After Melbourne’s comparatively short but no less frustrating fourth coronavirus outbreak lockdown, I’d decided it was time for my family to revisit and support some of Melbourne’s most famous and treasured locations for food provisions, sightseeing and eating.
On my hit list were fish and chips, a walk along the fishing boats moored at Mordialloc Creek, plus sand play with my four-year-old son at Mordialloc beach. On this day, we’d also marvel at Port Phillip Bay’s near glass-out conditions. A strange mid-winter occurrence of mild weather and sunshine had painted a rare and striking tropical sea-like appearance, simply glorious. Such opportunity to bask in some northern sun warmth mid-year this far south seemed uncomprehensible but was delightfully accepted.
Next stop was the iconic Russian Tidbits deli in Koornang Road, Carnegie, for a selection of local and imported European and Russian delights: Quark cheese, Baker in the Rye Boradinski black bread, fermented dark rye drink Kavass and three packets of pryaniki – Russian spiced cookies which are a little like gingerbread. They’re traditionally made with sour cream, butter, flour and lots of honey. This collection would serve my family well over the coming days, but certainly not weeks, as my clan treasures such delights.
While the choice of Melbourne’s Winter Village was on the table for a third exploration point, we opted instead for a quick tour of the laneways and a chance to stop and snap some images of Flinders Street Station in all its twilight gold-tonal glory. It simply felt good to be pounding the pavement and to see the town come alive again. While my wife and older son next opted to explore Myer department store and to ride its art deco elevators and get lost among the glitz and glamour-lit micro storefronts, I retook my younger son by the hand. I led him up Bourke Street’s hill towards Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar and explained that we were about to eat the world’s best spaghetti bolognese – notably, he was overwhelmingly excited.
We arrived just on dark; the winter chill had set in. Quickly, we slid our way into Pellegrini’s narrow entrance to be greeted with keen hospitality professional attention in the manner of late co-owner Sisto Malaspina. I immediately ordered a cappuccino, baby chino and two serves of spaghetti bolognese. In an instant, like a magicians trick, two plates of buttered roll appeared from under the counter – the barman handed to me with a gentle grin. I turned around to place the bread plates on the sidebar table, then lifted my son Elisey onto one of the red vinyl bar stools and waited for service – we did not wait long.
Perfectly presented in its quaint Italian style comprising hints of beauty – marble tiles, polished hardwood counters and rows of Vittoria coffee bags on the top shelf behind the bar – this now iconic espresso bar again delivered, just as it did when my father (artist Ivan Durrant) first introduced me to Pellegrini’s pasta when I was a kid.
Just as many Melbournian adults recall childhood tastes, perhaps including a Sunnyboy icy block, a piece of Cadbury chocolate or the explosive flavour of a Sherbet Bomb, the sweet and tangy taste of Pellegrini’s rich and tender bolognese sauce is firmly etched in my memory.
This time ’round, after digging in to swirl the steaming spaghetti beneath the layer of surprisingly dark coloured bolognese, I noticed a decent chunk of slow-cooked carrot. Upon isolating it and tasting, the penny finally dropped – this was the key to Pellegrini’s famous bolognese sauce – rich, aromatic, tender and sweet. The humble carrot, no doubt used in the original recipe to bulk up the sauce, was the secret that set Pellegrini’s apart from other recipes I’d tried – this included comparing Pellegrini’s sauce to Guy Grossi’s bolognese; the recipe recently shared by a close friend who Grossi trained.
Thoroughly inspired – and I admit, small things amuse small minds – I decided to next day, attempt to perfect my own ‘cook at home’ Pellegrini’s style spag bol. Needless to say, my four-year-old was also satisfied with his Pellegrini’s meal, but also with the passing company – including pair of friendly paramedics, who’d dropped in to collect their takeaway packages. One had stopped to shake his hand and strike up a short conversation. While Elisey was shy, deep down, I felt his pleasure – having professional adult company respecting his presence. Such is the convivial nature of Melbourne’s much loved Pellegrini’s.
To try my version of the Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar style bolognese sauce, visit the recipe here.
Mordialloc Creek & Beach
13 Koornang Road,
Tel 03 9572 3911
Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar
66 Bourke Street,
Tel 03 9662 1885