Adored by children for its slurp-factor, uni students for its budget factor and everyone else simply for its yum factor, spaghetti bolognese is the ultimate comfort food. Sure, it's an easy meal to cook at home, but part of its feel-good factor is having someone else cook it for you. Dishing up some of Melbourne's best spaghetti bolognese, try these places next time the craving strikes.
Cicciolina | St Kilda
If Acland Street were a riotous party (and it often is), Cicciolina would be the chic guest everyone wants to be seen with; the one who always has a great time and never loses her cool. One of the best Italian restaurants in Melbourne, for years, Cicciolina has served up beautifully cooked Italian-influenced dishes in its refined restaurant and created cocktails and a buzzy vibe in its fun back bar – no wonder it's so popular. While many diners treat the back bar as a place to hang out while waiting for a table in the restaurant, its tasty bar food makes it a dining destination in its own right. Head in on a Monday night when a hearty helping of spaghetti bolognese plus a beer or wine is yours for just $20. The rich, thick sauce is lifted with a good sprinkling of herbs, and the generous meat-to-pasta ratio will set you up nicely for another glass (or three) of wine to really help get the party started.
Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar | Melbourne CBD
It's worth toasting the simple things in life. Especially when those simple things are a bowl of good ol' spag bog at one of the city's most loved Italian dining establishments. So the next time you're settling in at the Cellar Bar, sip a Bellini before you get stuck into a piping hot bowl of some of Melbourne's best spaghetti bolognese. A mix of beef, chicken and pork mince helps create a sauce that's full of flavour but not too rich, while cloves and nutmeg add a subtly earthy, grounding note to the dish. This is comfort food with class – salute!
Pellegrini's Espresso Bar | Melbourne CBD
If there were a citizenship test for people wanting to live in Melbourne, it would have to include the question: have you eaten at Pellegrini's lately? For you're not a true Melburnian unless you've slurped down a bowl of pasta at the bar and hoped like hell you haven't flecked your all-black outfit with bits of sugo. Stained clothing is worth the risk for the feel-good factor that comes from eating at one of Melbourne's most beloved Italian restaurants; for many locals, Pellegrini's spag bol is the definition of comfort food. It's not just the thick, well-seasoned sauce heaped upon the mound of steaming pasta that's so well-loved; it's the old-school atmosphere and the sense of being somewhere that's been absolutely intrinsic to the fabric of the city for generations, and will be for generations to come. Put their spaghetti bolognese to the test – you won't be disappointed.
Marios Cafe | Fitzroy
The legendary Marios was founded by two Italian-Australian waiters, both called – you guessed it – Mario – in the 1980s. Back then, Melbourne's dining scene was a little different; a fancy restaurant was one with white linen tablecloths, where you'd only eat on a very special occasion, and if you were drinking out of jam jars you weren't at the latest hipster bar, you were a poverty-stricken uni student at a sharehouse party. The Marios created a cafe that treaded the line between those two extremes. Smart service and quality food at affordable prices was their mantra, and it still is – which means you can hunker down over a bowl of top-notch spag bog, rich and meaty yet tangy and sweet in all the right proportions, and get change from a $20. Spend it wisely – on an equally legendary Marios coffee. Win.
Waiters Club | Melbourne CBD
The forerunner to Melbourne's obsession with hidden venues and now the kind of place you go to prove you're in the know, the Waiters Club was once just that – a spot for hospitality workers to hang out after a long shift elsewhere. Up a dodgy flight of stairs in an alleyway, the place has décor that's politely described as utilitarian and a proud history of serving up unpretentious, hearty Italian food. The huge serve of meat-heavy spaghetti bolognese might lack the finesse of other versions, but its simplicity will put a smile – and a tomato-coloured stain – on your face.
Brunetti | Carlton
Heading to Brunetti for coffee and cake? Join the queue and prepare to be disappointed – not with the sweet stuff on offer, but with yourself, for not having a main course first. Sure, Brunetti is best known for its mouthwatering Italian pastries, but it also does a brilliant range of traditional savoury delights. The tagliatelle al ragu bolognese is a top choice, with finely diced celery and carrots adding texture to the meaty sauce that clings to the ribbons of pasta. It's the kind of dish that makes choosing from the extensive menu a piece of cake.
Pinocchio | South Yarra
A long-standing family favourite Italian restaurant known for its down-to-earth cooking and relaxed atmosphere, Pinocchio recently underwent a facelift and emerged looking sleek and sophisticated, with a menu to match. Modern classics such as a confit lamb panino (Pinocchio's version of a lamb slider and an absolute must-try) share space with traditional favourites such as the bolognese. The spaghetti, made fresh onsite, almost swims in its beef and veal sauce; do not, repeat do not, wear a white shirt here. And don't pretend you're too full to try a chocolate cannolo for dessert, or your nose will grow.
Rococo | St Kilda
A couple of years ago, Melbourne food blogger Sarah Pinch devoted herself to eating at least one serve of spag bol a week, for an entire year, in her quest to find Melbourne's best spaghetti bolognese. Rococo was her top pick; the sauce won for its complex, balanced flavour, which strikes the right balance between meat and sweet. Is it your favourite spaghetti Bolognese in Melbourne? Drop us a line and let us know!
Editor's note: Can't get enough of all things Italian? Check out our stories on Melbourne's best Italian restaurants, best vegetarian pasta and the top gluten-free pizzas, plus tips on making the perfect pizza at home!
Main image credit: Eat Little Bird.