Melbourne cafe icon Brunetti celebrates the first anniversary of its Flinders Lane location with cicchetti, cocktails, and – of course – cake!
Brunetti is as Melbourne as the Flinders Street Station clocks or the Myer Christmas Windows – it’s a part of the fabric of this city. Ever since the iconic Italian cafe opened in Lygon Street in 1974, it has been the favourite hangout of Melbourne students, bohemians, and business people alike, and late nights spent sipping coffee and devouring a cannoli at Brunetti is a Melburnian rite of passage.
When the Angelé family took over the business in 1991, they transformed the coffee and cake cafe into an authentic Roman style pasticceria experience, serving up pasta and pizza as well as the delicious pastries and cakes the cafe was famous for. Family patriarch, Giorgio Angelé, began his training in Rome and, at 23 years old, came to Australia as the Italian Olympic team’s pastry chef for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Is there anything more gorgeously Italian than the olympic team having their own pastry chef? Angelé decided to stay and work as a pasrty chef in Melbourne, and he can still be found toiling away in the Brunetti kitchen whipping up delicious desserts.
Given its Melbourne pedigree, it’s no surprise that when Brunetti opened their Flinders Lane restaurant in November last year it was an immediate hit. Despite the venue’s enormous 300 seat capacity, the restaurant is always packed with eager diners looking to sample some of their famous coffee and cakes, as well as pizza, gelato, cocktails, and Brunetti’s delicious “cicchetti” – small savoury dishes, kind of like an Italian version of tapas. While all of Brunetti’s Melbourne venues are an experience, the sheer size and variety on offer at the Flinders Lane location is next level.
The venue itself is stunning, with diners stepping in through an entry way lined with glass display cases on all sides showcasing the sweet treats that await inside. Once inside, the size and scope of the venue becomes apparent. Earning a commendation for Best Cafe Design at the 2018 Eat Drink Design awards, Melbourne interior design house Technē Architecture have created a space that makes the most of the venue’s laneway location – with giant industrial-chic windows overlooking the lane way that runs alongside. Brass accents and black steel frames hark back to classic ’50s Italian noir design, while remaining chic and modern. The subtle sectioning off of areas, creatively achieved with glass display cases and plant walls, crafts a space that is simultaneously open-plan and cosy. The coffee bar at the centre of the restaurant is, in my opinion, the showpiece of the venue. Arching out from the western wall, and with a mid-century inspired mural wall behind it showing dapperly dressed Italian gents enjoying a coffee, the coffee bar packs a punch with a strong Fellini vibe, amping up the chic factor of the bustling space.
At the anniversary celebration, the spritz bar was the place to be, pumping out Brunetti’s cocktail menu – and the prosecco was flowing! My favourite of the night was the Violetta. A sucker for anything violet flavoured, I couldn’t go past this gorgeous purple hued tipple. A simple and refreshing mix of Fabbri Violet, Prosecco, and soda water, the Violetta is going to be a huge hit over summer. If you’re looking for something a little fruity, try the Fragola – Aperol, Prosecco, and strawberry puree – or the name sake spritz, the Brunetti. With slight tartness and bitterness of Fabbri Marendry and Amarena syrup mixed with Prosecco and soda water, the Brunetti is a chic and full bodied spritz that will have you feeling like Sophia Loren on a warm Roman evening.
Because snacks and spritzes go together like Audrey Hepburn and her Vespa in Roman Holiday, Brunetti have crafted a quintessentially Italian cicchetti menu that’s perfect for pairing. Traditionally small side or snack size dishes, cicchetti are great for sharing or just for a little something to mindlessly graze upon while you sip your spritz and watch Melbourne hustle by outside. Formaggi Misti – a mixed cheese board – is always a good choice, or if you’re after something a little different, the Bianchetti Fritti – fried whitebait – are perfectly cripsy and delightfully savoury little morsels. I can’t resist an olive in any form, so the Olive Ascalone – crunchy stuffed fried olives – were a must for me.
While Brunetti in Flinders Lane may be the youngest of their Melbourne venues, if its first year is anything to go by it’s going to be just as loved, and just as much an icon of Melbourne, as the original. And serving up coffee until 11pm every week night, and midnight on Friday and Saturday, there’s plenty of late evenings sipping coffee and devouring cannoli still to come.