and eatery.
Brunswick East has always been blessed with late-night joints and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when institution Café Romantica closed last year after 30 years of serving pizzas basically 24/7. Big shoes to fill, perhaps. But the new owners — Oscar Hermann, Monty Mullooly-Hill, Ravi Thompson, Henry Crawford and Bill Howard — have redone the interior, produced an exceptional menu and drinks list. And, having been open for six months now, they're killing it.
While the name Bar Romantica may conjure up images of a small, intimate, cosy bar set-up, that couldn't be further from the truth. It actually seems kind of cavernous on first approach with its high ceilings and mirrors on opposing walls, and the space goes way back past the bar to the open kitchen, booths and the pool table. But, despite that, it's actually a pretty romantic place. It might be the curves — there are some stylish lines going on in the sweeping crescent of an American oak bar, and the wooden arches spanning the ceiling from one side to the other. It might be the dim glow of the art deco milk glass pendant lights. Or it might be the lipstick-red vinyl booth seating. It's all very appealing.
And if the way to anyone's heart is through their stomach, then the menu certainly will certainly raise the romance. It's got sophisticated snacks, excellent mains and, in a nod to the venue's history, the kitchen's kept the classic Pizza Romantica ($18) on there, zhuzhed a little with a Napoli crust and — if you want to pay an extra five bucks — a hint of 'nduja.
The menu changes daily, reflecting seasonal nuances and goodness. Expect such delights as the veggies with smoked cashew butter ($14), an exceptionally creamy and slightly smoky dip that'll make you want to lick the plate just to get every last bit. Or the kangaroo tartare with fermented chilli, radish and egg yolk ($16). All of the pastas are made in-house and, on Wednesdays, you can get a bowl of the vegetarian pasta special with a glass of wine for a very reasonable $20.
Drinks are mostly local with a range of local craft beer, Australian wines and a selection of classic cocktails.
Apart from Monday and Tuesday, Bar Romantica is open late each night, and until 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. While it might not be the all-occasions drop-in spot it once was, whether you're a night owl, a party animal, looking for a good date night spot or just want to treat yourself to some delicious food, Bar Romantica is ready and waiting for you.
Images: Kate Shanasy.