Trattoria EmiliaApril 17, 2016
360 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Sometimes you eat at a restaurant and even though it’s not the most flashy or trendy, you walk out with one phrase running through your head: class act. That’s how I would describe Trattoria Emilia. As classy as an Italian in Prada.
In the former (and well-loved) home of Gill’s Diner, Emilia sits in an unassuming laneway, just a short walk away from busy Elizabeth Street. Once inside, you’re transported to Italy – Bentwood chairs, linen tablecloths, and a series of drawings and sketches around the walls. The kitchen is behind a tiled bench and glass screen, and through the pass you can see chefs rolling pasta and checking sauces. It’s a romantic and relaxing space.
My family ate at Emilia recently for my Dad’s birthday, and because we were in the mood for something a bit special, we decided to leave our food choices up to the chef. First up was a tasty little plate of kingfish carpaccio with pink peppercorns, celery and caper leaves. Nothing like blushing pink kingfish, helped along with a drizzle of good olive oil.
Our next little “nibble course” was a plate of savoury canoli filled with bacalao mousse. I loved the contrast between the salty cod mousse and the crispy canoli shell. Can’t remember what the foam was, so all I can say is that it was delicious.
Like any good Greek girl, I love my sardines. My favourite thing to do when at the Queen Vic Market is buy a handful or two, grill them on a very hot cast iron grill and finish with a good squeeze of lemon and some toast. Lunch for under a fiver! At Emilia, the sardines had been fancied up a notch – grilled with sweet onions, raisins, pine nuts and small bites of fried polenta. Fantastic food.
Chasing the sardines was a brilliant dish of parmesan mousse, radicchio puree, fresh fennel, walnuts and pancetta. It was finished at the table with a few drops of 50 year old (yeah, five-zero) balsamic vinegar from Modena. *That* balsamic was incredible! I felt a little daunted by this tiny bottle of balsamic – after all, it was twice my age! Of course it was sweet and quite thick, but it also had similar characteristics to Pedro Ximenez or an aged port. It worked wonders with the umami-rich parmesan mousse and bitter-sweet radicchio puree. Far and away my favourite dish from the evening.
After the outstanding parmesan mousse, we had a course (sadly, not photographed) of salumi e gnocco fritto. Pillows of pastry were fried until they puff up to the size of your palm, and we smeared them with whipped mortadella. Sounds a bit weird, tasted incredible. The Emilia region in Italy is the home of mortadella, so it was an appropriate choice of salumi. It had been whipped up with either ricotta or mascarpone (I couldn’t tell), and perhaps a little parmesan as well, to make a salty, meaty spread for the hot pastry. Sensational!
For our pasta course, we enjoyed fresh tortellini in a creamy walnut sauce. I’d heard walnut sauce described as “like a white pesto”, and I would describe it as silky, mild and creamy. There’s a slight salty hit from some parmesan, but mostly it’s a bit like a warm hug from Nonna. The whole dish was finished perfectly with a drizzle of *that* balsamic.
Our main meal was beautifully pink veal with pine mushrooms, soft tomatoes, spinach and a white sauce. I understand some people feel a little funny about veal, but I’ve never had a problem with it (particularly since I love lamb and poussin so much). The wild mushrooms were a beautiful addition to yet another simple but perfectly executed dish.
After some time to finish our wine, we switched to the sweet side of things with a candied fruit and nut semifreddo with a fresh peach puree. While I love peaches, I’ve never been the biggest fan of candied fruit – I always find it too sickly and it tends to overwhelm dishes. The Italians love candied fruit like no one else, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this semifreddo nicely balanced between the frozen custard and the fruit.
As soon as the waiter announced the next dessert, I knew they had me. Dark chocolate and prune torte with sour cherries and mascarpone. I mean, sweet lord this was excellent. The torte wasn’t too sweet (because of the dense dark chocolate), and the sour cherries really livened things up. It was finished with a crumble of hazelnut and chocolate biscuit.
Trattoria Emilia is a class act. The food here is a modern homage to the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. Some dishes are very traditional – the tortellini with walnut sauce, or the candied fruit semifreddo. Others reincarnate traditional flavours and ingredients in exciting new dishes – such as the bacalao canoli or that incredible parmesan mousse. Beautiful food, great service, and a perfect vibe for that city dinner without the city feel. Highly recommended.
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