Il Pizzaiolo

If the last thing you thought…

Definition wallpaper to impress your friends lines an entire wall

Melbourne needed was another pizzeria, you’d be dead wrong. The latest entry from the all-hallowed Verace Pizza Napoletana Association (VPNA for short) sends well-established pizzaiolo Francesco Deni into Melbourne’s inner northern suburb of Thornbury, where authentic Neapolitan wood-fired pies are the order of the day. Officially opening next week, the methodology is simple: Strict 90 second cook times in the almost 500 degree stone oven allows a pizza to be constructed thin and crispy, with the sort of bubbled, charred crust that only this method can achieve.

The 485 degree Italian-built wood oven at Il Pizzaiolo

The menu, a tightly focused affair that eliminates  the irrelevance and instead draws your attention to the pizzas, obviously, and some antipasti and dessert at either end remind you of what it is you are there for. The pizzas? Well, with over 20 to select from there is sure to be one for you.

Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Margherita at Il Pizzaiolo

The stone oven was Naples built, and shipped over in its entirety – with handy wheels on the bottom so that when Frank eventually expands to keep up with demand, he can simply relocate it.

“Il Pizzaiolo” Frank Deni loads another pie in the oven

The pizzas range from classic rosso, to sauce-less bianco with each different type combining proven flavours to create pieces of art.

Pizza Pancetta at Il Pizzaiolo

Above, a simple tomato, cheese and pancetta pie omits the superfluous and instead delivers the delicious.

The pizza are dissected asymmetrically at Il Pizzaiolo

Asymmetric pizza’s are purposely cut to prove you don’t need to be a surgeon. Perfectly charred and risen crusts pay homage to the quality, highly secretive dough recipe.

While many establishments all claim the ‘Authentic Neapolitan Pizza’ credo, none quite do it with the degree of execution, the panache if you will, and of course the flair that ‘Frank’ brings to the table (pardon the pun). With over 2 decades of experience under his belt, including stints at the famed 400 Gradi in Carlton, I caught up with Frank ahead of the venue’s official opening to get the low-down on what he hopes to achieve with his new venture.

You’ve been in the pizza game for 22 years now. Why pizza?
“Due to a family breakup at a young age, my mother was left with very little money. She leased a store so that we could all have a job, eat and we learnt the industry as we went. This is where I discovered my passion for the creation of pizza.”

What do you think is the biggest mistake you see in a lot of restaurants with their pizza?
“Quantity, not quality. Too many restaurants try to load a pizza up with toppings in order to gain the most flavour possible. In actual case, if you use quality ingredients, less is best.”

What is your main goal for Il Pizzaiolo?
“To pass on the taste of the authentic ingredients while promoting my passion for making pizza.”

Il Pizzaiolo, without a shadow of doubt is Melbourne’s new king of Neapolitan pizza. It serves up the most decadent, flavoursome and authentic Italian pizzas that Melbourne has yet seen. The only negative is the small size of the operation, which just means you better get in before word gets out and the droves descend on it.

Pizza perfection at Il Pizzaiolo

Il Pizzaiolo opens October 2nd.

Il Pizzaiolo
163 Darebin Rd, Thornbury VIC 3071
Il Pizzaiolo on Urbanspoon


Mamak (Melbourne)

Mangiabeve does Mamak…

It sounds like some sort of B-grade Hollywood porno. It’s a necessary title however, because I feel too often it’s all to easy to snub Melbourne’s Eastern cuisines and go for the proven Western winners. Walking into the brainchild of Julian Lee, Alan Lu and Clement Lee, it’s clear this is the reason no-reservation restaurants came into fruition. Tables come and go with the same pedigree of speediness of the food dishes themselves (Well, to be fair this is with exception of our last dish but I will get to that) and it works quite well. Even if there is a line, in 5-10 minutes a string of tables work up and everything seemed to flow quite well for a place that has only been open a short while.

So, in we went, and as it happens we were seated immediately. BYO was very refreshing, although it’s clear from the masses of tables and just us drinking that corkage isn’t paying the rent. My bottle of Garnachas de Espana Salvaje del Mocayo 2009 (say that 10 times fast) must have looked like it fell from space, but down we sat with it. Oh, don’t expect anything other than water tumblers to drink out of either, but I sort of like the way it pays homage to its Malaysian hawker street food roots; I’m pretty sure street vendors wouldn’t use Riedel either.The decor fits in nicely with this theme too, low slung quasi bar stools and nothing much in the way of what you eat on but it’s all for added effect. The buzzing of people, open kitchen at the front of house and plates constantly whirring past your head remind you of the essence of what such an establishment aims to be about, and to that effect it does it perfectly.

I can’t really chronograph any particular order to the dishes, as they simply come out instantaneously and as ordered but here goes..

Slow cooked lamb curry arrived in time for our wine opening, so I will post my thoughts on them both. The lamb curry was cooked perfectly, with a tangy spice that was enough to make the nose run but not enough to drown out the flavours of tender lamb and accompanying juices. The wine, a simple but finessed garnacha with medium weight and nuances of tobacco, spice and berries delivered fantastic value for money (~$20) in such a beautifully designed bottle.

Slow cooked lamb curry at Mamak

Garnachas de Espana Garnacha 2009

The nasi lemak (coconut rice) came sans anchovies but with curried chicken. The rice was fragrant, but it’s clear the curried chicken is for infidels like myself who don’t get it smothered in fish options.

Nasi Lemak at Mamak

The Roti bread was on another level completely. So delicate, crispy, flavoursome and uncompromisingly beautiful. The sauces almost detracted from its sole beauty but truth be told I couldn’t help but dip some in that delectable lamb curry sauce.

