8 Railway Parade Pascoe Vale, VIC 3044
|Opening hours||Daily 7am-3pm; Fri-Sat 5.30pm-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9379 7377|
Ferrovia feels like a secret. Even though this small cafe has been by the railway line in Pascoe Vale for eight years, it's burbled along as a local place without any crosstown draw. Now, with top chef Riccardo Momesso (ex-Valentino and Sarti) joining his mate Danny Leone as business partner, Ferrovia is a different proposition.
It's still tiny, with just 25 seats (plus 20 more in a gazebo at rear). They still open early for coffee, eggs and banana pancakes. But there are big differences too: old-school Italian dishes are threaded through the daytime menu and, on Friday and Saturday nights, the handmade pasta is among the best in town.
Momesso has done all kinds of cooking through his career, working through a veg-aquarian stage, an era of finessed foams, and a recent focus on pizza.
What's shining through now is a love of game meats – he's a keen hunter – and a respect for the Calabrian cooking of his heritage. It's honest, bedrock stuff, solid-gold cooking served without pretension and with plenty of respect by a tiny floor team that vary in their expertise but converge on the mission to give you a good time.
Start with the maccu, a southern Italian fava bean mash served here as a dip, flavoured with garlic and chilli. It's as simple (very) as it is delicious (ridiculously). Momesso's mum would serve it with baccala (salted cod) but it's topped here with superb, sweet prawns and drizzled with the oil the prawns are cooked in.
Pastas are handmade using a rolling pin that Momesso had a carpenter craft to his specs: "half as long as a broomstick, as thick as a coffee cup".
You might eat spaghetti with clams or gnocchi with beef ragu, the potatoes for the latter cooked the day before and dried overnight so they need hardly any flour to bind them.
The paccheri – an oversized penne – isn't made here but that's forgivable because it's so perfect with braised duck.
The cooking method is interesting: leg meat is cut from the bone to cook, but the bones are added to the sauce. The result is a rich slow-cooked flavour and meat that holds its shape.
The paccheri is blanched then added to the sauce to cook through, the starch from the pasta thickening the ragu and tying it all together.
Also wonderful, slow-cooked goat in a delicate braise flavoured with rosemary, salted with anchovy, cooked most of the day and served with green peppers.
Even the verdura (greens) runs a slow-food line. A wild-tasting mix of chicory, endive, silverbeet and cime di rapa is cooked with olive oil, garlic and salt for two hours: you'd expect green mush but you get rounded vegetal intensity.
The dessert menu is minimal but I'm happy to stop at the homely, heavenly white chocolate and espresso mousse sprinkled with crushed homemade biscotti.
At breakfast, there's granola if you like, but how about poached eggs with napoli and 'nduja, the spicy, spreadable Calabrian salami. At lunch, there's a chicken sandwich but why wouldn't you have the gnocchi, or the braised rabbit with wild fennel?
As Ferrovia forges on there are plans to knock through into the shop next door and skew more to the Italian. That's the future but we eat in the present, and right now this is a secret worth spilling.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)