Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar review

Handsome timber panelling and gold-framed paintings decorate the Grossi family's Cellar Bar.
Handsome timber panelling and gold-framed paintings decorate the Grossi family's Cellar Bar. Photo: Eddie Jim

80 Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Opening hours Mon-Sat 7.30am-late
Features Outdoor seating, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9662 1811

At a time when we can't do anything we want any time we want, I'm drawn to reminisce about a place that loves letting people eat and drink anything they desire whenever the urge strikes. That place is Cellar Bar, part of the Grossi family's stable of Italian restaurants at the top end of Bourke Street.

Here since 1918 and known as Cellar Bar since the 1950s, it was one of the first places I wanted to visit after last year's long lockdown and it's one of the first places I'll return to when Melbourne grinds the gears back up again.

The feeling is casalingo (homestyle) and the welcome is a gift. Being here makes me feel like my ideas are sound, my conversations profound and my worth boundless: that's the art of hospitality, as much as the intuitive wine refill, seamlessly replaced dropped napkin, al dente pasta and cheerful "buonasera".

Fettuccine with ragu bolognese.
Fettuccine with ragu bolognese. Photo: Eddie Jim

Though the room is beautiful with its timber panelling and gold-framed paintings, there's no frou-frou here. It's more about sprezzatura – a studied carelessness – that sees perfection arrive almost by accident, with a shrug rather than a flourish.

You see it in the food too. The pickled vegetables are pert and bright, still speaking of the sunshine that helped them grow. Every slice of prosciutto falls with a sigh onto the plate.

The ragu bolognese has incredible depth of flavour  – it's cooked hard to caramelise onion, garlic and mince (mostly beef, but also pork and chicken, because that's how the Grossis have always done it), then simmered slowly to coax and amalgamate. Whether served with a tangle of housemade fettuccine or layered in the signature lasagne, it's tear-jerkingly loving. 

A wedge of tiramisu.
A wedge of tiramisu. Photo: Eddie Jim

Tortellini di zucca (pumpkin) is another classic, bathed in burnt butter and crisp sage. Risi e bisi is a Venetian risotto with pancetta and peas: every silky, creamy mouthful speaks of the wooden spoon that coaxed starch from the rice. 

I have some control dishes when reviewing. Tiramisu is one of them and the Cellar Bar version is my paragon: a big wedge on a plate, not built in a glass or bowl, but cut from a tray. It's light, fluffy and a little ragged, a craggy monolith that encapsulates generosity, consistency, pride, tradition and hope.

If that's too much weight to put on a cake then sue me, but not until Melbourne's back, we're back in it and you've had a faceful and a heart full of Cellar Bar sustenance.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)

https://www.florentino.com.au/cellar-bar