11 Hamilton St
Mont Albert, VIC 3127
I have a new beau, and his (or her – it is the 21st century after all) name is Italian Food. I’ve always known about the merits of pasta and pizza, but I’ve never really given much thought to the cuisine in general. But really, the stuff is right up my alley – beautifully fresh ingredients cooked up simply but elegantly, aka the pinnacle of good food. So more’s the shame that there is no good Italian food to be had without leaving the eastern suburbs… right?
Enter Cantina Centrale. Located in a sleepy little strip of shops that feels like a country town perpetually suspended in the good old days, it left me nostalgic for Toowoomba – the place I called home for my first 4 years in Australia. But the restaurant itself brought me back to here and now, with its fashionable exposed brick and European vibes. Plus, Toowoomba definitely didn’t play host to an authentic wood fire pizza oven, at least not when I left.
But it’s not all style and no substance with Cantina Centrale. I really liked the look of the menu, which was an accessible blend of pizza, pasta, and classic Italian nibbles and plates. But don’t take my word for it – just ask the locals piling in relentlessly through the door. Make sure you book is all I’m going to say.
Our obligatory Bread and EVOO came in a hessian sack that was without a doubt the cutest thing I’ve seen all week. The bread is white and fluffy, and the olive oil fruity but not too pungent.
Believe it or not, I’ve never ordered a bona fide Arancinio ($5ea) before, so hey, why not start with the best? Crumbed and fried to a burnished gold, this Sicilian rice ball is the size of a grown-man’s fist, and oozed with ragu and mozzarella. Each chewy grain of rice was smothered with melted cheese, and was well accompanied by the sweet tomato paste.
I was enraptured by the Parmigiana ($9), or as I like to tell myself, low-carb lasagne. The layers of eggplant were baked until they’re soft and pulpy, soaking up the lashings of rich tomato sugo and olive oil. Finish it up with a deluge of parmesan cheese, and the end result is nothing short of miraculous.
You know the pizza is going to be good when you can smell the dough and garlic. The Siciliana ($18), with its pungent toppings may not be popular with everyone, but I adored the way the salty olives and briny anchovies brought out the sweetness of the tomato and milkiness of the mozzarella. The base was also fantastic – paper thin, then bubbling up into a crust of airy domes, dusted with char from the wood fire oven.
Even the simple side of Fagiolini ($10) was fabulous. You start with some green beans, then toss them in a garlic tomato sauce. The magic starts with the diced pancetta, which gives the whole dish an irresistible spicy meatiness.
In a part of town where a search for pizza yields either doughy Australian-styled pizzas, or horrifying mutations of authentic pizzas trying to pass off as the real thing, Cantina Centrale is an absolute gem. I adored the quality of both the food and service, and it was a bargain to boot. In fact, I’m looking forward to bringing the whole squad here for my sister’s birthday next month. Who’s my squad you ask? My sister and my mum of course, my beans are just cool like that.
Rating: 15/20 – cool beans.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.