The Cannoli Bar Team Opens 25 Tilba Street, a Quaint Espresso Bar Brimming With Italian Nostalgia

Written for Broadsheet

Entering 25 Tilba Street is like stepping into the photo albums that document my parents’ childhoods. Retro leather dining chairs in a mix of burnt orange, chocolate and beige are tucked neatly under mismatched tables. Brown floral-printed tableware is near identical to what my nonna’s had for years. There’s a bar and dividing wall made of stained chipboard. Pops of greenery. And, by the entrance, a vintage telephone table.

“I have always had a fascination with Italian culture in Australia and I’m a big fan of the pioneers that arrived [here] after the war to create a better life for their family,” owner Carlo Mellini says. “I wanted to recreate that old-fashioned espresso-bar feeling that is unfortunately seen less and less in Melbourne – an Italian oasis in Aberfeldie.”

Mellini also co-owns Cannoli Bar in Avondale Heights, which opened in 2018 and regularly has lines out the door. “They are two different concepts: one is a cannoli bar and one is an espresso bar. One has breakfast, one doesn’t. But they both sell Italian nostalgia,” he says. And if you aren’t keen on lining up at Cannoli Bar, find a small range of cannoli at 25 Tilba Street.   

It’s not all about cannoli, though. 25 Tilba Street has a loyal following for its bruschetta-style breakfasts and coffee by Nomadi Coffee Roasters. “I love Nomadi because they are not large-scale commercial roasters,” Mellini says. “We offer a large variety of coffee from single-origin cold drip to traditional Italian caffettiera.” (Yes, you can order a four-cup Bialetti moka pot, fresh off the stove, to your table.)

The all-day menu centres around bruschetta and features homegrown herbs. Ovens Street Bakery bread comes with toppings such as sauteed wild mushrooms, smoked scamorza and black-truffle oil; fresh cherry tomatoes, melted fior di latte and basil; and sauteed asparagus, smoked salmon, avocado and Meredith goat’s cheese. There’s also house-made granola and the Bricklayer roll with pork-and-fennel sausage, bacon, scamorza, smoky barbeque sauce and a fried egg.

Aside from cannoli, sweets such as cartocci (spiral-shaped Sicilian doughnuts filled with custard and coated with sugar), almond croissants and amaretti are baked onsite daily.

Your experience at 25 Tilba Street will differ based on where you sit. For takeaway or a quick coffee pit stop, park yourself on the milk crates out front and watch locals making their way to the nearby Maribyrnong River. Want to linger a little longer? Pull up at the breakfast bar or in the cosy dining room. And for larger groups, there are a number of picnic tables among tomato plants in the back courtyard.

“The decor is very rustic, industrial, mid-century,” says Mellini of the space he designed himself. “We decided to keep the old red floor from the butcher that used to operate [here] to keep some character.”

25 Tilba Street
25 Tilba Street, Aberfeldie

Wed to Fri 6.30am–2pm
Sat & Sun 7am–3pm

Ugo Cucina Popolare, a Panini Bar From Cannoleria by That’s Amore, Opens in an Unassuming Heidelberg West Warehouse

When Cannoleria moved out of That’s Amore Cheese’s Thomastown headquarters into its own independent factory in July last year, co-owner Dario Di Clerico saw an opportunity to open a takeaway cafe on the new premises.

“We thought we needed another brand where we [could] showcase a savoury offering,” he tells Broadsheet. Located in an industrial pocket of Heidelberg West, Ugo Cucina Popolare is focused on Italian-style panini, Cannoleria’s signature cannoli and coffee by Symmetry Coffee Roasters.

The tiny cafe is little more than a display cabinet and coffee machine, but if you’re keen to linger there are picnic tables outside. The menu covers breakfast and lunch, with cornetti (Italian croissants) filled with ricotta, Nutella or jam; a savoury option with ham off the bone and caciocavallo (smoky, aged mozzarella); and a breakfast sanga with frittata, bacon jam and tomato.

But if Di Clerico is around when you visit, he’ll insist you try the porchetta roll. It’s made with Noisette ciabatta, salsa verde and giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables). Di Clerico grew up in Italy’s Abruzzo region, where porchetta is a common street food – generally slow-roasted with rosemary, garlic and pepper. He also cut his teeth working with the region’s porchetta king, so you can count on it being traditional. The trick to nailing it, he says, is in the pick of the meat – always female, never male. The verdict: his porchetta is tender with a sticky-sweet crackling that gets stuck in your teeth (in a good way).

