Rustic, homely and blending into the neighbourhood like it's been there for years, Cantina Centrale has (literally) brought a slice of Italy to Melbourne's leafy eastern suburbs. Located close to Mont Albert station, this pizzeria takes its cues from the heritage of the Italian transport system, and injects a bit of modern charm with it.
A classy and softly lit affair, Cantina Centrale's copper facade pays homage to the previous life of the brick building, which has been respectfully brought back to life. Dark features and polished floors make the double storey space comfortable in size, punctuated by exposed walls and an imposing wood-fired pizza oven. The train station motif continues throughout the experience, travelling across the menu's graphics and signage.
Cantina Centrale's good assortment of starters, seconds and sides run like a list of classics, including well-sized pork and veal meatballs with tomato sugo ($9) and the delightfully simple rocket and sliced pear salad with gorgonzola dressing ($10). Authentic fare neither gets much closer than the maccheroni della nonna: traditional long, homemade pasta in a slow cooked beef and pork ragu ($21).
What you're really here for, though, is the pizza. Running close in quality to some of the city's larger names, Cantina Centrale's Naples-style bases are doughy — thanks to the use of 00 flour — and feature just the right amount of softness and crunch. Tomato, basil and impeccably fresh fior di latte punctuate the margherita ($17), whilst the Nonna Nina (tomato, fior di latte, eggplant, garlic, basic, ricotta and parmigiano; $18) is a unique take on a vegetarian option. An assortment of pizza bianca (white base pizzas) seal the deal; miss the Dell Orto with potato, sauteed onion, fior di latte, parmigiano, rosemary and EVOO ($18) at your own peril.
Cantina Centrale is one for families, which is lucky, because locals have embraced it like one of their own. Uncomplicated, casual, yet full of charisma, it's a spot suitable for both larger groups and couples. Such a welcoming spread means that you'll most definitely need to book, but don't let that put you off — true Italian hospitality will be waiting for you when you arrive.