When Brunswick East institution Cafe Romantica closed in 2017, many believed it was the end of more than thirty years of parties, pizza and pool games for the 24-hour diner. But the good times would be far from over.
These days, it’s known as Bar Romantica, a moody Italian pizza joint and bar that doesn’t compete with its predecessor’s legacy. Instead, owners Henry Crawford, Oscar Hermann, William Howard, Monty Mullooly-Hill and Ravi Thompson have wisely taken things in a different direction, and the effect is pronounced. Their place is genuinely romantic, with booth seating upholstered in valentine-red vinyl, and a beautiful American Oak bar commanding the front room.
What's stayed on is Cafe Romantica’s original woodfired pizza oven, as well as its signature Pizza Romantica, topped with passata, fior di latte and basil. Otherwise, head chef Jack Short serves a tight and traditional offering of around six pizzas, with highlights such as broccoli with garlic, scamorza and thyme; and 'nduja with smoked cod and scamorza. Dough is fermented over three days using the kitchen's own house culture.
The rest of the menu spans snacks, house-made pastas and sides, with a focus on top-quality seasonal ingredients and local suppliers. You might start with appellation oysters, followed by smoked trevally rillettes with potato crisps. Then, it’s pasta (hand-rolled or extruded in-house) such as casarecce with pork ragu and capers. Finish with classic desserts such as tiramisu and rum baba.
The wine list is built around the food offering, and there’s a varietal and price-point for every kind of wine drinker here. Expect around 10 drops by the glass and 200-plus bottles from the cellar. Victorian beers are offered on tap, along with a few interstate sours by the bottle. Cocktails are classic, well-made and naturally Italian.
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