Eight years is a long time in restaurant land. Let’s bid a fond farewell to Gill’s Diner and give a big hello to Trattoria Emilia
Regular patrons will be pleased to know the bakery and café – one-half of the greater Gill’s experience – remains the same. It’s the restaurant that has changed: refreshed rather than subjected to the full makeover. Blush-coloured stripes now intersect on the handsome terrazzo floor and it’s altogether less school-roomy, but in essence it remains the same secret laneway haunt that boasts implicitly of Melbourne’s fabulousness.
Con Christopoulos has plenty to do with Melbourne’s fabulousness. The City Wine Shop, European, Kirk’s Wine Bar, Neapoli, Siglo… the list goes on. He and Gill’s business partner Chris Kerr euthanised the old-timer to coincide with the arrival of chefs Luca Flammia and Francesco Rota (Tea Rooms of Yarck), who hail from Emilia-Romagna (affluent home of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bolognese and grana padano). From Gill’s looser European menu they’ve drilled down into the particular delights of regional Italy. If this were cinema we’d be calling it the prequel. The fundamentals are tighter, which ironically enough can make life more difficult for proprietors as any flaws are magnified. That shouldn’t be a problem here, where the solid trattoria experience is just about bang-on for our Italian-loving town.
Here’s a tip: hit the antipasto selection as a starter. Sure you can order items individually – crisp filo pastry sandwiching delicately spiced ricotta and spinach; meaty chunks of kingfish escabeche; ragout-centred arancini and braised octopus in tomato and pickled vegetables and wodges of polenta and melting gorgonzola. But for $35 you get a wooden board heaving with finger-lickin’ beauty that could pass for lunch (for two) in itself. In a word: bargain.
Look no further than the ravioli di magro for a typical Modenese dish – fat yellow ricotta and spinach-stuffed orbs in a richer-than-Croesus butter sauce. Pasta as it should be – simple, unfussy, utterly satisfying. Chase it with something crisp, Italian and interesting, like a glass of the Umani Ronchi verdicchio.
Secondi extend only to three dishes. Pork loin wrapped in pancetta is still blush-pink and juicy, the thick slices perched on creamy mashed potato and the fruit element taken care of by the sour tang of black cherries. The glossy, caramel-coloured sauce has depths of meaning.
Service and music are great, both thanks to the talents of Lazlo Evenhuis, and even the Very Italian desserts are great – the torta Barozzi, a dark sticky landmass of chocolate, coffee and almond that’s kind of like the bastard offspring of chocolate cake and tartufo. Molto bene. Fare thee well, Gill’s. You’re gone but not forgotten. And please take heart: we couldn’t have parted with you for anything less than Emilia.
|Venue name:||Trattoria Emilia|
Enter via Gills Alley
360 Little Collins St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri 7am-10pm; Sat 8am-10pm|