“Italian food is repetitive,” Con Christopoulos says. “In Australia, we’d assume thats a bad thing, but in truth, that’s what great food traditions are all about – honouring the seasons, using the produce around you and perfecting the classics,” he says. “It’s what regional Italian cuisine is built on.”
Christopoulos (the restaurateur behind Syracuse, The European, Journal and City Wine Shop) has had his share of road-tripping through the Italian countryside in search of, “those great little hidden places that have been there forever and just do really great, simple food”. So he knew he’d stumbled on gold when he was introduced to chefs Luca Flammia and Francesco Rota (ex-Da Noi, Tea Rooms of Yarck) at an informal lunch set up by a mutual friend back in Melbourne. “They wanted to know what they should cook for me, and I just said, ‘Cook from the heart – show me what you love to eat’,” he says. “They did – and I was blown away. They were really speaking my language.”
Along with front-of-house manager, Matteo Neviani (who, like Rota and Flammia is also from the Emilia Romagna region and worked with them at Da Noi) the pair of chefs has entered into partnership with Christopoulos and his business partner, Chris Kerr. They will oversee the transformation of Gill’s Diner into Emilia, when it re-launches with a new, “Melbourne meets urban classic Italian” makeover in late August.
Doors to the CBD restaurant will close on August 8 for two weeks, but in the meantime, the kitchen is gradually trialling its new approach to get a sense of what works. You’ll find plenty of influences from Bologna and Modena, such as chicken broth with parmesan passatelli; silky house-made pasta with braised ox-tail ragu; and torta barozzi, a dark-chocolate tart with coffee, almond and sour cherries with mascarpone typical of the region.
Along with its usual spread of breads and pastries, there’s talk of hot porchetta rolls coming out of the retail bakery space out front, too – which we’re sure will win young Emilia plenty of new fans.
Gills Diner closes on August 8 and will reopen as Emilia in late August.