Other panini include the Filini with chicken schnitzel, caciocavallo, coleslaw and mayo on soft sliced bread, and the Pina, a baguette with frittata, zucchini, scamorza and chives – alongside rotating weekly specials. Ugo also has a selection of seasonal salads and cakes – you might find a flourless orange cake or a gluten-free crostata (tart) with homemade jam.

Cannoli can be bought individually or in boxes of three, five or 12. Traditional flavours include ricotta; pistachio and chocolate; lemon; and chocolate. For the more adventurous there’s peanut butter and jam; berry and white chocolate; and Bacio with hazelnut and crushed Baci chocolate.

The cafe’s name comes from one of Di Clerico’s favourite fictional Italian characters, Ugo Fantozzi, a hapless office worker who was portrayed in a series of satirical films from the ’70s to the ’90s.

Ugo Cucina Popolare
69 Sheehan Road, Heidelberg West
(03) 9086 8925

Mon to Fri 8am–4pm

Written for Broadsheet

The Casarecce With Peppery Pecorino Fondue and Crunchy Guanciale Is a Knockout at Ganzo, Richmond’s Laid-Back Italian Joint

When restaurateur Valerio Calabro (FigoLa Svolta) and former European Group executive chef and hospitality consultant Ian Curley (also co-owner of French Saloon and Kirk’s Wine Bar) decided to open a production kitchen – for house-made pasta, cured meats, pickles and more – to facilitate their respective businesses, they didn’t expect to open another restaurant. But when they discovered a tiny space on Bridge Road in Richmond with a snug little dining area, they decided to make the most of it.

“We thought, ‘We’ll just do our production [during the day] but then at night-time we can seat people,’” Calabro says.

Despite having a name that means “cool” in Tuscan, Ganzo isn’t out to reinvent the wheel. The menu sticks to real-deal recipes from Italy, with a selection of antipasti, a few pastas and more than a dozen pizzas cooked in an electric oven. “We’re trying to make [the pizzas] a little bit crunchier [than those at La Svolta] so that when it’s takeaway it can travel better,” Calabro says. “So when you get it at home it’s still nice and crunchy, not chewy like the Neapolitan pizza.”

All the pizze rosse are topped with San Marzano tomato sugo, from a classic margherita to one with white anchovies, marinated olives, cherry tomatoes and garlic. There are also sugo-free pizze bianche, such as the Piemonte with truffle paste, fior di latte mozzarella, mixed mushrooms and 24-month matured San Daniele prosciutto, topped with wild rocket.

Elsewhere on the menu, find zuppetta di cozze, sautéed mussels and clams in a white wine, garlic, tomato and chilli sauce, served with bread baked in-house; and casarecce cacio e pepe, twisted short pasta with “pecorino-and-black-pepper fondue”, crunchy guanciale and pistachio crumbs. Pastas and pizzas can be made gluten-free, and you can sub the cheeses with a vegan alternative.

In the dining room, the fit-out is minimal with industrial accents. Large green pendant lights hang from an exposed ceiling, and chestnut-timber bentwood chairs slide on white ceramic tiles. Since reopening after lockdown, the rear garage has been transformed into a beer garden with artificial grass and graffiti-style wall art.

Inside, a glowing green neon sign emulates the pharmacy street signs found all over Italy, while other Ganzo logo designs appearing on posters take inspiration from iconic Italian brands, such as Cinzano vermouth and backpack label Invicta (Calabro used to wear an Invicta bag to school).

The production kitchen is also an opportunity for Calabro to introduce his own products – such as cured capocollo, bresaola and speck – to the venues where Curley works as a consultant. “All the projects that are going to come up from this one are very interesting and full of excitement,” Calabro says.

320 Bridge Road, Richmond
(03) 7020 6051

Wed to Sun 5pm–9.30pm

Written for Broadsheet

First Look: One of Melbourne’s Best Pie Shops, Wonder Pies & Deli, Arrives in Collingwood

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Collingwood’s hole-in-the-wall gnocchi joint Good Gnocchi was around for a good time, not a long time. After its lease expired in December, the Langridge Street shop lay dormant.

But as of March, pillowy potato pasta has been swapped out for buttery, golden pastry as Wonder Pies & Deli moved in.

