It’s not easy to find Trattoria Emilia. Hidden behind a plain wooden door in Gills Alley, just off Little Collins Street, this eatery is nestled between banks and superannuation funds down in the business end of Melbourne. A tough find, but worth the hunt if you’re in the square mile of the city.
The clue to what you get here is in the name. Emilia isn’t a girl of the owner’s past, it’s not even the name of the chef, it’s a place – Emilia-Romagna, a region in Italy’s northeast. And that’s the kind of food you’ll find here. Simple, tasty and rich, focusing on meat, pasta and powerful flavours.
On this trip my dining companion and I both had the special which was truffle pasta. Served hot, it was freshly made Tagliatelle paired with a light cheese and served with a generous amount of shaved black truffle. Frankly, it was a simple food triumph.
The décor is plain and industrially authentic with concrete floors, white-washed walls covered in interesting art and small wooden tables with bent wooden chairs. It was comfortable, warm and well lit.
The service was sparkling, with knowledgeable staff, prompt service and none of the irritating “how is your meal today” interruptions by people who don’t know what they are doing.
The diners were a mix of old friends enjoying a long lunch over more than one bottle of wine, tables of two who’d come together for a quick catch up and of course, the suits coming in for lunch to talk business.
The beauty of this place is that it’s completely unpretentious – something a trattoria should be. Traditionally a trattoria is an establishment less formal that a restaurant, but more formal that an osteria (a place that serves a short menu, mainly of pasta, meat and wine). The word ‘trattoria’ comes from the Italian word ‘trattore’ which translates to ‘host’, but was originally derived from the French traiter, meaning to ‘treat, prepare’, and were places originally established to service workers coming in from the field for something to eat on the way home, focusing on simple, filling food.
Things have moved on in terms of food but the idea hasn’t, and trattorias have popped up all over town in recent years as places that offer traditional, authentic Italian-style food without all the fuss. I’ve visited Trattoria Emilia three times now and have sampled the classic Tagliatelle ($25) with a simple but delectable ragu Bolognese, and the Gnocchi Verdi ($27) which was a terrific combination of potato and spinach gnocchi with chicken and nutmeg ragu.
I looked at the wine list as I usually do, though I tend not to drink with lunch. The list is long and regional, well priced and tempting – but I also noticed they were serving Peroni Red.
Peroni Red on a menu in Australia? That’s unusual. So I broke my rule about not drinking at lunch.
Ok, scratch that. It’s not a rule about not drinking at lunch – more of a guideline. I broke my guideline of not drinking at lunch and ordered a beer.
You almost never see Peroni Red in Australia. From Northern Italy, it’s unsurprisingly popular in the north, but also in Rome, and as far as I am concerned one of the world’s greatest beverages. A dark, malty beer with low carbonation, Peroni Red is easy on the palate at lunch time and, for me at least, goes perfectly with Italian-style pasta.
Sum it up: Italian lunch perfection on Little Collins Street.
Must try: The truffle pasta if it’s on the specials board.
360 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
03 9670 7214