Stefano’s Cantina was opened in the original cellars of Mildura’s historic Grand Hotel in 1991 by cook and wine producer Stefano de Pieri and the Carrazza family.
A section of the cellars was built in 1889 with the hotel. ‘Cool rooms’ were added subsequently when the Grand began trading in liquor from 1919 (prior to that it was trading as the Coffee Palace and hotel). The space is irregular, uneven, subject to partial flooding and unashamedly leaves all signs of plumbing and wiring exposed – just like the Pompidou in Paris! The cellar, with all its imperfection, celebrates 130 years of history to the present.
Today, it is divided into three parts. What were once cool rooms for kegs of beer have been turned into intimate dining spaces. The Cool Room seats up to 30 guests and is notable for a display of frosted mirrors from the 1930s that visually narrate the story of Mildura settlement. The Venetian Room seats up to 14 guests and takes its name from Stefano’s origins. The Corridor links these ‘cool rooms’ and is lined with tables for single or couple diners and an array of art work and memorabilia from Stefano’s collection.
The adventure of Stefano’s Cantina commenced as a very simple affair with bare wooden tables, a basic blackboard menu and paper napkins. Stefano began to prepare traditional, rustic Italian fare, similar to the cooking he grew up with in the Veneto region of Italy. He relied on memory because he never trained as a chef – he was a public servant for most of the 1980s.
Diners would peruse the menu but were delighted to take up Stefano’s suggestion that he simply feed them what he had prepared for the day. This style of dining, with a set price per person and an element of surprise, became synonymous with eating at Stefano’s. Politicians of all ilks, silks, artists, bon vivants, romantics and foodies have all been charmed by the unusual and beguiling cellars and Stefano’s distinctive style. Now, more than 25 years on, this original idea continues with a five-course option for dinner and a reduced menu for lunch available from Tuesday to Saturday.