What would Melbourne be without its rightful scattering of cafés? For a long time we’ve boasted the most restaurants per capita in Australia, as well as claiming our superiority for all things foodie. Recent years have seen the emergence an increasing number of casual but wine-focused eating places around town, such as City Wine Shop on Spring Street, and Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy.
Gertrude Street is definitely the food-lover’s street of the season, with an organic baker and food store, a great pizza place (Ladro) that’s worth every ounce of hype it’s received since opening, even a bookstore that specializes in cookbooks (Books for Cooks). Gertrude Street Enoteca (enoteca is the Italian name for a wine shop which could also be a bar/café) completes the landscape beautifully.
Passing by in a car, the enoteca’s humble exterior reveals little of the greatness within. Look into the deep space and you will gasp upon seeing the abundance of wines lining the walls. Step in and you will stand in amusement of the chains of garlic, bay leaves and cured meats descending from the ceiling, their aromas filling the Scandinavian-chic marble and blonde wood room, wafting amid the gratifying scent of coffee.
We arrive for lunch a little early, but unfortunately not early enough for breakfast, so we wait, musing at the range of wines – Italian (of course), French, Australian, New Zealand, but to list a few of the origins – while the small selection of lunch choices are being made in the back kitchen by the lovely Rosa with whom we chatted while enjoying a refreshing prickly pear salad. (Although I think poor Rosa was feeling less than refreshed about having to handle the spiky fruits.) The golden-yellow fruits have a pleasing texture, in between mango (a similar stringy, fibrous quality) and cantaloupe, and lay, assembled in a spontaneous manner, with rocket, prosciutto and parmesan. The salty cured taste of the wonderfully stretchy prosciutto, is helped by the shavings of parmesan to articulate how great antipasti ingredients can be. Though for more antipasti, they have a platter, which has been all the rave in Melbourne recently.
There are three sandwich-type offerings today – a focaccia with pickled artichokes, provolone and rocket, a panini with zucchini frittata, fetta, mint and rocket, and a porterhouse panini with horseradish mayonnaise, cheddar, caramelized onions and lettuce, which we chose. The porterhouse was thin, but would still be classified as a steak for its juiciness. The whole panini was spruced up by the great condiments, particularly the onions that were caramelized so well I thought those soft translucent strings were relish. We had been seriously prepared to ask them to warm it up for us, as we knew to do this by default in most cafés, but to our delight, it arrived crisp, tender, warm, and not too thick. The art of a good sandwich is revealed when the hungry customer raises it to a vertical and yet hardly anything falls out.
Gertrude Street Enoteca isn’t about fancy pansy food. It’s about having a relaxing time with good food, wine and company. I needn’t be reminded that I must be back soon for some late night drinks and antipasto, if I’m lucky enough to find a table, that is.
Average spending per person: $10-15 (excluding wine)
Gertrude Street Enoteca
229 Gertrude Street
Tel: +613 9415 8262
Open: Mon – Fri: 8.30am – late, Sat: 10am – late