It’s by Scottish-born chef Raymond Capaldi – who’s cooked at London’s Dorchester Hotel, the Sofitel in Melbourne (where he started the Academy Sofitel cooking school), Richmond’s Fenix (which he co-owned with Gary Mehigan), and Fitzroy North cafe Marmalade & Soul – and his partner, PR consultant Jodi Crocker.

In 2017, Capaldi swapped white-linen tablecloths for a factory, and launched wholesale pie business Wonder Pies. In 2018 he opened a his first pie shop, Wonder Pies & Deli, in the CBD.

Now Capaldi brings the quirk and colour of the city eatery to a second spot in Collingwood. “I love this little area,” he says. “And the way the shop looked, and how we could do it up … but keep the magic in it.”

The glow from a neon “Pielicious” sign bounces off the room’s glass surfaces and white subway tiles, and wooden stadium seating and inbuilt tables allow for quick pit stops.

In the cabinet is a plethora of pies. The Nice & Cheesy Does It is filled with macaroni, bechamel, cheddar, mustard and Cheezels, while the Piesagne has layers of pasta, wagyu beef and bechamel. One comes filled with confit duck and an orange-infused sauce; another is made with butter chicken, big on ginger and masala. If you’re stopping by in the morning, go the breakfast pie, which is filled with free-range eggs, smoked bacon and cheddar.

There’s also a plant-based mince, carrot and potato pie for vegans, but traditionalists will still find chunky beef and gravy pies; classic, beef-and-lamb sausage rolls; and a Cornish pastie with braised beef, potato and vegetables.

Capaldi’s pies are sturdy – his recipe has been tried and tested, with a light shortcrust pastry on the bottom and a crispy rough-puff pastry on top, so when you take a bite it won’t collapse and crumble in your hands. The pastry is made using organic flour, and vegetable oil instead of butter, so the pie cases are all vegan.

As at the original, there are vibrant salads here – think brown rice, pesto, pomegranate and sunflower seeds; or pickled beetroot, za’taar and dill – and Capaldi says the CBD location acted as a testing ground for Collingwood.

“We’ve learned with the traditional beef [pie], there’s a certain type of person that likes mince pies – not chunky,” he says. “Even though it’s a really good chunky pie, they go, ‘You know what, I like my mince pie.’ So, we’ve brought [a mince pie] on.”

Capaldi recently employed two pastry chefs, and they’ve filled the dessert cabinet with house-made, jumbo-size chocolate Royals; Gaytime doughnuts with salted-caramel icing; and jam-doughnut bread and butter pudding.

A take on the classic vanilla slice is more like a mille-feuille (a delicate, layered French pastry) with the vanilla custard encased in the centre.

“We just wanted to make sure that every cake we do is nostalgic, with a little twist in flavours that people are not expecting,” Capaldi says.

You can pick up charcuterie, terrines and pickled vegetables, and take-home meals too, such as Wagyu lasagne; truffle-flecked mac and cheese; and the Wonder Box, which serves four and includes a family-size pie, buttery mash, confit carrots, salad and apple pies with custard for $99.

In light of Melbourne’s renewed stage-three lockdown, Wonder Pies & Deli Collingwood is open for takeaway only, and the factory, located at 4b Kim Close, Bulleen, is open to the public, too, Monday to Saturday. The city store is currently closed.

Wonder Pies & Deli
128 Langridge Street Collingwood
03 9416 3713

Mon to Fri 9am–4pm
Sat & Sun 9am–2pm

Melbourne’s Cannoli Bar Is Now Selling DIY Cannoli Kits

Written for Broadsheet

Cannoli Bar came to be when friends Carlo Mellini and Anthony Calenda decided to sell cannoli and biscotti in the suburb where they grew up – Avondale Heights in Melbourne’s north-west.

The name is a nod to the mid-century milk bar the cannolificio has operated in since 2018. It’s on a quiet residential street, but Mellini and Calenda’s cannoli are so popular, you usually can’t get a park out front.

Since Victoria went into lockdown in March, the once-buzzing cafe has been quiet. But inside, the owners have been working to change up the menu for takeaway.

“You can say Cannoli Bar went back to its Sicilian roots by adapting to a street-style takeaway cannoli-stand concept,” Mellini says. “Cannoli are naturally enjoyed in company, [or as something] to take to the family. But we also noticed that the store became cold and lonely without all our weekly sit-in customers.”

Along with items from the usual menu (which includes paninis, pizzas and pasta), customers can pick up DIY cannoli kits and packs of handmade pasta to make at home.

