When the world thinks of Italians at lunchtime, most of us picture a long table, a carafe of wine in the centre, multiple courses and a limoncello at the end just to really send us into a deep afternoon sleep. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, according to Mauro Sanna from Pausa Pranzo in Preston, the stereotype is outdated. (In the photo Mauro e Diana partners in business and in life)

Pausa Pranzo means ‘lunch break’. In the world’s major cities, including Rome and Milan, a lunch break is around half an hour, if you’re lucky.

‘When you are in a small town, if you have a break, you go home,’ says Mauro. ‘But in big cities, you don’t have time to go home. Life is changing, and the concept of the lunch break is really changing. Italy is becoming international. Going home, cooking, sitting down and going off to have a pennichella – that doesn’t work anymore. It’s an outdated idea.’

That’s not to say that Italians are willing to compromise on the deliciousness of their midday meal. Lunch should contain all the elements of the Mediterranean diet; high quality extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, perhaps some cheese or cured meats. To avoid the need for plates and cutlery, all of this is tucked into a crusty ciabatta.

‘Our focus is on freshly made-to-order Panini’, says Mauro, who, in his 8 years living in Melbourne, saw a gap in our celebrated food scene for a classic paninoteca.

‘The business is inspired by my student days in Florence, where there are many tiny little places to grab something quick, made on the spot, from fresh, high quality ingredients. Tiny hole-in-the-wall shops, where you can even have a glass of wine on the spot. Sometimes you’re standing up, or you might sit down just for a minute on a stool. That is what I wanted to replicate here. ‘

Pausa Pranzo began in just 30 square metres, on High St, Preston, near the train station amongst apartments and office buildings. It has recently expanded to include a seating area, which allows for mix of locals enjoying a coffee and the newspaper on their day off, and workers on their lunch break.

Pausa Pranzo also has a brand new kitchen, which will allow the chefs to offer a rotating selection of freshly made pasta options for lunch.

‘The kitchen will allow our chefs the opportunity to express their creativity,’ says Mauro. ‘We look forward to highlighting traditional dishes from our homeland, Sardinia.’

The new menu will commence in March. The focus remains however, on Panini and encouraging customers to get out of the office and take a short but enjoyable break

‘During the day, it’s all regular customers, and you start to get to know their faces,’ says Mauro. ‘They are people who become friends. The place where we are in Preston is growing a lot. It’s a new area, there are new apartments coming up and a lot of people buying their first home. Plus there are so many offices around, and shops on Bell Street. So many of our customers come in groups of four or five and they have their regular. They know they can be in and out in 20 minutes.’

It’s the quality that keeps them coming back. Panini at Pausa Pranzo are made with high quality ciabatta, a style of bread that is crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. Mauro is determined that all ingredients used are of the highest quality.

‘We use authentic prosciutto di Parma. We make our own polpette, and we are well-known for coffee too. We use Allpress. We did our research, because for us what is important is the standard. We want our products to be simple but good.’

Pausa Pranzo is about quality and authenticity, but Mauro is certainly open to compromise.

Pausa Pranzo’s concept is focused on fresh panini made to order

‘We try to be flexible,’ he says. ‘For example, we know Australians love their bacon and eggs, and I’ve come to love it too, so we give that a bit of a twist. Instead of a bacon and egg roll, we have pancetta and frittata on our breakfast panini.’

In general though, the idea is to stick with tradition.

‘We try to keep it more like the real Italy. We try to give our customers a little taste of what Italy is like, for example, we don’t have chicken. We do have ham, but we explain that we prefer to use prosciutto crudo. We try to educate our customers, not because there are any rules, but we just want to show them what we know. We try to stick with what is Italian, and also what is regional. I’m from Sardinia and I’m proud of my culture and our food.’

This approach is working. What was once a tiny hole-in-the-wall paninoteca, a secret of the Italian community, has evolved into a culinary institution for Melbournians, that people from all backgrounds can step into daily for an immersive Italian experience.

‘Once a woman came into the shop and exclaimed “I have goosebumps! This is just like being in Italy!”’ says Mauro. ‘That was the biggest compliment a customer has given me.’