An emerging pre-Christmas tradition is a catch-up with fellow intrepid traveller and colleague Ishtar. Over a couple of courses and a glass of wine we chat about where we’ve been in the year gone by and plans for next year. It’s arguably the perfect Melbourne business lunch – to discuss the business of travel, that is.

Most major restaurants in Melbourne’s central business district have a lunch special, usually involving just what we look for – a couple of courses and a glass of wine. Cecconi’s has a weekday deal in its bar section (there’s a full-on restaurant on the other side of the entrance) but we were a little dismayed to read the fine print on the menu – not available in December. No Christmas cheer here …

Nonetheless, we pressed on, opting to share a starter and taking a main course each, as well as a glass of a very acceptable Russolo Pinot Grigio from the Friuli region of Italy.

Cecconi’s has been around for a long time – since 1998 in fact – and is still under the direction of Olimpia Bortolotto. The restaurant occupied a large space in the Crown complex which was taken over by Australian celebrity chef Neil Perry.

Since 2006 it has been in its current digs in Flinders Lane. This is a spot that has also been used as a restaurant for a very long time. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have dined at several incarnations in this basement space, once home to the studios of a radio station. Indeed, Greedy Girl’s working life started out in the same building when it was home to one of Melbourne’s major newspaper publishers.

Cecconi’s prides itself on the best in Italian cuisine. Greedy Girl has dined there several times, including in the main restaurant. The bar is a convenient location from the office and the range of dishes on offer there more than sufficient for a lunch, or dinner out.

We decided to share a plate of fried calamari to begin with. This was the ‘entree’ size (American readers should note that this refers to what you’d call an appetiser, not a main course). It came to the table with a lemon wedge, a herb powder and a slick of aioli. The serving size is quite small, even for a starter, and the aioli and herb powder don’t do much to enhance the flavour of the seafood. It was the second time in a few weeks that Greedy Girl had sampled the dish and both times she felt the calamari batter was undercooked.

Melbourne business lunch Cecconi's

A small serving of calamari

Each taking a few pieces, we continued to chat while we ate. A hovering waiter removed Ishtar’s plate and Greedy Girl was still eating. She got the distinct impression that her plate was about to be whisked away and so made sure to finish the piece that remained. Why wait staff can’t give feedback to the kitchen about the speed with which patrons are eating is something that still puzzles Greedy Girl. No-one likes to feel rushed when eating.

Ishtar took the risotto of the day, studded with mushrooms (pictured at the top of this post). As you’d hope, the rice was perfectly cooked and the flavours were balanced. She was very happy with the dish.

Greedy Girl took a dish of gnocchi with bolognese sauce. The potato gnocchi was soft and quite light and the sauce pleasantly meaty. It was perfectly enjoyable.

Melbourne business lunch Cecconi's

Gnocchi bolognese

Ishtar took a coffee to finish, we drained the last drops of wine, and prepared to depart, having spent nearly A$50 each. The business lunch special would have given us an extra course for $39 each. Diners beware – if you’re looking for a ‘deal’ take note of the fine print.

Cecconi’s does some things exceptionally well – particularly classic Italian dishes, but there’s still a bit of room to improve.


61 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Cecconi's Flinders Lane Cellar Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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