Pelligrini’s is an institution because it has been there for so long, unwavering amidst constant change. It is a time capsule to the past. The wood plank menu is the same one which appears in photos from the 1960s. Waiters have divided up tiramisus with sharp lines in this century, and the last.[...]
Not too long ago, I took my younger sister to Pellegrini’s on Bourke Street. We went because both my boss and family friend had told me earnestly that it is a Melbourne institution.
We got a seat at the bar, where my sister made the mistake of asking for a menu. In response, a waiter nonchalantly signalled to a plank of wood, on which ten distinct varieties of pasta were block-printed in gold. To figure out the other menu items, you had to watch what was pulled out next from underneath the bar. Ice cream; watermelon lemonade (two glasses, please); dollops of cream for jam tarts. When we saw no signs of the tiramisu my sister was pining for, I convinced her to go for the chocolate cake. Ten minutes later—and ten minutes too late—a waiter pulled out a huge tin of tiramisu and slammed it on the benchtop with flair. My sister kicked me under the table. We ordered two slices.
Pellegrini’s was founded in 1954 by two brothers, Leo and Vildo Pellegrini. It claims to be the first restaurant in Melbourne to use an espresso machine. The history of Pellegrini’s is etched into its walls. The neon sign out the front is heritage-listed. Scattered around the restaurant are photos of its beaming former owner, Sisto Malaspina, who was tragically killed in the Bourke Street stabbings of 2018.
Pelligrini’s is an institution because it has been there for so long, unwavering amidst constant change. It is a time capsule to the past. The wood plank menu is the same one which appears in photos from the 1960s. Waiters have divided up tiramisus with sharp lines in this century, and the last.
There are institutions like Pellegrini’s dotted across Melbourne, places that have withstood the ebb of time. Florentino, down the road, is Melbourne’s oldest restaurant which opened in 1928. The interior is decadent, with shimmering murals painted on the walls above dark wood furnishings. Florentino was one of the last restaurants in the city to suspend a formal dress code, having formerly asked male diners to rise to the occasion with suit jackets.
Stalactites—another Melbourne institution—was opened by the Konstandakopoulos family in 1978. The restaurant is open 24/7, so you can grab a lamb souvlaki at 4am or 4pm The current owner describes her restaurant as a “Greek version of Melbourne”; a localised microcosm of her birthplace.
These are Melbourne’s institutions. But each family, each group of friends, and each individual have their own institutions. Smilies on Lygon Street is an institution for intoxicated college students to drown in slabs of oily pizza and fries after a night out. Heart Attack and Vine is an institution for me and my friend, Sihara—where we debrief our weeks, drinking wine and hot chocolate simultaneously. The Black Cat in Fitzroy was an institution for my mum, who dipped into the alternative scene in her youth, clad in all-black attire.
An institution is a place that provides continuity and simple joy amidst flux. At a time where many of us are still reeling from intense uncertainty, restaurant institutions bring warmth and stability. And damn good tiramisu.