When friends visit us in Melbourne and want to eat Italian, we steer them away from Lygon Street, as they generally suggest, and take them to the Abruzzo Club in East Brunswick. It's a gem. We like it so much that we held our wedding reception there! It may not have the glitz and newness of its larger sister in Epping but it has the heart and soul of an old-style Italian restaurant and serves exceptionally good Italian food with an Abruzzese influence.
The 'Gran Sasso Restaurant' at the Abruzzo Club is one of our favourite local restaurants and we enjoyed a very fine meal there last Tuesday. One dish we always order when we go there is the home-made gnocchi. It's the best in Melbourne. Yes, that's a big call but I stand by it. Light and fluffy, it's like eating clouds. I first tasted their gnocchi when I pinched a piece off my then three year old niece's plate. An ignoble action to be sure but it was the start of a love affair that hasn't ended yet.
A close up picture to show the deliciousness of the gnocchi!
The lady who used to make the gnocchi retired nearly two years ago. Apparently she had arms of steel. She would come in weekly and make a huge batch for the restaurant. We only found out because we had a run of visits to the restaurant in which every time we tried to order it we were told 'they had run out'. Then one day a waiter let it slip that the gnocchi maker had retired. We were nervous. When would it return? Would it be as good? Finally it returned and while I have to say while there is a slight difference in the quality, it's still good, damned good. It's still the best.
On Tuesday we shared an entree serve of the gnocchi with napoli sauce. The gnocchi were as light as ever, covered in rich and smooth sauce that was without any acidity. A great start to the meal.
Just so you understand how delicious the gnocchi is - it's all gone
For my main meal I ordered the Coniglio, rabbit braised in a white wine sauce served with steamed broccolini, potatoes and polenta. This was a generous serve of rabbit covered in a vegetable reduction. It was delicious and flavoursome, a reduction of finely chopped vegetables that was a perfect complement to the rabbit, which itself was tender although surprisingly the meat got a bit chewier closer to the bone. I enjoyed this dish very much.
There's always selection of specials available at the Abruzzo Club. How many will depend on the day you dine there. As we were there early on in the week there was just a couple and S. chose one of these, the rib-eye steak cooked medium rare. It came out with the standard range of vegetables, including the delicious baked potatoes. The steak was cooked to perfection with the monster piece of rib eye tender and succulent, helped no doubt by having the bone left in.
We really enjoyed our meal, as always, and will be back again in the near future. The outside of the Abruzzo Club itself is unattractive, a squat non-descript two storey building constructed some in 1970s (I think). However do step inside, you won't be disappointed. There is a moderate wine list, mostly from the Taylor Ferguson range and some Italian wines. The menu has recently been simplified and I am a little bit disappointed by this as some of my favourite dishes, such as the spatchcock, have gone but the quality of the food has not suffered in anyway. The restaurant offers authentic and very good quality Italian dishes that you should be finding on Lygon Street, Carlton, but won't.
The Gran Sasso Restaurant is often host to large family gatherings although you are just as likely to find a solitaire diner there being attended to by one of the friendly waiting staff. If Aldo is working he is sure to amuse the kids with his range of tricks and funny noises. I haven't seen him for while though, I hope he hasn't retired.
Entree size gnocchi with napoli sauce $18.90
Rib-eye steak $28.50
377 Lygon Street, East Brunswick