Mario Simeone is a talented man. Not only has he opened Sbriga, a brand new espresso bar in Melbourne’s CBD, he’s even designed all the fittings, right down to hand-making beautiful, artichoke-shaped lights. “The artichoke is the symbol of our place,” says Simeone. “It’s quite rough and ugly on the outside, but it has got this golden heart on the inside.”

But it’s not just the lamps Simeone has lavished attention upon: a warm timber wall gently curves around the venue, the day’s newspapers rest on benches and a very expensive-looking bicycle hangs from the ceiling. Sbriga brings to mind the classic European espresso bar, from which Simeone drew his inspiration. “An espresso bar in that traditional sense is usually a place at the base of an apartment block. It becomes a part of someone’s home, their ritual, their routine,” he says. “We’ve been to Italy a few times and that’s what I love about the experience of an espresso bar. It’s so welcoming, it’s so embracing and so egalitarian. Anyone can walk into an espresso bar and should feel comfortable.”

Simeone believes that in the espresso bar, there’s a kind of agreement between proprietor and customer: the cafe makes quality food cheaply and the customer spends 15 minutes of their time. “We see this as typical Italian hospitality,” he says. “By that I mean, how we grew up as Australian Italians, hospitality was a critical part of our lives.”

That hospitality includes a house and single origin blends by Allpress, bread from Noisette, biscottini by Dolcetti (which Simeone says are “the best, period”) and Pizza Lingue, a Roman-style pizza that’s made on the premises. “Coffee has to be good, food has to be good, the ambience and the interior has to be good and the hospitality has to be good. If we don’t get all four of those things, to me, that’s having the most brilliant smile with a missing tooth.”

Shop 3, 280 King Street, Melbourne, Victoria
Entry via Little Lonsdale
(03) 9077 7653

Mon to Fri 6.30am–3pm