Our excitement at discovering this Italian stallion of a restaurant in the middle of a sea of pho, five spice quail, Szechuan eggplant and rice paper rolls, could only be described with one word. Ecstatic. It was like finding a sixth won-ton submerged behind that bok choy leaf in your short soup, or stumbling upon the last prawn spring roll while rifling through what’s left of the half head of lettuce.
After looking through the menu, we called upon the expertise of the waiter to help guide us. With his help we settled on the sharing menu, “for occasions or to enjoy with friends”. Compiled of an antipasto platter, two entrees, a salad, and a selection of pizzas, it was not only the wise choice, but also enabled our palates to have a broad flavour experience. The waiter was polite, informative, and eager for us to have an enjoyable meal. He seemed to have our best interests at heart, and his friendly nature was only amplified by his, dare I say it, handsome good looks. Marge quipped that if we inducted him as the fourth member of the Buddies, our female pulling power would be doubled, if not tripled! Dizz quickly reminded him that even if you quadruple zero, the result will still, unfortunately, be zero.
Our two entrée’s arrived first. The pan fried chilli and garlic tiger prawns were cooked to perfection. The garlic was tasty, but not overpowering. The chilli had a good kick to it but didn’t make the eyes water. It was a flavour explosion and set the platform for a memorable meal. The crumbed artichoke hearts were delicately fried so as not to destroy the artichoke. It was crunchy and tangy on the outside, while the middle was creamy and delicious. The vincotto (slow cooked wine) complemented the dish perfectly, as the sweetness and slightly balsamic nature shone through.
The antipasto followed next. A platter which covered half the table, served with a mound of freshly cooked flat bread and a warm bowl of mixed Sicilian, Kalamata and Ligurian olives. The platter itself mimicked a pizza. Three varieties of salumi acted as the base. Bresaola, prosciutto, and the more recognizable salami were topped with a selection of roasted and char grilled vegetables. The eggplant and zucchini were a real stand out. Marinated artichokes and sundried tomatoes decorated the platter with colour and our taste buds with zest. The blue cheese and mozzarella topped it all off, filling the cheese role, of the pseudo pizza.
By the time we had given power of attorney to the chefs in regard to pizza choice, our salad had been placed down before us. The mound of fragrant rocket topped with hand shaven Parmesan and pine nuts well exceeded the intended volume of the bowl it was served in. Dressed with a well-balanced balsamic and olive oil combination, it was close to being the star of the meal. Simple, flavoursome and fresh.
With the quality of food that had already been served up to us, we were eager to get to the main course and devour some pizza. Yet again, we were not disappointed. Our first two pizzas came straight from the oven onto our table. The ever-reliable waiter describing each facet of the dish like it was his own piece of art. Elegantly presented, we quickly dug in.
The pork sausage and red onion combination worked perfectly. On a thin, crispy, expertly cooked base, the fresh ingredients had the platform on which to shine. The sausage was well seasoned and delicious on its own, while the onion had a sweetness that tied the whole dish together. The buffalo mozzarella was creamy and used sparingly which was a refreshing change to the usual cheese covered pizzas that Melbourne is accustomed to.
Porcini mushrooms, ham and fresh mozzarella, decorated our next subtly flavoured tomato base. As it arrived the cheese was placed on top of the other toppings, looking almost like a line of toothpaste. Yet another crowd pleaser!
The prosciutto, rocket, fresh tomato and parmesan topped pizza also delivered the goods. The freshness of the rocket and tomato provided a sweetness that was complemented by the salty ham and Parmesan. Although not our favourite, it could still hold its head up with the rest of them.
Our final pizza was a tomato sauce-less, vegetarian rendition. Potatoes, olives, red onion and sundried tomatoes, were the perfect way to finish our pizza extravaganza. The potatoes were adorned with rosemary and a good helping of salt, both great friends of the trusty potato. The olives had a bite to them that livened up the otherwise subtly flavoured dish. The lack of tomato sauce was something different, and only reinforced that there are many ways to skin a cat, and probably even more ways to make a pizza!
This was easily the highest quality meal of our journey so far. The entire meal cost $44 a head, the fact that you can literally eat as many pizzas as you like, along with the generous servings of the other courses, means that you really do get value for money. Although, the managers tale of two people eating eight pizzas between them suggests that this set up can be exploited. Needless to say that after hearing of this monumental eating feat, we felt slightly embarrassed that we only managed to finish four. Did I mention that ours were smalls and the eight were larges?
We ended the evening having a friendly chat with one of the co-owners. He told us that the original plan for the restaurant was to turn it into an entertainment lounge, with pool tables and dart boards, we are very happy that they ended up turning it into one of the best restaurants on Victoria Street.