229 Gertrude St.
|Opening hours||Wed-Sat 11 am-late; Sun 11 am-4pm|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Outdoor seating|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9419 2493|
When the Gertrude Street Enoteca closed in 2020, it brought an end-of-an-era feeling. Along with pizza joint Ladro, the Enoteca was instrumental in kickstarting Gertrude Street’s metamorphosis into one of Melbourne’s coolest dining and drinking strips.
So with its owners Brigitte Hafner and James Broadway shutting up shop and decamping to Red Hill to open the much-lauded Tedesca Osteria, there’s been plenty of interest in what the future would hold for the space.
Fortunately, the news is good. It comes in the form of Rocco Esposito and his wife Lisa Pidutti, the folks behind Project 49, a vineyard and excellent cafe / produce store in Beechworth that also had a city outpost in the cavernous space in Collingwood that’s recently been taken over by Shannon Martinez as the new home of Smith & Daughters. The restaurant version of musical chairs has stopped at exactly the right time.
Esposito’s new joint, Italian-accented wine bar and bottle shop Bar Rosella, carries on the spirit of its predecessor while marching to the beat of its own wine barrel.
For starters, a clever renovation has upped the number of seats from about 30 to nearly 100, with extended outdoor seating out the back (the witty installation clothes line with fluttering tea towels acting as a screen is already an Instagram fave) and a new dining room and kitchen upstairs.
The street-level dining rooms have kept the original polished concrete floors but have added more tables, smoky blue banquettes, blondwood chairs and shelves made from timber wineboxes stacked with wine, pasta and plants. The walls are a dark Venetian stucco that adds drama and intimacy to the space.
Rosella’s menu is an easy-going list of Italian dishes, many inspired by Esposito’s native Puglia.
Rosella has no coolroom, so what’s on the menu has mostly come through the door that day, hence the freshness of the snapper in an excellent crudo ($ 24).
It’s mostly loin, so has an attractively firm texture and is teamed with both a fennel puree and thin slivers of pickled fennel. It’s finished with olive oil, lemon zest and, occasionally, a little fennel pollen and is everything you want in a dish like this: firm and soft textures, a little crunch, a flash of citrus. It’s good stuff and a relief to be eating a raw fish other than the usual kingfish that’s colonized menus across the city.
The beef carpaccio is worth a look, too, not just for the deep pink slices of wagyu sirloin and the shavings of 36-month-old Reggiano, but for the discs of air-dried, shallow-fried zucchini (based on a recipe from Esposito’s mum) that add texture and depth to the dish.
Order it with baby cos leaves ($ 12) that arrive crunchy with pangrattato and dressed with bagna cauda, the addictive garlic, anchovy and olive oil sauce, and you’ll be happy. Team it with a glass of King Valley vermentino or a fiano from Puglia and you’ll be even more cheerful.
Esposito’s wine list suits the relaxed atmosphere of Rosella. It’s all about easy drinking that never stints on quality. Best way to go here is chat with the owner himself. Esposito has an excellent way of explaining wines and a knack for determining whether you’re after a little or a lot of information.
The service follows suit, perfect when delivering warm-embrace dishes such as riso, patate e cozze ($ 21), another dish from Puglia. It has smoked carnaroli rice cooked in fish stock with mussels, potatoes and cherry tomatoes and will blow your ennui out of the water.
Then there’s excellent orecchiette tossed with a swordfish carbonara ($ 32), a successful take on the classic where the orecchiette is made with white pepper and the sauce accompanying the diced and fried fish is egg yolks whisked with pecorino and finished with avruga and grated bottarga. Comforting but smart and sophisticated, too.
Some other dishes on the Please Consider list: spaghetti all’assassina ($ 25), where raw spaghetti is cooked like risotto with a tomato paste stock, garlic, chilli and Napoli sauce; a house-made cannoli ($ 9) filled with a creme patisserie-like custard and served with mustard fruits; a tartufo ($ 16) that has a chocolate mousse gelato wrapped around a rosella-essence cherry and coated with cocoa nibs. Yes, that’s right.
Rosella had a hard act to follow. Ample finesse and care have made it seem more like successor than replacement.
Vibe: Confident, Puglia-channeled neighborhood local
Cost: About $ 130 for two, plus drinks
Go-to dish: Riso, patate e cozze
Drinks: Friendly, solid wines with a focus on Beechworth’s best.
Pro-tip: Owner Rocco Esposito makes excellent chardonnay under the Project 49 label.
Michael Harden is Good Food’s acting chief reviewer.