Two Italian-speaking hotel veterans bring a taste of the old country to Oltre, their new panini and pasta cafe at Prahran Market.
Salvatore Ciano hails from Gaeta, a small town near Rome: he started out as a dishwasher at Fonda Mexican when he arrived in Melbourne nine years ago and worked his way up to regional manager at five restaurants. His partner, Samir Slimane, grew up in southern Switzerland, near the Italian border. He also took part in Fonda’s openings, and along the way, the Italian-speaking couple began to make plans.
Together they renovated a café site with entrances from Commercial Road and the Market Deli Arcade, transforming it into an attractive and atmospheric 20-seat cucina.
At a curbside pasta-making station visible from the trail, a sophisticated Italian pasta extruder produces tagliatelle and gnocchi are handcrafted on the flour-dusted bench. Fresh pasta is available to take away or to dip and eat on site.
“For us, it is important to produce authentic products,” says Ciano. “We stay true to Italian traditions and we don’t compromise. If we make carbonara, it’s with guanciale. We’re not going to use bacon.”
Paninis are another goal. “We tried all the bakeries in Victoria to find the right bread,” says Slimane. They settled on the airy, handmade buns from Italian artisan bakery Pane e Pizzico in Essendon.
The Firenze panino is filled with parmesan salami, tomato, arugula and lemon; the Palermo is stuffed with eggplant and ricotta.
Open for only a week, Oltre is already finding favor. “Yesterday I was really happy because we had four tables occupied by Italians,” says Ciano. “One guy said pomodoro gnocchi was like being in Italy. We welcome everyone with a ‘buongiorno’ or a ‘ciao’ – we want people to feel like they’re traveling again.”
Running their own business is an exciting step for the duo. “We spend so many hours, but it feels like a game. We have fun, we can do whatever we want,” says Ciano. “When we get deliveries and it has our names on it, it really does sound like something.”
Open Tue-Sun 7am-4pm, Sun 9am-4pm, Shop 185, 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra, Instagram: @oltreprahran