Head chefs at Emilia, Francesco Rota and Luca Flammia came to Australia from Modena around seven years ago, both keen to explore the world outside of their town in the region of Emilia Romagna.
Growing up in this part of Italy can almost guarantee a lifestyle centered around cooking and eating, and both men discovered their love of cooking traditional Italian food at a very young age. This is partly due to the fact that this region is widely regarded as one of the food centres of the world. It is home to the widely used parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese), made in Reggio Emilia, and also balsamic vinegar, made using traditional methods and only produced in Modena.
It was while working at Da Noi that the pair met Matteo Neviana who ran the floor there for nearly eight years. The trio gradually joined forces, the idea of Emilia was born, and together they began working towards opening their own place; a venue where they could share their homeland’s delicious cuisine.
Meanwhile, restaurateur Con Christopolous, the man behind some of Melbourne’s most iconic city venues including Siglo, The European, Journal and City Wine Shop, was eager to try and recreate some of his favourite food experiences that he had had while road tripping through Italy.
Christopolous had a chance meeting with the trio of men who had already teamed up to get the ball rolling on Emilia. In what was to be a fateful evening, they cooked Christopolous a casual meal at their home and he soon entered the partnership.
Neviana describes it as an organic relationship that developed over a love for beautiful and simple food.
Enter Gills Diner. Gills was at the time one of Christopolous’s restaurants and he wanted to change it up, so after Rota, Flammia and Neviana joined the team, Gills was closed and an understated refurbishment took place. A name change was thrown in for good measure, and so Emilia was born.
For those that were familiar with Gills Dinner, the changes haven’t been too shocking. Structurally, the space is the same, but the menu and decor now reflect the team’s traditional Italian style more aptly.
The menu is exactly as one might imagine at a traditional trattoria. The food is a magical blend of rich and light and you feel like you’re sitting down to a truly excellent meal that your nonna might’ve cooked. Only the presentation is sophisticated and you’re not force-fed!
The Ravioli di Magro is a dish to behold – the most pillowy parcels of fresh ricotta and spinach, served with butter and sage. It’s a mystery how they maintain their shape and the ricotta stays put. The other stand-out option is the Capesante e Bottarga, a dish of pan-roasted scallops served with sun-dried mullet roe mayonnaise. For something heavier, you’d be wise to order the Agnello alla Romana – a slow roasted lamb shank, cooked in wine, anchovies and honey.
If you get the chance, speak to Neviana. He’s in the restaurant most nights and has a knowledge and passion that’s both refreshing and hard to find.
“At the end of the day, we just want to make really delicious, quality and traditional Italian food in the true trattoria style,” he says.
Image credit: Simon Shiff for The Urban List