Review: Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar

I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up with a Nonna and a Nonno, so I know what good pasta is. I love good pasta. What doesn’t make for good pasta are huge portions that are designed to leave you feeling heavy and upset, as you emerge from your carbohydrate-induced blackout with stained clothes and breathing heavily. What does make for good authentic pasta are good quality ingredients, manageable servings (unless Nonna is feeding you, then this rule can be disregarded), and the secret ingredient: love for both you, and (maybe even more importantly) food.

Who would know about good pasta better than the godfather of modern Italian food in Melboure, Guy Grossi. Italian to a core, Grossi has enjoyed huge success with an insane number of restaurants and countless awards and accolades for his dedication to Italian food. He was even awarded the prestigious L’insegna Del Ristorante Italiano in 1996 by the Italian president for his service to the Italian cuisine abroad. This guy isn’t messing around.

This sums up the Italian sense of humour and attitude towards food pretty well, with animals almost being considered loved members of the family (this drawing is just really cool as well)
For our first lunch in a while dad insisted he take me to try the best Spaghetti Bolognese in Melbourne – Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar. (Funny story: apparently dad was talking to someone at work about taking his daughter for spaghetti and she also named The Cellar Bar as her favourite restaurant for Bolognese!)

The history of the Cellar Bar is quite beautiful – a wine shop in the 1900s, the Cellar Bar was the first drink pit stop of Guy Grossi’s father, Pietro, after he stepped off the boat from Italy in 1960. The Cellar Bar is the no frills Italian bistro of its upmarket neighbours housed at the top end of Bourke Street (Florentino Grill next door, Grossi upstairs and the most recent Ombra Salumi on the other side). People like to say Cellar Bar is the sister, but when I walked in I imagined Cellar Bar as the wise Nonno, who prefers sitting on a wine crate outside in the Italian sun with a strong espresso and bowl of pasta.

Here it is! The famous Spaghetti Bolognese! Let me tell you. This was damn good Bolognese, almost as good as my Nonna's. The pasta was perfect and al dente, the sauce was rich and meaty, and the parmesan serving was generous. Absolutely perfect serving side as well, I was left satisfied and happy.  
The focus of Cellar Bar is providing hearty, homely Italian creations at reasonable prices. No whistles. No bells. Just good quality ingredients (the pasta is made on site) and flavours that have been refined to perfection over the years. This is the kind of eating dad likes – food that isn’t about the art or showmanship about it but instead accompanies the conversation you’re having with good company. The menu is one page offering up pasta and meat, filled with dishes that I recognise and loved from my childhood – gnocchi, lasagne and veal cotolette. At the bar you can find the dessert case or you can ask the waiter what’s on offer today. Dad highly recommends you try the tiramisu (but I can’t eat that since the passing of my Nonna) and the hot chocolate (traditionally made) is a great accompaniment.

Dad had been here a couple of times before and had tried this dish which he really loved - gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce. It wasn't on the menu when we went but he asked if they could make it for him and they said absolutely no worries. Talk about great hospitality. I had a taste and it was unbelievable - gorgonzola is great any day of the week. 
Cellar Bar is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you could sit and watch the different people that flock to be served at each hour of the day – an energetic and quick breakfast rush and lively lunch hour, which slowly transforms into lazy late afternoon espressos, and the day ends with romantic dates at nightfall. The bistro doesn’t discriminate, attracting cabbies, business people, gangsters, and government, all enjoying a little escape to Italian paradise during their break hour.

The authentic feel can also be put down to the way it’s set up, especially with how the tables are crammed haphazardly together. The charming interior is best suited to one-on-one, intimate dining, so this should be first on your list of places to meet up with an old friend and have a coffee and gab, much like how you would in a piazza in Italy. The dark wood, granite circular tables, and leather-upholstered bar stools are reminiscent of growing up in my Nonna and Nonno’s house.

Each meal is accompanied by a fresh, warm serving of bread and oil to dip. Dad snapped this up, calling it some of the best bread he's ever had (yeah okay, we're obviously incredibly taken by this place and maybe a bit bias but hey, the food is good and it reminds dad of home)
The waiters here are friendly (and very Italian, with authentic accents, dropping gratzi a couple of times) and attentive, informing you of the delicious sounding daily specials. Time definitely stands still in here and you never feel like you’re in a rush – maybe because the atmosphere is so relaxed and lively, you lose yourself in it for a little while, just embrace it.

Although the Cellar Bar does pasta unbelievably well, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s the history, the fame, but more importantly, it’s the atmosphere that makes this place thrive. So get on down and (in the words of Nonna’s everywhere) mangia!

Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar
80 Bourke Street, Melbourne 
9662 1811

Mon to Sat: 7:30am to Late


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