Thursday, August 6, 2009

Melbourne's real 'Little Italy' - Mediterranean Wholesalers - 482 Sydney Road Brunswick






There is no mistaking the sounds and smells of Italy. When I first visited Italy in 1998, I spent the best part of three months working in Bardolino, a wine town on the eastern shores of Lake Gardi in the Veneto. When you live or work in Italy, there is a certain respect that needs to be heeded to the locals and local customs. In Bardolino, and I am sure in many other towns of Italy, it was that whatever was put in front of you was to be eaten or drunk – no questions. That spring I put on 5 kg’s while performing manual labour.

Every morning there was the unmistakable smell of coffee; the aroma was that robust that it would dead-set wake you up. Breakfast was generally a small affair (it was for me anyway) with everyone in the vineyard gearing themselves up for morning tea, or the Italian version of morning tea anyway. More coffee, cheese, ham – lots and lots of ham, salami and masses of bread. Lunch was generally grilled fish and dinner was huge.

Each evening the vineyard crew would sit down to what can only be described as a feast; pasta to start with, plates of olives, artichokes, sardines, anchovies, eggplant and a copious amount of other delicacies. Then there came more fish, braised lamb, plenty of veggies and then plenty of more other stuff – every night I tell ya! To finish off we would have a digestive; grappa, amore, strega – whatever and usually home-made.

Like I said, an extra 5 Kg’s.

10 years on and I am living in Brunswick (which we know) with my family and have sadly not been back to Italy since 1999. This brings us to Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Road.

From the outside it’s just another Sydney Road facade, but as soon as you walk thru the doors the smells instantly transport you back to Italy. Everything, and I mean everything you want that is Italian and yum is here. EVERYTHING!!!

Coffee, pasta, cheese, salami, hams, lentils, anchovies, prosciutto, grappa, Barolo, Bardolino, canoli’s, bread, cake, sardines, tinned tomatoes, amore, beer, strega and even retsina. You know what, there’s even more.

Mediterranean Wholesalers is like Bunning’s – you go in there for some basil seeds and come out with three trailer loads of stuff that you don’t need, but hey, seemed like a good idea at the time.

Located at 482 Sydney Road, Mediterranean Wholesalers seems like it has been there forever. It is essentially split in too two areas – dry goods and deli area on the right and alcohol, coffee and bread on the left. The centre isle is essentially pasta heaven; any sort of pasta you can think of is here. The deli is down the back, but you already know this when you walk in from the scent of cheese and meat smallgoods. On the left there is a great assortment of wine, stuff that you will only find here, liqueurs, digestives and imported beers. And the beer is genuine, like the Stella Artois – this one is brewed in Belgium, not Sydney, and only $14 a six-pack – gold!

Also on the left is one coffee machine with one patrone behind the grips. You will not find any chai or soy or vanilla syrup. This guy makes coffee; cafe latte in the morning and espresso and macchiato in the afternoon. And if you get your daughter to ask nice, he will make a little hot chocolate for her.

Mediterranean Wholesalers is Italy in Melbourne. Lygon Street Carlton thinks it is Melbourne’s answer to Italy, but is so far off the mark when it comes to authenticity and quality. Mediterranean Wholesalers has the smell, or the stink - a really sweet stink, sound and soul of the Italy that I experienced 10 odd years ago (yeah yeah, I know it sounds corny).

By now you know I have a Birk rating for eateries. Now Mediterranean Wholesalers is not what you would call an eatery, but it has everything, so it is going to get a Birk – a gold one.

Buy your pasta there, buy your wine there and buy your cheese there. Just get there.

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