Restaurant News

Connie’s, a retro Italian diner and rooftop by the Everleigh and Bar Margaux team, opens in Melbourne

The latest venue by Michael and Zara Madrusan is a celebration of Michael’s Italian upbringing. Come for alfresco spritzes, deep pan pizza, and plenty of pasta.

By Callum McDermott
Connie's dining room. Photo: courtesy of Connie's
In this chaotic world, we need constants. And as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Melbourne can always be relied on for opening Italian restaurants. In prodigious quantity and quality. In the last few months, we've seen Grill Americano, Rocco's Bologna Discoteca and Di Stasio Pizzeria join the saucy fray. In coming weeks, we'll be getting Figlia – the new pizza project from the beloved Tipo 00 crew – and the hotly anticipated Cucina Povera by Maurice Terzini and Joseph Vargetto.
And this Friday, there's another opening to pay attention to, with Connie's Italian Diner and Rooftop Terrazza launching in the CBD. It's by Michael and Zara Madrusan, the Melbourne hospo duo behind acclaimed classic cocktail bar The Everleigh, subterranean bistro Bar Margaux and dive bar Heartbreaker. Fans of Heartbreaker will know Connie's already: it started as a by-the-slice pizza shop within the bar years ago. Now, it's got its own digs, reopening as a 100-seat trattoria-inspired diner above Heartbreaker.
The daily pasta at Connie's. Photo: courtesy of Connie's
"I love that we can give Connie's its own space," said Michael Madrusan in a release. "The concept is grounded in a love of traditional home cooking and a feel-good, warm and welcoming atmosphere – an inspiration of mine from growing up in an Italian family."
That inspiration shows up in the retro space – which mashes up the design elements of an old-school trattoria with a stereotypical New York red-sauce joint: chequered tablecloths galore; cherry-red vinyl booths, seating and walls; a tropical fish tank, vintage movie posters and dark timber floors. All that's missing are bottles of chianti on the tables with drippy candles in them. It's an evocative room that instantly tells you what to expect on the menu: so uncool-they're-cool classics served with winking panache.
The terrazza. Photo: courtesy of Connie's
Start with some antipasti – prosciutto, olives and breadsticks are all here. Enjoy that with an aperitivo, maybe an Americano or a Negroni by the Madrusans' award-winning bottled cocktail brand, Everleigh Bottling Co. Share a plate of veal tonnato or some salumi misti before moving onto pastas and mains. There's a lasagne, a cacio e pepe, spaghetti with clams and more. Mains include a hefty veal Milanese and an eggplant parmigiana.
If you want pizza by-the-slice, you'll have to stick with Connie's at Heartbreaker – up here, it's all about Connie's grandma pies: cheesy, chewy deep pan six-slice pizzas (best enjoyed with wedge of iceberg lettuce with gorgonzola). For dessert a tiramisu sundae, topped with a glacé cherry, is the headline act. Beers and wines – by the bottle and glass – both lean Italian, and there are classic and sparkling cocktails on-tap.
If the weather's good, try to enjoy your drink out on the rooftop terrace. The small, leafy terrazza has a cluster of tables and bench seating. It's a great spot for walk-ins, whether you're having a sunny afternoon aperitivo and a snack, or a moody post-dinner digestivo.
It's funny to think of a restaurant as family-friendly as Connie's sitting above a bar as adult as Heartbreaker. They're two venues sharing a site, opened at two completely different points in the Madrusans' lives and careers.
Connie's Italian Diner and Rooftop Terrazza opens on Friday April 22.
234B Russell St, Melbourne, VIC