Rosella revives old-school hospitality at former Gertrude Street Enoteca site in Fitzroy

Rosella Dining Room and Bar, from the couple behind Project 49, has found a new place to perch.
Rosella Dining Room and Bar, from the couple behind Project 49, has found a new place to perch. Photo: Peter Tarasiuk

The long-time home of Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy gets a fresh identity when Rosella Dining Room and Bar officially opens on December 10, relocating from the quiet backstreets of Collingwood.

Rosella is the latest iteration of Project 49, which couple Rocco Esposito and Lisa Pidutti opened in 2016 to showcase north-eastern Victoria's wine and produce.

"I've never had more itchy feet than I have now," says Esposito, speaking exclusively to Good Food. "We've been two years in the dark. I can't do things through a screen. Face to face wins the race for me."

Wooden wine boxes have been repurposed as shelves at Rosella Dining Room and Bar.
Wooden wine boxes have been repurposed as shelves at Rosella Dining Room and Bar. Photo: Scott McNaughton

The space that Enoteca vacated in 2020 after 16 successful years promises to be a hand-in-glove fit for Rosella, which at times felt overwhelmed by its large warehouse site beneath apartments in Cambridge Street. Now it can fulfil its potential as a homely wine bar that, like its predecessor, also moonlights as a wine shop.

Esposito and Pidutti are using every part of the two-storey site, taking the capacity from 35 people up to 100. Downstairs, casual dining is spread across three seating areas featuring dark Venetian stucco walls, and a gravelled courtyard with two large grills, lavender and creepers.

Near the front door, two glass cabinets will showcase salumi, cheese, focaccia and brioche rolls filled with grilled octopus and pesto. Wine and jars of house-made pickles will be displayed in wooden wine boxes along one wall. All are available to go.

A wall of decorative niches adds character to the upstairs dining room at Rosella in Fitzroy.
A wall of decorative niches adds character to the upstairs dining room at Rosella in Fitzroy. Photo: Scott McNaughton

Larger groups and longer dinners will be accommodated upstairs, where a second kitchen is located, complete with a kitchen counter for four people and a chef's table for up to eight that is tucked out of sight. Esposito says off-menu items and "the best bits from the pan" will be served to guests here.

The menu celebrates Italy's south-east in cornerstone dishes like fava beans and chicory, sardines with friselle (Puglia's twice-baked durum wheat bread), and baked rice with mussels and potato.

These are joined by the spicy and crisp-edged spaghetti all'assassina ("killer" spaghetti), where pasta is cooked in the same pan as the sauce, creating crisp edges. The dish hails from a restaurant in Puglia's capital Bari, where Esposito worked as a teenager.

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It's stories like these that Esposito can't wait to share with guests, as he and his team deliver verbal menu highlights, specials and wine matches in the casual style Enoteca regulars loved.

Wines from the couple's Project 49 vineyard in Beechworth join Australian and Italian labels on a list that reads unconventionally, with headings like Everything Happens for a Riesling.

"I'm about fun dining, not fine dining," says Esposito, a former Vue de Monde wine director.

Rocco Esposito, co-owner of Rosella Dining Room and Bar, can't wait to get back to serving customers.
Rocco Esposito, co-owner of Rosella Dining Room and Bar, can't wait to get back to serving customers. Photo: Peter Tarasiuk

Extra-special Beechworth bottles like Giaconda chardonnay from the 1980s will be pulled from a cellar beneath the stairs.

Esposito and Pidutti also operate Project 49 cafe and deli in Beechworth, but decided in March 2020 that Rosella was a better name for their CBD venture. It refers to the birds on their Beechworth property and their chattering, which they hope will be reflected in conversation at the bar on Gertrude Street.

Open Wed-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-5pm

229 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 4449, barrosella.com