The Rathdowne Street space now home to Super Norma has a habit of becoming a local staple. A few years ago, it was a beloved cafe called Bloom, which eventually became African-Australian cafe Tanaka. During the lockdowns Tanaka morphed into a grocer and community hub. When Tanaka’s concept eventually evolved into Fenton Farmhouse a few doors down, the space stood empty for the first time in years. Now, it’s Super Norma’s turn to win everyone back all over again.
And if anything can do it, it’s this playful and cosy Italian lunch spot serving up Napoli-inspired pastas and tunes. Super Norma (that’s two words, with no “L” and no relationship to the Andrew McConnell classic) is the pop-up passion project of Marco Salzano and Luca Muscato, two friends drawing on their mutual upbringings in southern Italy.
“I learned to cook with my nonna in Italy,” explains chef Salzano, who also works the kitchen at the MCG’s Committee Room by Grossi. “She won’t be with me forever, so I learned her secrets.” Those family heirloom recipes make up the bulk of a menu that consists of eight pastas, plus a daily special or two. Mainstays include the namesake Super Norma (an eggplant-rich pasta alla Norma), and a ragu Napoletano – nine different cuts of meat slow-cooked in herbs and tomatoes for seven hours – served over big tubes of rigatoni.
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Each pasta is served in a takeaway-friendly noodle box, but you’re welcome to dine in. The narrow space can only squeeze in around 12 people – there are two tables for two, plus two shared benches overlooking the kitchen and Rathdowne Street, respectively – but the tight fit adds to the charm and overall family lunch vibe. Especially when you factor in the kitschy decor and dried chillies hanging overhead, plus the turntable that’s always spinning Italo-disco LPs (the multidisciplinary duo are also behind music project Disco Mediterranea). A meal here feels a little like dropping into your cool nonna’s home, who’ll force you to eat and won’t take no for an answer. “It’s the times you come home from school and talk to Mum while she’s cooking dinner – we want to create that,” explains Salzano. “We’re like Melbourne’s youngest nonnas.”
At the moment, Super Norma is open from lunch till late afternoon from Friday through Saturday, but in a couple of weeks’ time it will extend its hours into the evening and add a day of trade on Thursdays. As for how long it’ll be until this pop-up pops down? The plan for the time being is to stick around until the end of September and reassess from there. For now though, Super Norma is living in the moment and thriving on the same humble force that drove Tanaka and Bloom before it: feeding the locals and having a good chat while they do it.
140 Rathdowne St, Carlton
0488 568 777
Fri to Sun 11am–5pm