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Pizza Battle – Heat 2

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Welcome back to Pizza Battle! Join us on our quest to discover the best pizza in Melbourne. If you missed the post explaining how this works and the first heat then click on those there hyperlinks.

This round we have visited the following places:

1. Ladro (Fitzroy)

2. +39 (CBD)

3. I Carusi (East Brunswick)

4. Supermaxi (North Fitzroy)

1. Ladro


Ladro on Urbanspoon

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Ladro is an absolute stalwart on the Melbourne gourmet pizza scene, having opened years ago, a little after I Carusi and around the same time as Mr. Wolf to usher in Melbourne’s new age of gourmet pizza. It still carries its hefty reputation into this food battle, and is showing no signs of slowing down, having just opened another Ladro outlet in Greville Street, Prahran, alongside its Gertrude Street institution.If we were intimidated by reputations then this pizza battle would be much more difficult, such is the quality in this fair city of ours, so Jess and I arrived with an open mind. I had heard things about bad service and was prepared for it, but it didn’t eventuate. Firstly, Ladro is not uncomfortable, combining a minimalist design with reasonable space. The night that we were there it was full but not super packed and the service was fast, efficient and low on bells & whistles. No complaints from me, get the job done without being rude is priority number one.

The oiliness was palpable.

The pizza, however, was supremely disappointing. Firstly, I don’t remember the name of my pizza (sorry kids) but it consisted of cherry tomatoes, capers, olives on the usual napoli/mozzarrella base. And it was terrible due to two unfortunate reasons. Firstly, the base was burnt. It’s normal to have a little bit of charring around the base from the oven but I draw the line when I can actually taste lots of yummy (not) carcinogenic carbon in my crust. Secondly, a ‘drizzle’ of olive oil over the pizza can add flavour… but a drizzle, people! Not a cascade! There was so much oil on this pizza that it had literally coalesced into  a pool of oiliness in the middle of the pizza, this was a lake, a pond of oil! As a result, the pizza was slimy and gross.

To be fair, Jess’ pizza, the ‘Badabing’, was a lot better. Less oily, the pork sausage used was good and the chili was just right. But my pizza was so terrible that there’s little chance of Ladro making it into the Final round. Sorry Ladro-lovers, I was tres unimpressed.

Pizza Taste: 6. Note: Much can be made of Ladro’s name, which is Italian for “thief”. A poor choice, some might say, given Ladro’s relatively high prices and, in this case, lackluster offering. Thieves indeed.

Everything Else: 7.

2. +39


+39 Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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+39 is the international dialing code for Italy and is run by Tony Nicolini (of Pizza Espresso in Doncaster fame). Check out a surprisingly decent review by Matt Preston here. +39 was named Pizzeria of the Year in The Age for 2010 and is still living with the hype. Getting a seat here is not easy and bookings a recommended. It’s also very much cheek-by-jowl as they’ve tried to cram as many covers as possible into a place that isn’t huge, unfortunately a failing of many a restaurant/cafe. This results in a very noisy environment when it’s full as people’s conversations bounce off the marble and spill out onto the street.

My dining companions for the tasting session were @jillianjtl and @cloudcontrol (aka. Billy from Half-Eaten), check out his review of the experience.

We sampled three pizzas, I opted for a special pizza (pictured above) which consisted of a spicy Italian sausage, silverbeet, chilli and scamorza (smoked mozarrella), Billy opted for the broccoli pizza with anchovies and pine nuts (also reviewed at eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die(t))  and Jill had the truffle & porcini pizza.

My selection was the best, excellent base, the smoked flavour of the scamorza came off perfectly, the sausage was great quality and its slight sweetness offset the bitterness from the silverbeet. A great all-rounder. Both other pizzas worked well too, I’m not a huge fan of truffle pizzas because I’m overwhelmed by the mushroominess, and in my opinion, the DOC version of Jill’s pizza is slightly better but it was still very good. Billy’s pizza also challenged how I view the idea of broccoli as a pizza topping. I was impressed overall.

Unfortunately, the service, while friendly, was not overly professional. We booked for 7.30 but were not seated until 7.50, they had to shuffle tables around while we were standing in a cramped passageway, and we were seated at the arse-end of the restaurant by the toilet. They also forgot our drinks order and only checked up on us half an hour later, we were lost in conversation but also thirsty! They dealt with these setbacks well, apologized (not profusely) and righted them but they must still be punished in the scores. A busy restaurant that crams these covers in needs to be able to manage the busy-ness.

Pizza Taste: 8.

Everything Else: 6.

3. I Carusi


I Carusi on Urbanspoon

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I Carusi is another Melbourne stalwart, previously opened and owned by Pietro Barbagallo before even Ladro and Mr. Wolf came onto the scene. The restaurant has since changed and hands, and Barbagallo has opened his eponimous Trattoria reviewed in Heat 1. We came to see if I Carusi still lives up to its reputation.

It turns out that it kind of doesn’t. The change of atmosphere was refreshing, but there was definitely some incongruity, and not of the ironic hipster variety that one invariably finds in Brunswick East. Old Italian pizza, exclusively young and attractive waitresses; white tablecloths, disposable napkins; attempt at luxury, less-than-excellent service… odd.

My dining companion for the evening was Mae aka. @lynnegweeney. Mae opted for the Alla Moda di Mario, with a mozarrella/tomato base and pancetta, red onion & chilli. I chose the Speciale (pictured above) with the same base and soppressa, roasted peppers, artichokes and olives. First point of note is that you’ll note from the picture above, this is slightly different to the simple, uncluttered pizzas of the other “artisan” pizzerias we reviewed and is moving closer to the over-topped, over-stuffed, bang-for-your-buck variants at Pizza Hut and its cousins on Lygon Street. And the taste was somewhere in between too – not subtle at all. While I can’t find fault with anything in particular on the pizza, except that perhaps the olives and weren’t as fine as Barbagallo and the base wasn’t as delicate as DOC, the overall pizza just packed too much punch and not enough finesse for my money. I Carusi – not to my taste.

