A friendly neighbourhood osteria with buckwheat gnocchi, non-alcoholic pét-nat and a next-level tiramisu.
Ostēr comes from the Italian word for host, and for Ostēr Eatery owners, chef Nicola Romano (Chapter 53, Stockroom567, Artusi) and front-of-house gun Osvaldo Tognella, the role of host is at the heart of what they do. Both hail from the north of Italy — Romano from Brescia and Tognella from Milan — and both have extensive experience in hospitality, working across Italy, Ireland, Japan, Brunswick East and the Yarra Valley.
The duo's Italian heritage and experience are evident throughout Ostēr, which aims to be a traditionally casual, regional osteria — but in urban Melbourne. The Bridge Road space (designed by Romano's mother Monica, who flew over from Italy to do it) used to be a burger joint. Now, it features exposed brick and plaster walls, and a recycled timber bar with a concrete bench top. Sicilian maiolica tiles (colourful tin-glazed pottery made in Sicily since the Renaissance period) run along the front of the pass to the open kitchen and are a feature on the wall behind the bar.
The food, as described by Romano, is "northern Italian in spirit, but open-minded". Like the space, it combines elements from both Italy and Melbourne. The menu changes according to what suppliers have available each season. But, regardless of the season, expect pasta — such as the house-made casoncelli ($20), which has quickly become the restaurant's signature dish.
A traditional Lombardy recipe, casoncelli features silky sheets of pasta filled with spinach and ricotta, then pressed together and folded to look like a sweet wrapper. The stuffed pasta is served with a sauce of fried sage, 48-month aged grana padano cheese and a hint of nutmeg. You'll definitely want some of the house-made sourdough to mop up the leftovers.
Elsewhere on the menu, you'll find a risotto with roasted red and sweet capsicum ($23) and gluten-free buckwheat gnocchi ($22). And despite spring making its sunny entrance, there's still room for comfort fare like the beef cheek ($35), which is braised with tomatoes and red wine, and served on soft rice polenta with sautéed nameko (a small brown mushroom). To end the meal, we highly suggest Romano's tiramisu ($10) — he makes his own coffee sponge, and the dessert is light and not overly rich.
On the drinks front, Tognella has pulled together an all-Australian wine list, which he keeps fairly tight so that he can regularly change it when he discovers new wine. The aim was to keep the drinks list sustainable and local, but with a European attitude. "The wines on the list have to tick at least one box of four categories," Tognella explains. "They are either biodynamic, sustainable, single vineyard or European."
For those wanting to imbibe without the alcohol, the restaurant offers two zero-alcohol wines from ex-Noma Chef William Wade's Non label. Choose from salted raspberry and camomile or caramelised pear and kombu — it's like a pét-nat minus the hangover.
Coffee comes from husband and wife team, Wayne and Cleo Silva whose roastery, Silva, is in the Yarra Valley — and on weekdays between 7–9am you can get your cup of joe for just $3.