Cosi Ristorante has undergone a facelift, and like any successful cosmetic procedure, Cosi is tighter. On the eye, the atmosphere is sleek, injected with style via crisp white tablecloths free of wrinkles, accentuated with contrasting details.
Case in point: the earthy, dusty caramel hue of the leather seats, with the almost exotic mid-century modern promise of Corinthian leather, set against the cooling brushed metal effects found resplendently at the bar.
The bar is the beating heart of the restaurant, which demands immediate attention. Indeed, the bar itself was a primary target of the Cosi facelift, which now sees it climbing up the ceiling with bottles of premium wine destined to either be popped open or poured through the means of a Coravin – a miracle device that allows wine to be dispensed without removing the cork, thus allowing restaurants to pour exceptional wines by the glass.
Perhaps more apt is to say that alcohol is the beating heart of the restaurant (of course, this is the sign of any good restaurant), but what’s special is how the bottles of elegant wines, spirits and liqueurs punctuate Cosi. A three-litre jeroboam bottle of Champagne in one corner (or perhaps it’s a six-litre methuselah) is met with an exposed trunk in another corner of the restaurant, inside hosting a bar with an ensemble of very mixable drinks.
There’s a bar cart tactically wedged near some seats, with even more wine, some olive oil and vinegar destined to be dunked into with bread, and hard Italian cheese ready to snowfall over pasta upon the diner’s command.
And at the back of the restaurant, drawing the smoky velvet curtain reveals a courtyard with a bar, destined for use in the warmer weather. Most noticeable is the bright carmine red wall of aperitivo bottles, lined up like an assembly of soldiers. The Futurist styling of Campari and Aperol bottles and the Art Deco backs of the menu with their postcard scenes of Verona and Roma altogether combine with the stylish texture of the interiors to provide the restaurant with a feeling that echoes the settings often seen in a Federico Fellini film.
In fact, the black and white La Dolce Vita (1960) is projected onto the wall at Cosi, featuring men with varnished hair and women in cocktail dresses – it’s almost as if the aesthetic world of La Dolce Vita extends into the walls of the restaurant. The waitstaff, for instance, are smooth, buffed, bowtied and waistcoated, confidently preparing cocktails made of aromatic vermouth and deliciously bittersweet campari, made long with soda, resulting in an Americano. This is my go-to drink to wet the palate and excite the appetite.
My meal at Cosi began with antipasti. The Fiore di Zucca Ripieno: zucchini flowers are stuffed with a combination of ricotta, truffle, pine nuts and lemon zest, then gently fried in a light batter to achieve a glassy and lacy exterior. The subtle earthiness provided by truffle mixed through the ricotta cheese is given another complementary dimension with the resinous note of pinenut, brightened with lemon zest.
The total effect is a crisp exterior with a melting interior that is instantly gratifying. This followed with Carpaccio di Manzo, a standout, with an arrangement of fine slices of raw beef as its base, with a carefully composed assortment of truffle mayonnaise with a humming backbone of garlic, peppery rocket leaves and flakes of nutty soft Monte Veronese cheese. These flavours, which aim for earthiness, are tied together with vibrant lemon zest and preserved oyster mushrooms in a highly flavourful oil that gave a slippery texture and a certain meatiness to the dish that you’d expect from something cooked.
Cosi, for me, was ultimately a pasta affair, and their Rigatoni Tricolore – short tubular-shaped pasta in a red tomato sauce, with patriotic tones of white burrata cheese and green basil leaves on top – is perhaps the ultimate means to judge an Italian restaurant.
This is because everything is present when it comes to a deceptively simple red sauce. Nothing is hidden, nor can anything hide. Acidity, sweetness, freshness, balance … all of these aspects are front and centre. The magic of tomato sauces is that with enough cooking, vibrant tomatoes develop deeper flavours, and I am pleased to report that the sauce clung to the pasta, which was to the tooth, offering a lesson in basic simplicity.
Something heartier is achieved by way of the Pappardelle al Ragù di Agnello, a rich tomato braise of lamb with all of its requisite flavours, sweetened slightly by an aromatic soffritto of vegetables and herbs, resting on broad and flat noodles, coated edge-to-edge in the sauce, finished with jagged shards of sharp parmesan cheese. Finally, the Linguine alla Marinara reminds me that treasure is bound to be found in the sea. A bounty of shellfish, topped off with a glamorously Jurassic-looking Moreton Bay Bug is enlivened with the punctuated heat of chilli and a light tomato sugo.
Concluding such heaviness demands something with a cutting acidity, and the answer often comes in the form of a Lemon Tart. Cosi’s take employs a cream-curd style filling as opposed to a baked custard, filled into a tart shell and aesthetically charged with a melange of fresh berries, vanilla speckled cream, decorative flowers and a flick of coulis.
Cosi does service well, and with its new facelift, has revitalised its place on a very busy South Yarra street. It’s the sort of restaurant that is praiseworthy for its versatility and unstuffy vitality – ideal for locals who need a weekday lunch haunt, but with enough pizzazz to satisfy all the demands of a weekend dinner date.
With only a few months into Cosi’s new management, it is warming to see returning patrons greeted with an Italianate kiss and an inviting accent- inflected “buona sera”.
To make a booking at Cosi Ristorante, head to the website here