2/377 Little Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
The worst thing about being away from Melbourne during Covid – aside from not seeing my friends and family and y’know, the death and disease – was the fear that all the amazing restaurants I’ve yet to try will have shut down during my involuntary exile. And whilst many restaurants certainly bit the dust, Pentolina was not one of them, and now dining is (more or less) back, it seems just as popular as ever.
Pentolina embodies everything I love about dining in Melbourne – its unexpected retro glamour tucked away next to a parking garage, the effortless old-world European comfort it exudes, and of course, the warm welcome and hospitality from each and every one of the staff.
Another thing I like about dining in Melbourne – free bread! This may look like a perfunctory bit of baguette, but don’t worry – it is anything but. With its crackling exterior and fragrant, doughy centre, it’s a reminder as to why this bread is sold on every street corner in France, and is especially good with a bit of fruity olive oil. My pleas for my sister to save a bit of their slice to mop up the pasta sauce went entirely unheeded.
Although Pentolina is first and foremost a pasta bar, they have a respectable selection of nibbles and antipasti to round out your meal. I love a good Arancina ($4ea), and this one had a compellingly pungent cheesiness to it, interspersed with an unexpected sweetness from the kernels of corn mixed throughout the rice. Likewise, the Crocchetta di Baccala ($4.5ea) was similarly well done, the light, crisp shell giving way to a centre of creamy potato flecked with salted cod.
The Piadina ($9, 2pcs) however was a miss. Despite sounding fascinating on paper, what we ended up getting was slightly stale-tasting flat breads with bland squacquerone cheese sauce, the flavour profile entirely dominated by the charred and crumbed capsicum. It wasn’t disgusting or anything like that, but I had a hard time working out what exactly it was trying to do.
Much more lovely was the Pesce Spada ($23), which was a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. Each ephemeral slice of pink peppercorn-smoked swordfish was topped with a segment of charred orange, its plump fruitiness lent a robustness by the sheath of lightly-salted swordfish, and the warm aniseed flavour of dill.
Despite sounding very fancy on paper, the Gnocchi ($33) was definitely more comfort food than fine-dining. The slow braise of leek and rabbit was reminiscent of chicken soup, and the little nuggets of hand-made gnocchi completed the approximation. I was however quite impressed with the less orthodox additions of preserved lemon and freeze-dried black olives, which added unexpected highlights to the familiar flavour.
We got the Tagiatelle ($27) on the recommendation of our waitron – it was either this or the cacio e pepe rigatoni – and it was an unexpected stunner. We’re all familiar with combination of pasta and ragu, but it’s the Parmigiano Reggiano cream that makes this one stand out. When mixed through with the slow-braised beef and pork sauce, it added a creamy richness and a seductively smooth mouthfeel, without overwhelming the sweetness of the tomato and herbs. It is pure comfort food, and one that I could eat forever.
Despite being on the expensive side, Pentolina was a lovely experience. Everything – the food, the service, the ambience – was a lovely balance between refined and familiar, making for a dinner date that feels special yet comfortable. Admittedly there’s nothing making it stand out from other excellent Italian restaurants around Melbourne, but there’s not real need for it to – it’s more than good enough to stand on its own.
Rating: 13.5/20 – classic italy.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.