Walking into Cosi feels a little bit like stepping into my nonna’s living room. Roomy booths make it easy to get comfy, there’s a projector playing classic black-and-white films, a grappa cart roves around the room, and in cooler weather the open fireplace gets going.
It’s this old-school hospitality that’s made Cosi a Toorak Road staple for more than two decades. The institution closed in September last year after being sold to new owners, Omar El Deek and brothers Giacomo and Donatello Pietrantuono (El Deek and Giacomo also co-own South Yarra’s Cucinetta. They gave the space a makeover – it reopened in October – but the trattoria vibes, classic Italian dishes and white tablecloths remain.
Inside, elements of Cosi’s history – the reupholstered burgundy booth seating and the dark wood finishes – sit alongside more modern touches. The trio enlisted a friend from Florence to create a marble-like mural on the right-side wall using a technique called pietra spaccata (broken stone). It took him 120 hours to create. (“It looks like marble but it’s handpainted,” El Deek explains.) The same effect appears under the bar, part of which glows green from lights that illuminate as the sun goes down outside.
A back courtyard resembles a Tuscan garden. Red brick encircles the space and tall olive trees line the back wall. “We wanted to give this feeling of la dolce vita in South Yarra,” El Deek says.
For seafood, there are scallops served in their shells with roasted cauliflower puree, shaved potato crisps and salsa verde, and there’s fried calamari with house-made mayo, too.
As for pasta, chef Donatello isn’t shy when it comes to serving size. Beetroot gnocchi arrives atop a fondue made from 24-month-aged parmesan. Duck ravioli comes served with porcini sauce, and handmade linguini is tossed with calamari, clams, prawns, scallops, mussels, Moreton Bay bugs and chilli in a light tomato sugo.
“We didn’t want to go fancy because we think that the food does the talking,” El Deek says.
The cotoletta alla Milanese is a 260-gram veal fillet, crumbed and fried until crisp and tanned. A rocket, orange and pecorino salad adds freshness, and it pairs well with a side of broccolini with garlic and chilli.
Cocktails lean classic – spritzes, Negronis et al – and there’s a range of local and Italian wines on the list.
For dessert, choose from a coffee-chocolate ganache tart with mascarpone mousse; a monstrous serve of tiramisu; or a big scoop of vanilla ice-cream sandwiched in a profiterole.
Cosi Bar Ristorante
68 Toorak Road, South Yarra
(03) 9867 3999