With a buongiorno from the white-coat-clad waitstaff and a whirlwind of lunchtime customers, it feels as though you could be on the wide streets of Rome. Don’t be mistaken, however. Found at the top end of Bourke Street, Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar is a Melbourne institution. Nestled in next to the Grill and underneath Grossi Florentino Upstairs, Cellar Bar is the younger, more relaxed Grossi sibling.
When you walk in, you'll find yourself in a busy, long dining room, with tables squeezed in together to make the most of the lunchtime rush. Bar stools and outdoor seating help to relieve the demand, but if you want a table, do your best to come early.
The menu speaks fluent Italian, and it does it so well. The antipasto ($18) or sardine fillets with cauliflower caponata ($3.50) are perfect starters — but the real drawcard here is the pasta. With about nine on offer, flavours are varied. For something classic try the lasagne ($17.50), or the spaghetti vongole with clams, garlic, chilli and olive oil ($18). If you're looking for something sans meat try the tortellini with roasted pumpkin and fried sage leaves ($18) or the short pasta with ricotta, zucchini, pepper and parmesan ($18). Whichever way you decide to go, the pasta is cooked to perfection, and served simply and beautifully.
The wine list, in true Italian style, is extensive and enticing. Start with something bubbly like the Mumm Champagne from France ($310 bottle). If white takes your fancy, sip a 2011 Peter Lauer Riesling from Germany ($85 bottle), or, if you’re in the mood for red, try the 2009 Poderi Colla Nebbiolo d'Alba from Piedmont Italy ($105 bottle).
While the European influence is heavy, there is also a section dedicated to Italian varieties made here in Australia. These include Chrismont Prosecco from King Valley ($45 bottle), Sensa Cera Pinot Grigio from the Clare Valley ($40 a bottle) and Pizzini Nebbiolo from King Valley ($300 bottle).
For early morning risers, Cellar Bar is open from 7.30am for breakfast. Keep things simple with porridge and honey ($10) and toasted sandwiches of ham, mozzarella and tomato ($10). If you’re looking for something more substantial, try the cipollata sausages with home-cooked baked beans and a fried egg ($16) or the venere rice pudding with poached peaches and mascarpone ($16).
A little place full of warmth and charm, Grossi Cellar Bar will make you long for a trip to Italy.