Rosa’s Kitchen

May 25, 2013

22 Punch Lane, Melbourne

A couple of weeks ago I had the most marvellous night out with M (he of D.O.C. Pizza fame); starting at the City Wine Shop with a glass of red, perusing up little Bourke to Rosa’s Kitchen for pasta, and finishing the night with some amaretto on the Siglo rooftop. Rather romantic, really – anyone out there looking for date night tips, pull out a pen and paper, because you’re in for a hell of a ride.

The Melbourne dining scene has been smarting from the loss of Journal Canteen a couple of years ago. Rosa Mitchell’s subsequently brief sojourn out of the city wasn’t a huge success but this year, thankfully, blissfully, Rosa is back in town and back in our lives. Her new restaurant offers similar Sicilian fare although at a slightly more upmarket pace. I was quite taken with it all, as you will no doubt be able to tell.

I should disclose that I was quite light headed when we arrived due to the surprisingly strong glass of red I’d just had at the City Wine Shop, so I may have perceived the place as more buzzy that it actually was, but in general everyone was carrying on loud conversation and seemed to be having a good time.

The interior design at Rosa’s is a homage to the pared back industrial chic of the old Flinders Lane haunt. Polished concrete, mismatched chairs and cases of legit Peroni provide character, but you get the feeling that everyone here is thinking the same thing; we’re here for Rosa, we’re here for her food. Service is ‘can-do’, quick and knowledgeable, everything is noted and advised on and served without fuss and without pretension.

While I continued with my red wine (Sangiovese, this time), M began with an Aperol, the Venetian version of Campari (and, in his well-schooled opinion, the superior drink). Beautiful orange glow.

The menu echoes that of Journal Canteen; an antipasto platter to begin with, four pastas, four mains, and a handful of desserts. Peasant food, essentially, but brought up to restaurant quality.

The antipasti was predictably good. Simple, uncomplicated and honest, it was much like something I’d expect to see at home but executed to perfection. Starting at the top and circling clockwise was salami, lentil salad, pickled zucchinis, spring onion omelette, fried ricotta, cauliflower fritter, grilled eggplant, pickled green tomatoes and some olives.

Off to a good start, clearly.

I’d come here specifically for the orecchiette with cauliflower, saffron and fried breadcrumbs, but tilting my head up to the menu scrawled across a blackboard high on the wall, all I could see were the words ‘Orecchiette – broccoli, anchovy’. I was initially disappointed with the change, until my drunken brain slowly realised that broccoli is much like cauliflower and, if anything, I preferred anchovies to saffron.

As soon as I saw a plate delivered to a nearby table, breadcrumbs scattered on top, I immediately declared that that was what I would order. Spaghetti with sardines and wild fennel be dammed! I’m getting the orecchiette! ‘So all you really wanted was the breadcrumbs’, noted M, astute as ever. I shot him a sideways glare and ordered another glass of wine.

The orecchiette didn’t disappoint. In fact I’ve had a number of dreams about it since this meal – perfectly al dente pasta, sweet and soft pieces of broccoli and the sinfully good, garlicky crunch of fried breadcrumbs. Will be hard pressed to order anything different next time I eat here.

I had been hoping, for the sake of variety, that M would order a non-pasta dish. I kept on mentioning the braised lamb shoulder with chicory and potatoes in the hope that he would order it. While he didn’t order the lamb, he did get the spatchcock with lemon, red peppers and olives, which was my second choice. It too arrived Sicilian peasant-style; simply, honestly arranged on a plate with a wet pile of braised peppers and a few scattered olives.

The spatchcock was perfectly cooked, still juicy inside with a nicely golden skin. A complimentary iceberg lettuce salad accompanied our meals and was a pleasant refresher.

Cannoli with sweet ricotta to finish. I’m tempted to say they were a little dear at $5.50 a piece, but that proper, almost-savoury, freshly piped ricotta in a crisp shell may just have made up for it. Sensationally good, and all rather romantic when eaten with your hands.

The final hurrah, an espresso, arrives in a cute little cup featuring the sword (‘spada’) design from Italian playing cards. ‘I would bring my parents here’, says M, potentially the highest compliment an Italian can give to an Italian restaurant.

I too would bring my parents here; they’d love it. I’d also bring a small group of friends, and I’d happily come here (or be taken here) on a date. I think there’s something hugely sensual about simple Italian food. All that gastronomy, foams, pomp and circumstance at fancier places is distracting; here is it all about you and your dining partner and the food. Hands and eyes and mouths.

A glowing review of Rosa’s Kitchen, I know, but give it a go for yourself and try and find something wrong with the place. This was quite possibly the best meal I’ve had out all year. Oh Rosa, my Rosa, don’t ever leave me.

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