Pizza Taste: 6.5.

Everything Else: 6.5. Service was friendly enough but also run off its feet and not particularly professional. And speaking of cramming too many covers (as mentioned earlier), this time we were seated in a very narrow passageway between two rooms with waitresses rushing past us on a regular basis and a massive light from the exposed kitchen shining directly into my face. Not best positioning.

4. Supermaxi


Supermaxi on Urbanspoon

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Supermaxi – an odd name for a pizza place, and boy has the buzz been building about this one since it opened not too long ago. Much of the buzz has, of course, been due to the involvement of Rita Macali, ex-head chef of Ladro. We came to see if Macali’s new pizza haven (i mean that, not in relation to the terrible chain, of course) would prove better than the new Ladro chef’s thievery.

In discussing the name, I’ll borrow from Melbourne Gastronome:

So, the name. It turns out Supermaxi is many things: the name of a chain of Spanish supermarkets, a type of NZ racing yacht and a series of late 1980s compilation albums featuring Kool & The Gang, Yello and Wang Chung. Owners Rita Macali and Giovanni Patane toldEspresso that the name is intentionally un-Italian, a portmanteau word made up of English superlatives Italians like to use. Fair enough. But me, I can’t help thinking of products like these when I hear the name. At least it’s memorable!

Not only is the name memorable but so is the dining experience, both in total juxtaposition to Supermaxi’s super nondescript exterior (which appeals to North Fitzroy’s hipster contingent for sure).

My dining companion for this tasting session was Gem (@snarkattack) from Eat Drink Stagger. Check out her take on the experience. Gem opted for a pizza special that was little more than prosciutto and napoli base. A choice not unwise, given the tendency towards simple dishes being the best. I went for something more adventurous (pictured above),The Sicilian,  a tuna pizza with red onion and lemon. My pizza was beautiful, very well balanced, just the right amount of saltiness (dangerous ground considering the tuna) and a perfect base. Gem’s was also excellent, especially for prosciutto fans.

The place itself is really a delight, it’s spacious and feels it because Macali & Patane have not crammed diners in like sardines in the name of profit. Kudos to them. The service was almost perfect, and Patane’s friendliness front-of-house was definitely appreciated. Supermaxi is up there with the best of them.

Pizza Taste: 8.

Everything Else: 9.

So the winner of Heat 2 is Supermaxi, coming out on top with a superior ‘everything else’ score to +39, but both are in strong contention to appear in the Final. But we still have Heat 3 to do which includes such pizza luminaries as Mr. Wolf, Woodstock and Pizza Espresso. Join us for the final installment soon!

Old Kingdom

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Old Kingdom

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197 Smith St, Fitzroy  3065
Ph: 9417 2438‎

Tue-Fri noon-2.30pm, 5pm-10.30pm
Sat-Sun 5pm-11.30pm. (Dinner seatings at 6pm and 8pm only)

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“Hi I’d like to make a booking for Saturday night.”

“6pm or 8pm” barks the answer on the phone.

“6 please.”

“How many people.”

“4”

“How many duck.”

Everyone that is familiar with Old Kingdom will be familiar with this ritual; You ring, you order the amount of duck. A good rule of thumb is one duck for two-three people, depending on how much duck you can handle.

Located in the middle of Smith Street, this place has become an institution for peking duck.

Prior visits, we have ordered other things on the menu, but we have since learnt that despite the large menu, there is no point. Everything else is average at best.  We, as most other people in the restaurant just opted for the duck banquet.

The duck banquet consists of a three course meal for $55.

The first course, the whole duck (minus the head) is brought out and presented to you, glistening in all it’s glory.

The duck man holds the duck in one hand, and in the other a cleaver to carve the shiny duck skin for you.

These pieces are then rolled in a thin pancake, with some pickled cucumber and radish and rolled in hoisin duck sauce.

The rest of the meat is cooked in a stir-fry with spring onions and bean shoots.

And the bones are used for a soup with tofu and vegetables.

*Looks* amazing right? Unfortunately, Old Kingdom has changed ownership in the past couple of years and it is not what it used to be. The duck skin is not delicately crispy as it used to be, rather it is just hard and seems fried rather than roasted. The stir-fry is overly oily, and the  soup had a hint of ‘dirty-dish-water’ flavoured with MSG. The famous ‘duck-nazi’ is gone, who used to dictate and tell you how to roll your peking duck pancakes, and the kid that carved our duck for us did it quickly and robotically.

Jess’ Ratings

Taste: 4. Such a let-down. A lot to live up to as past visits had always been nothing short of delicious.

Value: 4. Peking duck is notoriously expensive, this however was a poor example of it. Each additional pancake is $2. As if.

Service: 4. They just didn’t care.

Atmosphere: 4. The restaurant was cold. The most fun thing about this place is that everyone else is eating the Peking Duck.

Overall: 4. So disappointing, as prior visits had always left me full and satisfied, and I had always claimed that Old Kingdom was the best peking duck place in Melbourne for excellent value. the only saving grace is that corkage is still $2 a head, so our dining party at least were able to enjoy some nice Pinot Noir with our duck.

Such a let down – left me craving Peking Duck more, as it did not fulfill my Peking Duck cravings. So, leaves me with the question – Where is the best Peking Duck in Melbourne?

Written by glutamatejess

May 26, 2010 at 8:20 am