Rocco's Bologna Discoteca review

Old-school trattoria meets new-school hipster fun at Rocco's.
Old-school trattoria meets new-school hipster fun at Rocco's. Photo: Bonnie Savage

15 Gertrude St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Lunch Wed-Sun; dinner Thu-Sat
Features Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9046 2000

If there were a restaurant ranking system solely for fun, Rocco's Bologna Discoteca in Fitzroy would ricochet off the top of the charts and explode in an illegal firework whirligig of sparkles.

It's one of those places where you can tell that the people who conceived it – the owners of nearby Poodle – set out to create a place where they'd actually want to hang out, cook food they'd want to eat themselves, and inject a little (actually, a lot) of their own rollicking personalities into the venture.

Take a peek at Rocco's website: if these dudes in their sauce-stained clothes look like people you'd want to hang out with, you're going to love the place.

Rocco's signature meatball sub is available at lunch and late at night.
Rocco's signature meatball sub is available at lunch and late at night. Photo: Emilio Scalzo

Rocco's was shaped by various pandemic-related limitations. First, it was a kind of sandwich speakeasy, serving meatball subs and fried bologna from a doorway on Gertrude Street. If you ordered more than $100-worth of food, they threw in a magnum of wine for free. There was a delivery phase.

Then in early March, the full vision came to life: the wood panelling, vinyl booths and white curtains a throwback to the Italian joints in which many of us grew up eating. There's a full bar, a cosy courtyard out back, an upstairs dining room (which was not yet open when I visited) and an evening menu that goes well beyond sandwiches.

During lunch and late at night, the sandwiches still reign supreme. There's a meatball sub ($18) that's exactly as saucy and laden with cheese as you could hope, perfect for curing a hangover or padding your stomach to prepare for the hangover to come.

Baked Stella Alpina cheese with figs.
Baked Stella Alpina cheese with figs. Photo: Bonnie Savage

There's a clever spin on a tuna melt, substituting baccala (salt cod) in place of the tuna ($16).

The fried bologna sandwich ($9) has been described by chef Josh Fry as "Italian Maccas".

He isn't the first to use fast food as inspiration, the fatty, bready, pleasing glory of the genre used to full effect while employing better ingredients to get the job done, but this sandwich is a very welcome addition to the category.

Go-to dish: Vitello tonnato.
Go-to dish: Vitello tonnato. Photo: Bonnie Savage

I'm also thrilled to see a continental roll ($16) on this menu. I've long missed the Italian subs that are commonplace in the United States, and I've hoped that the similar conti rolls of Western Australia would make their way to Melbourne. Rocco's was out of the special – made with four kinds of deli meats, marinated vegetables and lettuce – both times I tried to order one, but I'm hoping their popularity here will inspire others in town.

At night, the menu morphs into more serious snacks, pastas and proteins. The best way to approach the dinner menu is with a lot of people who have big appetites because you're going to want to try everything. The food here is maximalist, loaded with flavour, big on appealing to your base instincts.

There is an entire round of gooey, baked Stella Alpina cheese ($26), set off with the fudgy sweetness of figs. Cotechino sausage ($20) is all fatty goodness, slathered in tomato salsa.

Crudo of the day.
Crudo of the day. Photo: Bonnie Savage

The vitello tonnato ($21) is a glorious pile of thinly sliced veal tongue, tender and juicy and crisped at the edges, smothered in a creamy, tuna-tinged sauce. I wanted to put my whole face in it, which is, I suspect, the aim of the chefs with much of the food here.

A bigoli pasta special of bolognese made with chicken hearts ($36) had the same meaty, saucy effect. Fry imbues his garlic bread with bone marrow, for heaven's sake. It's all very silly and very delicious.

But he is entirely capable of elegance, too, as evidenced by his crudo of the day ($18). The version I had was a sampling of fresh, raw silver trevalla and a large, sweet prawn dressed with wild fennel pollen and pickled chilies. I've eaten similar dishes at some of the hottest new restaurants in town for double the price (or more) with less than half the food. Despite Rocco's penchant for meaty fun, this is the dish I'll be dreaming about.

Rocco's gets mobbed – on the weekends especially – and this isn't the place to come for a snappy, quick lunch: settle in, things will take a while. But who wants to rush fun anyway? Bring your friends, order a bottle of local natural wine, get sauce on your shirt. Join the party.

Vibe: Old-school trattoria meets new-school hipster fun

Go-to dish: Vitello tonnato

Drinks: Short wine list focusing on funky Australian and Italian varietals. Classic cocktails, Italian sodas

Cost: Flexible. Come and get full easily for $30, or go for small plates and a steak and spend $100 before drinks

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

https://www.roccosbologna.com/