Roti Canai at Mamak

The chicken satay’s were good too. A little on the puny side for what you pay ($9 for 6) but were tender and the house peanut sauce they come with was not overly oily nor too course.

Chicken Satay at Mamak

This wouldn’t be Mangiabeve if J and I didn’t eat ourselves stupid, so we decided to try the chicken Roti Murtabak; a sort of Roti quesedilla filled with spicy meat, cabbage, eggs and onions. It was good, if not outstanding.

Roti Murabak at Mamak

As we were finishing, for the grand finale we decided to add another serve of Beef Satay. 15 minutes later, as nothing had arrived and convinced our server had forgot we reminded one of the wait staff. When they eventually located them (no doubt somewhere behind the fridge) they were cold and dry. Struggling for eloquence here, I think J summed it up perfectly when he quipped ‘How could they f**k us on the finale?!?!’. Such is life.

Beef Satay at Mamak

Mamak delivered some good, if somewhat simple hawker food that I would have no doubt recommending if you are in the area and the lines are manageable. Would I make a cross town journey and be prepared to wait? Most probably not.

366 Lonsdale St Melbourne
Mamak on Urbanspoon

Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew

In an age where…

It’s not an uncommon (if slightly unsettling) thing to see one Melbourne eatery close down and re-birth as something else, we see the freeway end of Brunswick St’s latest development: Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew rises out of the ashes of now defunct ‘Eat Drink Man Woman’. Walking in on a pretty nondescript Tuesday night, it was pretty obvious by the waft of American diner-esque decor that this was one venue with at least one or two strands of American DNA. Hip staff, hip decor and hip tunes line the floors and a pretty tight, focused and fused menu combining elements of Aussie pub grub (think schnitzel+chips) with American burger bars (burgers, apple pie, alcoholic shakes) serves up a pretty positive pretence of an industry now, in Melbourne at least, that has become more and more competitive.

And I guess my palate has too. I’ve consumed the highest grade of burgers in the last couple of years, with the ones that are right up there right on our own front porch. I’ve sung the praises of Aussie beef already this year, so it was with great excitement that myself and J came down here,as the premise of 100% Majura wagyu burgers was too good to pass up.

Sitting down, we started with one of their marvellous brews (Served in 310ml glasses) and one of the Hors D’Oevres on offer: The Chiko Rolls, which, contrary to the name, bear more resemblance to the love child of a spring roll and a fried rice paper roll. The filling? Delectable pulled lamb.

Pulled Lamb ‘Chiko Roll’

These were special. The outer shell supportive and firm enough to hold everything in, yet not too tough to put up a fight when they were waging war with our teeth. The filling was moist, fragrant and everything lamb shoulder should be.

Sadly, what I write next breaks my heart. I don’t go out with the intention of writing on my bad experiences. Nor my mediocre ones. I also don’t like investing so many hard fought calories if the payoff isn’t going to be worth it but above pretty much ends the last of the positive words I can say on this place. Shareholders might want to look away now.

What came out next were the ‘Fat Chips’, which could be contender for understatement of the year because these things look like they were carved out of slabs of pine.

Chips at Brother Burger

The disappointment came from the first bite. Dear oh dear oh dear. Inside was dry, suggesting that they may have been overcooked. Or were they undercooked, perhaps? My confusion is a little more worrying. The side of house mayo did nothing to ease the pain, nor discover any semblance of flavour we were so desperately searching for. On a side note, did you know Merrywell (Perth, anyway) air freight their fries in from Idaho? Land of the killer potato. Anyway, moving on.

When the burgers came out a little while later, we tucked in with open minds and open palms.

Brother Burger ‘Hot Stuff”

This was the ‘Hot Stuff’: bacon, cheese, pickles, mayo, chilli jam. Curiously, if you just wanted the plain burger with bacon ($11+$4), you would be better off to order this one ($14), and tell them to hold the chilli.

Looking at the image, you can see just how much real estate was wasted with such a puny patty with such an enormous bun. Biting into the burger, the sweetness of the brioche bun was simply too overpowering. The patty was ok, lacking the medium-rare cook time which is pretty much a standard and instead was tending towards the ‘too cooked’ end of the spectrum. Pickles, my usual highlight, added no flavour.. Only extra saturation and the whole experience was so underwhelming; you just kept biting in waiting for the payoff. But it didn’t come. It was like Christmas as a kid, when even though you had 4 or 5 presents to unwrap, with every one that didn’t contain that collectable you had been dreaming of, you just kept you getting slowly more disappointed.

Now, I’m not saying it was a bad burger. But people hardly get excited in this day an age over a mediocre one, and if you are prepared to put ‘burger’ in your name, you should at least get the fundamentals of the noun right.

Still, this is mangiabeve, and not prepared to concede defeat just yet J and I decided to split their other big name, the ‘Royal Blue’, $14 of blue cheese, bacon, pickles, onion and sauce. Maybe I’m just spoilt, having been accustomed to Squire’s Loft-esque integration of blue cheese in a meal for so long. And as rudimentary as Squire’s Loft (Toorak) is, they always seem to get the basics spot on.

This one again failed to hit the mark, even more disappointing than the first. Just as we were thinking to finish off, our hostess came over and asked if we wanted her to bring the bill. She must have been able to read our minds… or just not in the mood to pawn off a dessert.

We grabbed the cheque ($78 for 3 burgers, fries, a side of chiko and 3 beers) and got out of there.

Usually, in this circumstance I’d say tick this one of the list and move on. Honestly, though, in this instance just save yourself the hassle. Neeeeeext.

Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew
413 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Brother Burger and The Marvellous Brew on Urbanspoon