“We’ve always had cannoli kits available in-store, but we usually only advertised them for Christmas time so that people can enjoy them on Christmas Day when we’re closed,” says Mellini.

“The decision to make them a standard thing was just to offer our customers that piped-fresh crunchy experience, and also to give them the flexibility of having cannoli in the fridge during lockdown that they can pipe themselves when they please.”

All Cannoli Bar’s flavours are available, including the Sicilian with sweetened ricotta, mascarpone, chopped dark couverture chocolate, candied citrus and glacé cherries. There’s also Nutella, pistachio, vanilla and chocolate custard. Packs ($50) include 10 shells, a piping bag of custard, and chocolate or nuts to decorate the ends.

The new pasta packs include egg fettuccine; potato gnocchi; and ravioli and cannelloni (which can be filled with beef or ricotta and spinach). They come in 250-gram, 500-gram or one-kilo packs, which are priced at $18 to $32 per kilo depending on the pasta and filling.

“We thought, ‘Why not give our customers the option to take a little of our kitchen produce home?’” Mellini says.

Cannoli Bar
23 Riviera Road, Avondale Heights

Wed to Fri 8am–3pm
Sat & Sun 8am–4pm

South Yarra Institution Cosi Is Back, With Generous Bowls of Homemade Pasta and a Roving Grappa Cart

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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

Daily 12pm–10pm

Now Open: Oster, a Modern Take on a Traditional Northern Italian Osteria

Written for Broadsheet

Pasta is my thing. I’ve been shovelling it down by the bucketload since I was a kid. I’ve sat in my nonna’s kitchen for hours perfecting the gnocchi roll and churning out sheets of lasagne on her manual machine. A part-time job at a deli taught me about the different shapes – filini and stelline for soup, pappardelle for a hearty ragu. And I thought I knew everything about specialty varieties from different regions – pici from Tuscany, trofie from Liguria and casarecce from Sicily. I’ve even aced Buzzfeed’s pasta-identification quiz. Multiple times.

So you can imagine my surprise when I sat down for a plate of casoncelli at new Bridge Road Italian diner Oster. It’s a kind of stuffed pasta from Lombardy, Oster chef and co-owner Nicola Romano’s hometown in northern Italy. The shell is made from two sheets of pasta about four centimetres long, pressed together at the edges – a bit like ravioli.

“There are two types of casoncello,” Romano tells me. “Casoncello di magro, the ‘skinny’, healthy option that’s filled with ricotta and spinach. And the grasso that’s filled with pork.”

At Oster, the casoncelli di magro are silky twisted pillows of pasta wrapped around spinach and ricotta that arrive under a cheesy cloud of whipped grana padano foam and topped with burnt butter and fried sage. It’s part of a weekly changing tasting menu that also includes a red capsicum risotto with black garlic and mullet bottarga, delicate blue swimmer crab with daikon, and crisp pork belly with baby broad beans.

These dishes illustrate Oster’s modern take on a traditional Northern Italian osteria (a place that serves local wine and simple food). All the produce – from artichokes to wine – is sourced locally, with an exception made for rice and pasta (“I’m a big fan of a dry pasta [over] a fresh pasta,” Romano says.)

Meat is from Andrew McConnell’s specialty butcher Meatsmith, and sustainable seafood guide Goodfish Project guides the seafood selection. Romano also forages for his own ingredients from time to time.

For dessert, a deconstructed lemon meringue tart is a stack of lemon curd (made with organic lemons from the duo’s neighbour Lizzie, butter from St David’s Dairy and eggs from family-run Ararat company Green Eggs), a disc of shortcrust pastry, a delicate Swiss meringue that’s flamed when plated, and some house-made raspberry sorbet. At lunch $27 will get you a bowl of pasta, a local wine and some tiramisu.

Romano has worked in kitchens all around the world – from Ireland and London to Spain and Italy. More recently he was running a pop-up restaurant called Chapter 53 with Oster co-owner Osvaldo Tognella.

“The dream of opening my own restaurant has always been there,” Romano says. “I always pushed my dad to open one, even when I was in Italy.”

After building up his experience around Europe, the chef moved to Australia. He spent six years working at local eateries here before Romano and Tognella (also born in Milan) – who met while working at now-closed Artusi in Southbank – finally landed the Richmond site.

The space was designed with help from Romano’s mother – an interior designer who flew to Australia from Italy to help. It’s dimly lit with concrete finishes and polished floorboards. Stripped-back rendered walls reveal the red brick underneath, and low-hanging pendant lighting creates a warm and welcoming feel.

