There’s now morta love about Mortadeli, the Med-inspired cafe and deli-grocer that has taken Torquay by storm. Owner Jake Cassar has added a laid-back pasta bar to the “piazza” the sibling venues occupy, just off Gilbert Street in the Surf Coast town.
“It’s like I’m in Italy!” an impassioned local proclaims, scoping out the space during Broadsheet’s interview. Cassar is chuffed: “It’s my Roman trattoria dreams come true.”
He’s ever so slightly condensed the grocer’s offering, squishing the shelves to one side to create a new part-diner, part-deli that aims to teleport you to 1970s Rome. Cassar has a knack for time-worn charm: the timber bar is topped with muted yellow laminate, surrounded by beige leather stools and knick-knacks that have an air of a nonna’s house.
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In the corner, an Italian-imported Bottene pasta machine gleams, and churns out fresh pasta of all shapes and sizes, for both dine-in and takeaway from the deli cabinet.
Presiding over it is top chef Glenn Laurie who, alongside his front-of-house whiz of a wife Lolo Hanser (both formerly of La Cantina and London’s legendary River Cafe), has joined Cassar in pasta paradise.
Laurie is known for his handmade ravioli, which will always feature in some form, perhaps stuffed with spinach, porcini mushroom and buffalo ricotta, and served with marjoram-spiked butter. Roman classics won’t budge though, including cacio e pepe and carbonara.
But what’s also shaping up to be a signature – if only for a cheese pull that “went nuts on Instagram”, Cassar says – is the mozzarella in carozza.
The deep-fried sandwich is golden brown, bursting with molten mozzarella and dotted with anchovy fillets. (Don’t share it.) Other star cicchetti, or small savoury snacks, include house-made arancini, while the menu is heavy on the salumi, which is sliced to order in the adjoining deli.
Cassar wants the menu inspo to be broadly Mediterranean though, so he can add “approachable” Maltese dishes from his heritage, like the cafe’s hobz biz-zejt tuna sandwich. “That really excites people who know nothing about Maltese food,” he says.
First up: a Maltese rabbit pasta.
Mortadeli Pasta Bar
Shop 8 4-6 Gilbert Street, Torquay
Tue to Thu closed
Fri & Sat midday–2.30pm, 5.30pm–8.30pm