There is no printed menu, only a sign as old as the shop itself, hanging across the middle of the room. Everyone knows what they've got anyway. Ravioli, spaghetti, risotto rigatoni, sometimes cannelloni. Carbonara, meatballs. Watermelon granitas, and cake. Always cake. You can see the cakes they've got, so there's no need for a menu anyway.
It's old school Australian Italian. Which is to say it's not particularly authentic, but damn it feels it. There's spice in my ravioli, more than it looks like. There's a lot of pride here, as I experience when two women behind me are not happy with their hot chocolates. An older man with a thick Italian accent and not quite as many teeth as he was born with mixes up a fresh one for them, "this is pure chocolate, which one of you will try?" It is tried, and polite assurances given, but the ladies are already halfway out the door.
After the ladies leave, they debrief. "How much chocolate did you put?" "I did it like this." "Okay, okay." He turns to me, conspiratorially, "they want it sugary, can't handle the pure delicate chocolate."
Office workers jostle with skinheads who push up against dappper gents for a red leather stool. Everyone loves pelegrinis, it's a Melbourne institution. Your pasta comes with a lump of bakery-soft white bread, margarined, to mop up the sauce, and it's always been one of my favourite pleasures chasing up those last splotches of napoli.
Unlike most Italian restaurants, there is no wine, only granita. Watermelon granita. That's Pellegrini's, not quite a cliche, but authentic. The Parmesan is powered, not fresh. It tastes amazing. The staff are not polite, as such, more... comfortable. Kings of their domain perhaps.
I clean my plate. I slurp the ice at the bottom of my granita. I ponder cake.
"Do to want coffee? Something else" let me think about that cake, I say. "Alrigh" big smile, old teeth. I opt against it, thinking of my stomach and the lack of space left in it. $22 dollars lighter I walk out into the Melbourne evening, happy in the heart.