Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trattoria Emilia, Melbourne CBD by Benny

A Christmas disaster! Bilby Blue’s reindeer-shaped pastry cutter has fractured from age and overuse, and for Benny’s extended family, homemade gingerbread reindeer have become an essential part of Christmas. What to do? Frustratingly, while Christmas-themed pastry cutters are widely available in the January sales, reindeer, especially in the large size prized by the in-laws, are conspicuously absent. Cake Deco in Port Phillip Arcade is the place to go, but it requires a special trip into the Melbourne CBD.

Mission completed, lunch beckons, but where? We pass a cheerily rustic sign tempting us down a dingy dead-end alley to Trattoria Emilia, a chalked greeting wishing us “Happy New Year” and assuring us that “We are back”. Melbourne is rightly famous for its laneways, so it seems only natural to investigate further.

Trattoria Emilia presents as a traditional Italian family restaurant: wooden tables, bentwood chairs, and wood-panelled walls, within a mid-20th century industrial atmosphere that betrays the building’s history as a former garage. The large kitchen is easily visible through a wall of steel framed windows lining one entire side of the dining area. The front of house staff are welcoming and professional, and the menu enticing. Fortunately we have arrived early in the lunchtime because there were only three unreserved tables.

Trattoria Emilia, Melbourne, antipasti
We decide to share an entrĂ©e: a selection of six antipasti. Visually attractive, the Antipasti Misti is every bit as tasty as it looks. A golf-ball sized arancini was a wonderful layered globe of hidden treasure – a tiny flavourful meatball encased by perfectly cooked rice suffused with lovely gravy, encased in a crispy shell; a zucchini flower provided a similarly brittle wrapping for a smooth and tasty fish mousse; and the bianchetti was the best whitebait fritter I have tasted for years. These were complemented by a simple caprese salad (tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, croutons), some pepperonata (salad of marinated capsicum and olive), and a small cube of spinach and ricotta erbazzone (quiche).

Trattoria Emilia, Melbourne, stuffed calamari
For the main event Bilby Blue chose a piccolo seconda (small main course) of Calamari Ripieni: calamari stuffed with salted cod. She declared this to be the most tender calamari she has ever eaten, the flavour wonderfully boosted by the salted cod. The accompanying cherry tomato and green bean salad was an excellent contrast.

Trattoria Emilia, Melbourne, John Dory, fish
My fish of the day was a pan roasted John Dory with fish emulsion, slow cooked tomato, another of those wonderful zucchini flowers, and a small green salad. Everything on the plate was perfectly cooked and presented, the flavours and textures all complementary. A great dish.

Trattoria Emilia, Melbourne, semifreddo, dessert
To finish off and cleanse the palate, a shared Semifreddo Mediterraneo was perfect – a slice of almond and pistachio praline with candied lemon peel, topped with fresh cantaloupe in a fruity sauce with pine extract (think maple syrup, but from a pine tree rather than a maple).

Trattoria Emilia, Melbourne, Italian
Our helpful waitress advised that the restaurant offers both a la carte and a fixed price menu in the evenings – $69 for four courses, which sounds like excellent value. She also said that the next door Commercial Bakery was part of the same operation and provided the bread for the trattoria.


We loved it
We loved it and will be returning (especially for that fixed price menu).


A wonderful meal and great service. Investigations after our visit revealed that Trattoria Emilia has an excellent heritage, taking over the venue from the hatted Gills Diner and with the same owners.  It aims to provide “dishes that reflect the diversity of Italian flavours, while honouring traditional techniques and execution to shed light on the amazing ways Italian food can be enjoyed.” I am not qualified to judge its use of traditional techniques, but I can confirm that its food is amazing. It is busy, so bookings are recommended.

Find it at

Trattoria Emilia
Gills Alley
Rear of 360 Little Collins Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Phone: 9670 7214

Trattoria Emilia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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