822 High St Thornbury, VIC 3071(03) 9484 8654
|Opening hours||Wednesday to Saturday, 8am to 10pm; Sunday, 8.30am-10pm.|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
WHERE AND WHAT
It's easy to imagine this little espresso bar at the Thornbury end of High Street has been part of the landscape since it was opened by a couple of postwar migrants homesick for Veneto. That's the feel owner Marco Finanzio was going for when he set up shop just a snip under three years ago. Named after his father, Umberto is a little taste of Italy - old-school, simple and authentic.
WHERE TO SIT
It's long and narrow - reminiscent of our most famous espresso bar, Pellegrini's - and walking into its cool, coffee-perfumed atmosphere on a hot day feels not unlike stepping back 60 years in time. The feel is deliberately old-fashioned: a blackboard menu, framed pictures on the walls, retro light bulb fittings hanging over the long wooden counter. Wooden tables a deux hug the wainscotted wall; bigger groups ought to head down the back or to the sweet courtyard, recently opened, where new plantings will make a nice spot to chill over a glass of vermentino on warm summer afternoons.
WHEN TO GO
Wednesday to Saturday, 8am to 10pm; Sunday, 8.30am-10pm.
There's none of that third-wave coffee nonsense at Umberto.
The biggest decision for your coffee is white or black, the beans are Genovese and they're treated right.
If it's the harder stuff you're after, the cocktail list is a charmingly succinct collection that starts at the Campari soda and ends at the Bloody Mary.
Peroni dominates the all-Italian beer list, and a succinct little collection of vino - three whites and four reds - are similarly parochial and nicely priced.
Headed in Italian, the menu kicks off in great style with tuna and potato polpette, salty golden-fried bits of fishy delight. Zucchini and ricotta cakes are served with a vibrant little tomato salsa; veal and beef meatballs with a properly made sugo. Pasta is the main game - classic cream-free carbonara, or spaghetti ''aglio e olio'' with a bold hand on the garlic. Check the specials board for protein-based mains - you might find a veal cotoletta or pan-fried fish - and throw in a side of the broccoli while you're at it, cooked so it retains its textural mojo and sauteed with a punchy measure of garlic, chilli and olive oil.
Paramours canoodling over canola, and enough senior members of the local Italian community to give it that extra frisson of authenticity.
Because they don't make them like this any more - actually, they do.