80 Bourke St, Melbourne
(03) 9662 1811
Open: Mon-Sat, 7.30am-midnight
Wouldn't we all like to dine at Florentino's for a Friday lunch? The food is first-rate, the vibe is as Italian as you can get in downtown Melbourne AND (let's be honest) it's just so damn cool to walk back into the office and drop the line, "I've just been at Florentino's" in the same roll-off-the-tongue way some say, "Would you like fries with that?".
Unfortunately, if you're anything like me, the lunch budget doesn't always stretch to Florentino's but that doesn't mean you have to miss out on some of the Guy Grossi magic. Downstairs from the much-lauded restaurant in Bourke St is its little sister, the Cellar Bar. Same establishment, same uber-cool atmosphere, different prices.
The only down side about the Cellar Bar is that it doesn't take bookings but, since that's the only complaint, I won't dwell. What I will dwell on is the atmosphere and the food.
A fresh water glass and complimentary bread with olive oil was a good start and was on our table minutes after I sat down. As boring as it is to order the same as your partner, neither of us could go past the gnocchi al gorgonzola ($16) which came out only a few sips of wine after we ordered. In a lesser kitchen this would have sent alarm bells off about pre-prepared food sitting under a heat lamp but that's not the Cellar Bar's style. The gnocchi was soft and the Dolcelatte gorgonzola sauce was rich and creamy with enough zing to keep it interesting. Rubbernecking revealed the other Italian classics on the menu such as lasagne ($14), osso buco ($18) and rabbit risotto ($16) looked just as satisfying and definitely enough of a reason to return. I spotted a friend at a nearby table who highly recommended the fish soup special.
To wet the throat, my glass of Italian red ($9) was a tasty drop for the bottom end of the wine list and his glass of Aussie white ($8) was apparently the same.
At 1pm on a Friday the Cellar Bar was pumping but even the constant stream of suits looking for a table didn't hassle the bevy of well-groomed waiters who clearly had the job down pat almost as well as they did their Italian accents. Was I impressed? Yes. Did I leave satisfied? Yes. Did I walk back into the office and drop the I've-just-been at-Florentino's-line? Damn straight.