Ostēr: Host. To Host. Noun/Verb. The ones who host.
Ostēr Eatery was named for the Italian word “to host”. For owners Osvaldo Tognella and Nicola Romano, it has been a long time waiting to return to what they do best.
On November 4, after months of forced hiatus, the Bridge Road restaurant welcomed back diners with a slew of newly imagined dishes, ample outdoor seating, a fresh cocktail list designed by the 2018 World’s Best Bartender, and a socially distanced air kiss.
“We pride ourselves on a restaurant that feels like home,” says Manager and Co-Owner Osvaldo Tognella. “Our restaurant is named “Ostēr” after our love of hosting good food, great local produce, and most importantly, our guests. To the Melburnians who have been patiently waiting: welcome home!”
In little over a year of operation, Ostēr has been praised by respected reviewers and formed a loyal network of dedicated diners. Months of lockdown in 2020 were spent fruitfully by Head Chef and Co-Owner Nicola Romano, who finessed an all-new menu inspired by his Northern Italian roots.
Small plate standouts include warm smoked parmigiana terrine, brassica flowers & eggplant jus, and swordfish crudo, capsicum Marie Rose sauce & mustard leaf oil. More substantial dishes sing, with the addition of O’Connor Black Angus Sirloin Selected Pasture-Fed Marbling Score 2–4 and pan-fried hapuka, Jersey Gippsland buttermilk sauce, beans & asparagus casserole.
For diners unsure of where to begin, the Chef’s Selection is an affordable and appealing option: a three-course menu for $70, plus $10 for dessert, and matched wines for $40.
Ostēr alumni will be pleased to see the venue’s signature dish of casoncelli – silky plump pillows of pasta from Lombardy – remains, with a twist. Romano pipes the pasta with brown butter, grated breadcrumbs, vegetable stock and Heidi Tilsit – a rich, dense cheese with a nutty overtone. A light Heidi Tilsit foam covers the dish, which is then topped with crispy pork sausage meat and fried sage.
Romano also used the lockdown period to create his own line of in-house spirits: gin, bitter vermouth (both are used in Ostēr’s Bitter Citrus Negroni), limoncello, rhubarb and cardamom rosé, fermented ginger tonic, and dry apple cider.
To hero his new handmade spirits, Romano enlisted friend, former Lûmé Bar Manager, and 2018 Diageo World’s Best Bartender, Orlando Marzo, to write the cocktail list. Must-order tipples include the Red Berries Spritz – homemade cordial with fresh raspberries and strawberries finished with Prosecco; the Highball – Starward whisky with orange and a hint of Earl Grey, carbonated in-house; and the Collins – a refreshing hit of yuzu and sencha tea, from the yet-to-be-launched Mordialloc distillery Saint Felix.
The all-Australian wine list continues to hold its own. Drops from across the nation are all sourced from either organic, sustainable or biodynamic wineries. With over half the list by the glass, there is no excuse not to try something new.
Back in the kitchen, Romano’s latest project has a festive twist: panettone. The classic, cake-like Italian Christmas dessert is jewelled with candied citrus, vanilla and sultanas, and finished with a crunchy almond and pearl sugar glaze.
For the complete pairing, Ostēr is selling panettone boxes with a bottle of 2019 Bertrand Bespoke ‘L’Écume du Jour’ Ancestrale – a sparkling Pet-Nat from Gilles Lapalus, the famous winemaker and co-founder of Melbourne’s Maidenii Vermouth.
In light of new restrictions, the eatery has increased its outdoor footprint (thanks to day-time florist neighbour Hampstead Flowers) to allow 22 diners per seating.