This Italian stalwart's new home comes in the form of Collins Street landmark the McPherson's Building, which dates back to 1935 and has been given a new life. It’s big. 3000-square-metres big. Three-storeys big. So big that there will be 20 artisan stalls for you to shop from, learn from and most importantly, eat from. It’s not just a food hall, and not merely a place to eat; it’s the kind of place that you can visit for your weekly grocery shop and catch up with friends over a meal while you’re at it.
Mercato (meaning 'market' in Italian) was the brainchild of Italian entrepreneur Umberto Montano and is best described as a hub for Italian food – a huge, artistic, fancy hub, that is. According to Montano, "The concept is more than just the food. [It's] the connection of people to the architecture, the food, the design. No part of Mercato Centrale is a normal building". Brought to Australia in partnership with Eddie Muto of the Barman & Larder Group (Left Bank, Flour Child, Metropolis Events), it’s all about celebrating Italian cuisine and culture through an artisan-led offering. Bringing the concept to Melbourne was no easy feat, says Montano, adding that "Eddie persisted for three years and with passion, he convinced us that Melbourne would be the right place".
According to the brand, it is a place where food is “lived, told and prepared by artisans who respect it and know it deeply.” It champions food from the lens of the artisan and celebrates produce specific to their region and that they've grown up with and mastered as part of their craft. The project originated in Florence back in 2014, before later opening in Rome, Turin and Milan. Each Mercato is different, with arty twists and touches designed to showcase the characteristics of the historical and architectural spaces it occupies.
In Melbourne, the first floor will house bakeries where fresh bread, pizzas and sweets will be made fresh on-site daily. There will also be butchers, seafood stalls, pasta shops and cheesemakers selling their produce. Upstairs will feature two restaurants with kitchens made without stainless steel, designed to mimic a traditional kitchen at home where diners can eat around the kitchen table. There is also a smaller 500-square-metres 'to do' space on the third level where activities like educational programs, cooking classes, and book and film reviews will take place.
For Montano, the magic is in bringing the community together without them necessarily having to spend a dime. "It's a free place. Nobody asks you whether you want a coffee or not. We just need to be together. You can smell, see people working, see the artisans – it's like a theatre. A smile costs nothing. If we can create a smiling place, I'll be happy," Montano says.
The Italians are en route – architectural designer Alberto Torsello (the former artistic director of Mercato Centrale Milano) and his team will be heading down under to get to work on the space, expected to open in the first half of 2023. Watch this space.
Can't wait until the opening to get your fill on Italian food? Check out our round-up of the best Italian restaurants in Melbourne.