For someone who only started working in commercial kitchens at the age of 50, Rosa Mitchell has made a serious impression on Melbourne diners. After winning us over with her homey and seasonal Sicilian fare at Rosa’s Kitchen, the chef, cookbook author and Slow Food ambassador has again joined with partners David Mackintosh and Peter Bartholomew to launch Rosa’s Canteen in the heart of the city’s legal district.

With a mix of timber and terrazzo flooring, canvas-lined banquettes and lovely first-floor views across leafy treetops, skyscrapers and the dome of the nearby Supreme Court, it’s a calm and understated space. And with hospo pro Ari Vlassopoulos (ex-Hellenic Republic, Bar Nacional) leading the front-of-house team, you can expect exceptional service.

Including antipasti, pasta and a short list of mains, Mitchell’s menu is a study in elegant and rustic simplicity. It also draws on the inspiration gleaned from her annual travels through Italy. “Although my roots are Sicilian, I love the food of Rome and the north, and I’ve been really keen to do some of my favourite [non-Sicilian] dishes here.”

Forget wanky imports and “it” ingredients, here it’s all about produce that is totally singing – which might mean late-summer tomatoes in a Caprese salad, or a fragrant fig tart with fruit picked from a friend’s tree. Much of the produce is grown at the Mitchell family’s property in Yandoit and in the gardens of Rosa’s friends and family.

Like her food, Mitchell’s modus operandi is typically unpretentious: “I don’t do fancy stuff. It’s just good, honest Italian food,” she says. And as she glides from table to table greeting her customers you get the sense that it’s not just the good food that keeps folks coming back. Mitchell’s warm, smiling presence plays a huge part too. Whether you’re a serial restaurant-hopper or a Supreme Court judge on your lunch hour, Mitchell is like the honorary Italian mama we wish we all had.

Rosa’s Canteen
Rear 500 Bourke Street (enter via Thomson Street), Melbourne
(03) 9602 5491

Opening Hours
Mon to Fri 12pm–10.30pm