Caught up with a couple of friends I used to work with at Florentino on Bourke Street, one of Melbourne's oldest restaurants.
Best known for its grand dining room and matching (although not exorbitant on a world scale) prices, Florentino also has the Cellar Bar, a warm, wood-panelled room serving simple rustic Italian food (from the same kitchen, of course, as the main restaurant) in a cosy atmosphere and at inexpensive prices.
I left the office at around 6.45 on a cold winter's night and strolled down the Bourke Street hill, through the Mall with its arcades, department store windows aglitter, across busy tram-lined Swanston Street and past Bourke Street East's bookstores and fashion shops, pushing open the door of the Cellar Bar just on 7pm.
Tim and Yvie had just arrived and we were shown to a round table and presented with menus. Warming glasses of red all round as we caught up with the news.
We ordered our meals. A platter of crusty bread and olive oil for dipping was placed on the table as we chatted about old times in the office - the stress, the shouting, the tears ... and the hours we spent doing online crosswords!
After a while our meals arrived. Spaghetti matriciana for Yvie - a simple tomato sauce with flecks of prosciutto and a hint of chili. Tim chose the tortellini, fat little housemade parcels of spinach and ricotta shaken in a butter sage sauce. For me, the day's special, rigatoni with black pudding. Now that requires a confident chef to present on his menu! Ten-cent-size discs of superb black pudding (you have to like black pudding and I always have) tossed with rigatoni in a little butter and olive oil and scattered with toasted pinenuts. A dusting of parmigiano from the waiter. Magnifico. You won't get a more robust dish than that, perfectly suited to a cold winter night.
Later, we lingered over the wine, ordered espresso and chatted some more.
A brutally cold wind was blowing down Bourke Street as we went on our ways.