On New Years Eve we caught up with Mario Di Ienno, the humble yet vital ingredient to the success of the iconic Gerald’s Bar in Rathdowne Street, Carlton. With a passion for food, wine and all things delicious, Mario shares with us his most recent culinary experiences, the importance of seasonal beverages and a little about what makes him tick.
Having known Gerald for twenty odd years, Mario joined the institution shortly after opening in 2006 and has seen the bar get progressively more popular ever since. Our mouth waters as Mario tells us of the, ‘we cook for you’, style of menu, that might include whole fish or a slow cooked meat dish such as goat, depending on the season and what looks good as he combs the markets for fresh produce. Whether you’re having dinner with friends, sipping a gin & tonic or trying your hand at Scopa with Patsy from around the corner you can find solace from the hectic world outside within the walls of Gerald’s Bar.
Mario, where in Italy are you from?
I was born in Australia but my heritage lies in Abruzzo, the centre of Italy on the Adriatic side. I haven’t been back for about fifteen years so I don’t have a strong connection but I think I’ll go next year and visit the family.
Do you have a favourite wine from Puglia?
I would have to say one of the Aglianicos. My strongest memory of it is the smell, when you first open it you really get that aroma, the earthiness, the sweatiness almost, it’s a bit like the underarm of an old Pugliese woman. This is no reflection on the taste of the wine, nor is it on the elderly female population of Puglia. You start drinking and it’s beautiful, elegant, fruity and subtle.
When you’re not at Gerald’s Bar, where do you like to eat and drink?
I don’t have a lot of time because I’m working nights, which means that I don’t get to a lot of other bars. I like to get out and enjoy the day, the markets or even a movie. I love to cook at home, I’m pretty handy with pasta but I also like experimenting with Asian flavours. I love Asian food. Other than that I enjoy finding restaurants that I haven’t been to before or that are a bit obscure and discovering special dishes that make the place memorable.
Is there anywhere you can share with us?
Yesterday I went to an old favourite, BBQ House, a Chinese place on Victoria Street, Richmond and had the most beautiful scallop dish. It was a very light stir-fry with dried prawns, chive flowers, ginger and the slightest hint of soy, it was fantastic.
What is the philosophy behind your wine list?
There is a huge seasonal swing. You can almost set your watch by it. We drop 20-25 reds for summer and replace them with whites and pinks and visa versa in winter.
Besides the wonderful food and extensive wine list, what do you think attracts people to Gerald’s Bar?
It’s a combination of a hundred different things. Whether it be the people, the artwork, the paraphernalia within the space, vinyl rather than iPod, or the privacy that the netted curtains provide. You can come here and leave the world as you know it outside and always find something to amuse yourself in the world that we have created here, it’s a kind of ‘Gerald’s World’.
It’s New Years Eve, it’s a warm afternoon, will you be having a few cool drinks?
Yes definitely, I think I’ll start with a Campari & soda. It’s so nice to sit outside with a refreshing drink, a cigarette and some good company, the perfect afternoon.
What is your ideal recovery for New Years Day?
I think the weather is going to turn so I’ll start with a big sleep in. It’s going to be a day for Pinot. Some friends are cooking dinner, nothing too heavy I hope, I’ll take a bottle of nice Pinot and let the evening unfold.
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