Monday, 26 September 2011

Margherita pizza taste test at Queen Margaret

Queen Margaret
356 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North/Clifton Hill (map)
9482 5988
Tuesday-Sunday, 5:30-Late

Queen Margaret writing

Not to go all Austen on you, but is a truth universally acknowledged that the margherita pizza is the yardstick by which one can judge the skill of a pizzaiolo. When I heard that new pizzeria Queen Margaret in Clifton Hill village was serving not one but THREE kinds of margherita pizza, I knew I'd have to visit with housemate J (who is both vegetarian and a margherita connoisseur).

Queen Margaret is the new venture from Robert (Cavallini) Coco. The restaurant fitout is stylish, with dark timber panels along one wall and exposed pipes and light bulbs. The walls leading to the toilets boldly spell out the origin story of pizza and the role in that story played by Queen Margherita of Savoy, first Queen of Italy post-unification.

When we got there, J decreed that in order to properly review the margherita pizzas, we'd have to try all of them. As no half/half pizzas are allowed, we explained to our bemused waitress that yes, we'd like three pizzas for two people please (for the record, we shared the QM II, then had half of the QM I and the QM III, leaving us with the equivalent of one pizza to take home for leftovers). We also polished off a very decent bottle of Rioja.

PVC pipes

All three of the QM margherita pizzas are made with tomato and basil, of course, but the cheeses for each one differ. First of all, a word about the common ingredients: the tomato was just shy of jammy with the right touch of acidity, and the pizza base was chewy and a little bready (a bit thicker than at Ladro or Supermaxi) without being doughy. A little longer in the oven would've amped up the char factor a notch or two, but the base had a depth of flavour that I really liked (the dough is fermented for at least 24 hours).

The first of the three pizzas, the QM I, was $15 and made with fior di latte. J and I agreed that the fior di latte had an unexpected bite to it that we'd more commonly associate with a blue cheese. So far, so good.


The QM II was $19 and made with mozzarella di bufala. Ding ding ding ding we have a winner! In my opinion, it's ALWAYS worth paying the few extra bucks for buffalo mozzarella, cos it's so damn buttery.


The QM III was $16 and made with mozzarella AND parmigiano. Probably our least favourite of the three, as I'm not convinced the nuttiness of parmesan belongs on a margherita, but it was still pretty great.


The pizza menu includes more complex flavour combinations (see Joyce's review for some other options), with idiosyncratic names like 'Sock it to me', 'My only crush', 'Yeah... whatever!', 'Sally... where are the kids?' and 'The end of the affair'. Gluten free pizzas are available for $2 extra. If pizza is not your thing, there's lasagne al forno ($18) and spinach and ricotta agnolotti ($18), plus several small plates.

Retrofitted doorQueen Margaret

We're spoiled for choice when it comes to great pizzerias in this hood, but I'll definitely be back.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Brix comes to Fitzroy

The Brix Cafe and Bistrot
Rear 412 Brunswick Street (cnr Westgarth St), Fitzroy (map)
9417 6114

Tuesday 6pm-late, Wednesday-Friday 12pm-3pm, 6pm-late
Saturday, 8am-3pm, 6pm-late, Sunday 8am-long lunch
(Set menu Friday, Saturday nights & Sunday lunch)

Brix kitchen

The Brix is the snappy new kid on the Brunswick Street block, run by Emma O’Mara and Keir Vaughan. It's a modern French bistro, with ex-Royal Mail Hotel chefs Joel Alderson and Daniel Dobra in the kitchen. Ainslie Lubbock, also formerly at the Royal Mail and more recently at Attica, helped put the excellent wine list together.

Emma's background in interior design has really paid dividends, particularly when you consider what the site looked like before.

The Brix

I went along with my housemate J on a Tuesday night not long after it had opened, when every second table seemed to be someone from the industry (I counted three local restaurateurs and one major newspaper restaurant critic). We were seated in the narrow vestibule dotted with hanging plants which links the main room to the outdoor courtyard.

Brix courtyardGamay

Over dinner we shared a bottle of 2009 Paul Janin et Fils Moulin-à-Vent Clos du Tremblay, a pleasantly chewy and weighty Gamay.

The à la carte menu (which is available Tuesday-Thursday) is simple: five entrées, four mains and on the night we visited two specials. Unfortunately for my vegetarian housemate there was only one vegetarian dish listed (an entrée), but when we asked the kitchen was happy to prepare a vegetarian main for him.

I had a sensational entrée special of marron poached in a rich and viscous roasted chicken broth, with very fresh roasted baby artichokes and tiles of crisp chicken skin ($17). J had the equally good shallot and Banyuls caramel tarte tatin, which was served with a dollop of fromage blanc and a baby leaf salad ($15). The pastry was buttery and crisp on the bottom, and the sweet shallots were still a bit sharp. Great stuff.

MarronTarte tatin

After a very very long wait between courses (hopefully just the teething problems of a new restaurant still finding its feet) our mains arrived. My main of roast beef came with smoked spring onion, leek, potato red wine and braised tendon ($32). Holy hell, the texture and concentrated flavour of those strips of mucilaginous tendon was pretty damn outrageous. J's off-the-menu vegetarian main consisted of smoked oven roasted vegetables, including heirloom carrots, spring onions, leeks and potatoes, served with a nettle sauce. He wasn't crazy about the nettle sauce, but really appreciated the quality of the young vegetables.


We shared a $14 dessert of chestnut, honey, apple and date, served in the deconstructed-mélange-of-flavours-and-textures style that's so popular these days. The chestnut purée was a winner, as were the supersoft apple meringue and chewy, candied date crumbs. We were split on the slivers of raw chestnut: J hated them, but I loved the dry crisp texture.

Brix dessert

I went back two weeks later with T and our friend F, cos I wanted to see it during daylight and to try out the breakfast menu. The space is even better looking during the day (as Essjay and Jess noted, it's no mean feat to get that much natural light into a narrow south facing room).

Brix by day

The menu cover reproduces a section of the remarkable commissioned painting on the north wall of the restaurant: it looks like one of those Dutch 17th century banquet still lifes, but updated with a few choice contemporary objects (like a toy train and an electric guitar).

Brix menu

The aforementioned painting, in situ.

Brix painting

I ordered the cured ocean trout, which came with a zippy little sauce "bois bourdan" (I think it's meant to be "bois boudran", a shallot, worcestershire sauce, tabasco and fresh herb vinaigrette), and lovely soft coddled egg and brioche ($16). T got his protein and iron on with rich black pudding, fried duck egg, brioche and an apple, cider and sorrel salad ($16).

Cured ocean troutBlack pudding

Our friend F (one of the 310Fitzroy crew - check out their brilliant new food blog here) ordered a dish you don't often see on a breakfast menu: pork cassoulet with baked egg, persillade and rye bread ($17).

Pork cassoulet

Having all the floor staff wear black skinny jeans, white shirts and braces is a little precious, but the space is brilliant and I love what I've seen so far from the menu and wine list. Particularly keen to go back in a few weeks to try the five course fixed price dinner ($80 per head) served on Friday and Saturday nights. Very promising, go check it out.

And be sure to give the life sized pig statue a pat on the way out.

Brix pig