There’s only one rule at Osteria la Passione and that’s the chef decides what you eat. $75 will buy you 6 courses, selected and prepared by chef Carmine Costantini. The menu is constantly changing and different tables may even be served different courses during the same service. With Osteria’s pasta making The Age’s list of best dishes of 2011, I had my fingers crossed.
We started off with crispy fried Lakes Entrance school prawns, no shelling required.
Next was lovely light octopus salad with black olives, potato, tomato and red onion, dressed with olive oil.
The soup course was an intense red pepper soup with a tempura flower, freshly picked from the garden.
This was followed by a hearty dish of Italian sausage, braised with cannellini beans, for sharing.
Given the option of an additional charcuterie source, the decision wasn’t difficult. There was a great selection of cured meats, including house-cured salami, cured venison, horse mortadella and several variations of incredible melt-in-the-mouth pancetta.
Moving onto the pasta course, there were no complaints about the delicious pumpkin and parmesan gnocchi, served with a flavour-packed porcini sauce. Comfort food could not get any better than that.
For the meat course, we had veal leg, served with braised cabbage and roast potatoes. The sides were quite salty but the wonderfully tender veal saved the day.
The prospect of a pre-dessert cheese plate was simply too tempting to resist; tasty morsels of creamy gorgonzola, a biting, salty pecorino, aged honey pecorino, a hung cheese with a rich buttery centre and a soft cows milk cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves.
Throughout the meal, we had an unlimited supply of Osteria’s house-baked bread. The smoked flour and buckwheat bread was particularly good for mopping up sauces and I lost count of how many times our bread bag was (diligently) replenished.
And finally, dessert. As we had already chosen to sample both optional courses, there was no reason to hold back and we decided to try both of the desserts on offer. First was a dense, carrot cake with cocoa and blood orange syrup. This was carrot cake in the literal sense and the flavour of the finely grated carrot was very prominent as opposed to the “carrot” cake which, let’s face it, we really eat for the icing.
We finished the meal on a definite high note; a decadent, creamy, vanilla bean panna cotta, served with red currents and raspberry purée.
Overall, our meal at Osteria was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was quite exciting to leave the menu choices entirely up to the chef, who is clearly very passionate about creating simple, no-fuss dishes that really highlight the best aspects of the raw ingredients. The restaurant is simply yet charmingly decorated with the likes of produce displays and wine barrels and, seating only 35, it’s quite an intimate space. Sitting in the front room, we were also able to watch the chef prepare some of the courses. The staff were friendly, enthusiastic and keen to interact with the diners. A sitting at Osteria is highly recommended because you won’t get this sort of experience anywhere else in Melbourne. My only advice would be to go with an open mind and just enjoy the ride.