76–78 Bridge Road, Richmond
(03) 9428 0749

Mon to Thu 7am–5pm
Fri & Sat 8am–11pm

Now Open: Cantina Carolina Is Bar Carolina’s New Morning-Oriented Next-Door Neighbour, Inspired by Classic Italian Espresso Bars

Written for Broadsheet

A scan of the breakfast menu at Joe Mammone’s new Toorak Road spot, Cantina Carolina, makes it clear this is not another cookie-cutter Melbourne cafe.

Classic breakfasts come with an Italian spin. There are ricotta hotcakes with pistachio and mascarpone. Bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes, a poached egg and prosciutto di Parma. Eggplant parmigiana with basil pesto. Spaghetti carbonara. Double take.

Yes – from 7am you can order a bowl of silky spaghetti alla chittara (an egg pasta from the Italian region of Abruzzo east of Rome that translates to “guitar spaghetti”) tossed in confit egg yolk and pecorino cheese with pieces of pancetta, black pepper and truffle.

“[The dish stems from] being Italian and living at home with mum and dad until I was 18,” says Mammone, also behind (Il Bacaro Sarti – now reincarnated as Marameo – and Bar Carolina next door. “When you’re hungry in the morning, you always have spaghetti left in the fridge. So, it was a no brainer to add it to the breakfast menu. We’re Italian. It makes sense.”

The 30-seat cafe takes inspiration from classic Italian espresso bars. A rotation of fresh panini – some with roasted peppers, eggplant and mozzarella, others with prosciutto and rocket, or crumbed chicken cotoletta with mayo – rest behind the bar. On the counter find house-made bombolini (Italian doughnuts filled with vanilla custard), almond croissants and Italian biscuits.

For lunch there’s coffee-cured kingfish with beetroot and goat’s curd, paccheri (tube pasta) with pork and fennel sausage ragu, potato gnocchi atop a pool of tomato sauce and fresh basil, and rolled pork belly with mustard fruits.

Freshly squeezed juices and smoothies are named after famous Italian renaissance and baroque artists. The Michelangelo is made with three Valencia oranges. The Botticelli is banana, macadamia, agave, almond milk and malt.

Chris Connell Design handled the fit-out at Bar Carolina, and that aesthetic is carried over here. Handmade leadlights have an azure tint, and there are two-toned wood-panelled walls, a brass table centrepiece and terrazzo tiling.

“We didn’t want it too moody. It was more about creating a breakfast feel,” Mammone says. “You’ll find there’s more white instead of those moody blues and dark colours [as in Bar Carolina].”

Cantina Carolina
48 Toorak Road, South Yarra
(03) 9820 9774

Daily 7am–4pm

First Look: Nathan Toleman’s Hazel Arrives, All Soft Hues and Natural Light, in a Historic Flinders Lane Building

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Flinders Lane’s historic Richard Allen & Son building was constructed in 1897 and operated as a fabric-manufacturing warehouse in the early 20th century. More recently, the site existed as office space before the Mulberry Group – which sold its iconic Melbourne cafes Top PaddockKettle Black and Higher Ground last year – took it over in 2017 and began transforming the space to reflect elements of its former life.

“It was an opportunity to strip it right back to its bare bones and start again,” Mulberry Group CEO Nathan Toleman says.

The result is Hazel, a pared-back eatery that stretches over two floors. Hana Hakim of Stella Collective (Kettle Black, and the group’s new cafe, Liminal, which opened in the T&G building next door earlier this year) is behind the fit-out. The colour scheme is soft and neutral with American oak floorboards, pale-leather banquettes, Hazelnut-coloured bentwood chairs and pink-stone benchtops. Ornate light fittings and mirrors feature on otherwise minimal walls, and the space is flooded with natural light from the large south-facing windows.

“We wanted a place that was timeless and classical and not too design-led,” Toleman says. “Something that could be here forever. We want it to be the kind of place that people feel at home in.”

Head chef Zac Nicholson (formerly head chef at Rockpool Bar & Grill, also at Liminal) leads the kitchen. The menu covers five categories: starters (which includes oysters with chicken sauce and pigs-head terrine); on toast (with toppings on oven-grilled sourdough); house-made pasta; proteins (lamb chops with chimichurri, and duck breast with aged balsamic); and sides including pumpkin with whey butter and soured cream, and burnt eggplant with basil pesto.

