When I first heard that Glenferrie Road, Malvern, was going to be home to a multi-level Italian restaurant, rooftop bar, art gallery and food and wine store I was a little bit like, WTF?
But upon dining at Sagra, the former home of Roost Homewares, I’m totally sold on the concept. In fact, really, it’s the perfect business model. Aperitivo on the rooftop bar. Peruse the gallery. Three-course Italian feast while mulling over the Race Furniture dining set you just saw. Credit card out paying for dinner, said dining set and salumi from the food and wine store. Owner Ross Chessari is one smart cookie.
We arrive at Sagra—translating to ‘Italian Festival’ in English—an hour ahead of our booking to make the most of the rooftop bar. It’s Saturday night and we can hear the buzz from the stairs. Inside, the rectangular room features cosy lounges, sporadic dining tables and floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors that open out to balconies on each side. No doubt, they’ll be heaving in summer.
Back inside, the glass brick floor tiles serve as an illuminated runway to the bar. There’s an impressive list of cocktails, but I order an Aperol Spritz and my dining companion, an Ichnusa beer from Sardinia. In keeping with the aperitivo tradition, we order a couple of sliders to share from the bar menu. The first is crumbed eggplant parmigiana that oozes sugo and mozzarella, closely followed by grilled pork belly that’s equally scrumptious with its mustard fruits, pickled apple and cabbage slaw doused in English mustard aioli.
Our table is ready before we are (we could have stayed on the rooftop all night), and we make our way downstairs via the gallery where we marvel at the exquisite works by Mike Nichnolls and aforementioned Race Furniture. Sigh.
Seated next to the wine store (how did they know?), our table, in fact every table at Sagra, has a prime view of the live theatre taking place in the grand open kitchen that’s smack bang in the middle of the room. And if you haven’t heard already, they’ve got a Josper Grill—the latest and greatest kitchen aid to hit the Melbourne restaurant scene. However, I can’t stop staring at the walls. And no, I’m not going mad; they’re papered in an assortment of murals and pictures, one of which is Chessari as a bub in his mother’s arms in one of their Chessari Family Grocery Stores in the 1950s, inspiration for the yet-to-be-opened food store.
The menu by Head Chef Leandro Panza arrives and we order the Mortadella with grilled radicchio and vincotto from the selection of starters, along with a bottle of Sicilian red. The portion is super generous and more than enough for two.
My dining companion has a rule that we can never order the same main course, and he’d buzzed the Spaghetti Carbonara at the start of the week, so I opt for the Tagliatelle Ragu, which is a heady combination of pork, beef, veal, tomato, mixed mushrooms and parmigiano. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous it was going to be too rich. It was decadent yes, but the meat and mushrooms were well balanced by the light tomato sauce.
My fork hovers across the table and into the carbonara. The slow cooked free-range egg, pecorino romano and parmigiano coats the spaghetti just like a traditional recipe should, allowing crispy flakes of peppered pancetta to attach.
Given we’re three courses and few drinks in, we opt to share dessert and choose the Cannoli Siciliani. The three tubular, fried pastry dough shells are adequately stuffed with vanilla custard, chocolate custard and Sicilian ricotta, fruit and pistachio and dusted with icing sugar, which we wash down with a latte.
And then yes, the credit card comes out, and while I’m desperate to go back up to the gallery, I force my own hand and pay just the bill, but only because I’m saving for my mid-year trip to the country that’s inspired this must-dine Italian restaurant in Malvern.
Image Credits: Mason Bailey for The Urban List