“The ‘on toast’ section – that’s my favourite,” says Nicholson. House-made sourdough bread is charred over one of three woodfired grills heated by Australian ironbark coals, then topped with anchovy and kefir butter; house-made fromage frais (fresh cheese), fried ‘nduja and guindillas (a type of chilli); or grass-fed beef rump tartare with creamy anchovy sauce.

“The open flame gives you that beautiful smoky flavour. It adds another level that you wouldn’t normally get on the gas or electric,” Toleman says. “It’s the kind of food you want to come in and eat and come back again and have the next day … It’s just really unfussy food.”

Southern calamari and grilled prawns are roasted over the flames too, served with garlic butter and cumin mayo respectively. And oysters arrive in a light chicken broth that bands together with the mollusc’s natural brine for a very delicate surf and turf.

For dessert there’s vanilla soft serve with smoked caramel and a cookie crumb. When you’ve eaten your way through the first layer of topping, the kitchen brings out another pot of warm caramel.

Bar manager Alberto Carrozza (QT Melbourne) and head bartender Tom McHugh (Gin Palace) take a clever but respectful approach to classic cocktails. Strawberries cooked in a Negroni bath for around an hour are pressed flat into a ritzy take on a Rollup to top the Strawberry Negroni. The Appleseed Gimlet is all punch and tang, and there’s a selection of booze-free cocktails made with Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirit. The extensive wine list includes drops from New Zealand, South Australia, France, Italy and the Mornington Peninsula.

“We just want create a restaurant that Melbourne can be proud of and be happy to call their own,” Toleman says.

Dessous – the team’s new wine and cocktail bar – is opening in the building’s basement on Monday.

164 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Mon to Sat 12pm–4pm, 6pm–11pm
Sun 11am–5pm

Le Lee Is Northcote’s Cosy New Family-Run Diner Serving Macedonian Meze and 18 Different Types of Rakia

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Brothers Miki and Igor Dodevski have fond childhood memories of their mother Vera Dodevska and their baba (grandmother) baking on Sunday mornings. Miki’s favourite dishes were banica – a hand-rolled, layered leek and cheese pastry – and pindjur, a relish of roast peppers, eggplant and tomato topped with feta.

“Waking up in the morning and having that for breakfast was just unreal,” Miki remembers. Now, both appear on the menu at the brothers’ cosy new Northcote restaurant, Lé Léé.

“My mum’s a chef. My dad loves hanging around the kitchen,” Miki says. “And we’ve been smoking our meats, keeping honey, and we’ve got a big organic garden at home – so we’ve always been into food.”

The Dodevskis owned the High Street site’s previous incarnation, a cafe named Ruckers Hill, but opening a proper restaurant has always been their dream, so they transformed it into the cosy diner in March.

“I guess it was just time for a change,” Miki says. “So, we decided to play back to our dream, and that was to build a Macedonian restaurant.”

Inside, distressed, peeling white walls expose red brick underneath. Pressed metal sheeting encases the bar, and wooden furniture creates a homely feel. Bench seating is topped with decorative cushions, and handwoven tapestries and garlands of garlic hang from above. A faux wooden balcony is installed over the entry to imitate a traditional Macedonian home.

According to Miki, the key to enjoying Macedonian food is to do as the Macedonians do. “Start off with some meze [share plates] and rakia [a traditional fruit brandy] and you sip that with your meat,” he says. Each meal also begins with a complimentary cube of bread dipped in oil to get you started.

Dodevska – a chef of 45 years – is in the kitchen plating up traditional Macedonian dishes such as shopska salad with tomato, cucumber and onion covered with grated feta; clay pots filled with slow-cooked beef, chicken, pork and mushrooms; sarma (stuffed, pickled cabbage rolls); and vegetarian baked moussaka. Other meze include taratur (a strained yoghurt dip); potatoes with feta; and a sour cherry and walnut baklava for dessert. There are 18 different types of rakia, ranging from grape to plum, pear, apricot and quince.

“The whole experience is about ‘you’ve come to my house, and I want you to enjoy the way we do it’,” says Miki. “It’s all about sharing, we spread everything in the middle of the table at home as well, everyone digs in and has a bit of everything. So it was about that recreating that Macedonian guest experience.”

Lé Léé
236 High Street, Northcote
(03) 9031 6507

Wed & Thu 5.30pm–11pm
Fri 5.30pm–12am
Sat 5pm–12am
Sun 5pm–11pm