It is hard for me to contain my level of nachas (Yiddish for joy/pride) when I can inform the good people of the globe about a true hidden gem. Portone Wood Fired Pizza is not only hidden in terms of its obscure location but also from well deserved media attention and exposure. For me, Sam, major shareholder and CEO of The Chommery, I say it openly and honestly that these are my favourite places to write about – hands down.
Portone is hidden away in a small walkway separating cosmopolitan Carlisle Street and the Coles parking lot in Balaclava. I will testify that you can be a regular down this neck of the woods for years and yet never see, taste or smell the goodness pouring out of this little venue. This place is as relaxed as they come, with a minute dining space located within the arcade and a simple menu advocating a handful of entrees and a range of pizzas. Take my word for it – very informal.
I beg you to look past the laminated menu and just take Portone for what it is - old school, friendly and delicious. We began by indulging in an entree of field mushrooms served with butter, lemon, garlic and mozzarella ($9.00). We shared this between three gentlemen and it provided 1-2 juicy, warm ‘shrooms each. Scrumptious and a perfect way to tease the appetite. In hindsight, due to the large sizes of the pizzas, we probably didn’t need a starter but if you ask me, ‘would I do it again’? The answer would be confident, ‘definitely’.
Pizza 1 was the Putanesca – Napoli sauce, fior de latte, olives, anchovies, capers, cherry tomatoes and parsley. A simple combination of toppings that we all know and love. Might I add, I am an admirer of the standard of thickness of the base, crunchy but still doughy.
Ordering and paying becomes so much easier with the set price of $16.50 for a medium (13″) and $19.50 for a large (19″). Let me be the first to tell you, the large is really large (suitable for more than one). Not like the new-wave miniature pizza crave taking Melbourne by storm.
Moving onto the Porcini – Porcini and napoli sauce, fior di latte, confit garlic, roasted field mushrooms and thyme ($19.50). True pizza deliciousness. Another basic but effective combination of mouth watering cheese and buttery mushrooms. Definitely get one of these and smack it in the middle and share that up. Chommery approved.
Finally, the Gamberi – Napoli sauce, mozarella, chilli prawns, cherry tomatoes and sauteed spinach. No need to go on. This too was extremely chommable. Just a warning, this pizza was hotter than we thought but great for people that like to spice things up.
Three pizzas and all of them winners.
I will leave you folks today with the particularly mesmerising view of a couple of fresh pizzas getting all fired up in the oven. I have said this once and I will say it again – I have to get me one of them for home.
Portone is open 6 nights a week from 5:30pm – 10:00pm (excluding Mondays), but that information is only helpful if you can find this hidden treasure
The Important Details…
Suitable for: Pizza lovers only
Price: $20 per head
My View: A hidden gem!
Address: Shop 3 Arcade, 244 – 254 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
Phone: (03) 9939 1739
Firechief. The simple title given to Paul Mathis’ pizza venture located on Camberwell Road on the east side of Hawthorn. The name has not escaped my memory for the last month or so. Who would think that a local pizza shop could leave such a long-lasting impression in my mind?
Firechief’s big draw card for me was the availability of three different pizza types. You are truly spoilt here with the choice of: the traditional wood-fired oven, the Moretti double decker oven and finally the conveyor belt option. Each of these three ranges boast 8 different pizzas that are believed to best suit each cooking method. We sampled 6 different pizzas on this lovely occasion, which we believe was a great representation of all the offerings.
The space makes for a boisterous, yet comfortable eating hall. Accommodating for smaller groups (1-4) and larger groups on the long tables (shown above). Further eating quarters are located at Goldilock’s cafe (at rear, also part of Mathis’ group) which is used as an overflow on busy nights – from what I have heard, its used all the time. Don’t be put off by the plethora of followers here. The friendly staff take bookings 7 days a week for lunch and dinners so you will be eating pizza before you know it.
Do with this next amount of info as you like, but pizzas are not the only thing available at Firechief. If you happen to fall into the category of not liking pizzas (freak) then you can chom on some calamari + tzatziki, char-grilled lamb skewers, roasted chicken breast or even prawn tagliatelle to name a few. I can’t vouch for the above-mentioned, but if they follow the same standard as pizza, then you will have a pleasant evening/day of eating.
We began with a pea and spinach salad with goat’s cheese, mint and croutons ($14.00 – above) to make ourselves feel fresh and healthy. A basic side salad that works if you need to see some green with every meal. Personally, I would just order more pizza
The warm green bean salad with toasted hazelnuts ($10.00) is more up my alley. I found a sense of comfort in these veggies which more often than not will accompany a fine piece of eye-fillet. These complemented the pizzas very well.
Obviously unnecessary but totally delicious shoestring fries with rosemary salt flakes ($7.50).
‘Ocean Trout’ with fior di latte, smoked ocean trout, taleggio cheese, fresh parsley and lemon ($24.90 – Moretti oven). A true success story. Note: trout toppings compete with the likes of other heroes i.e. ham, chicken and prosciutto. I need not go on about the pizza bases – they are all thin to mid sized and are perfectly cooked/fired depending on the respective method.
‘Funghi’ with fior di latte, wood-fired baked mushrooms, porcini, taleggio and fresh parsley ($21.90 – Moretti oven). A solid vegetarian option though chommed by carnivores across the table.
I have to give my full votes to this pizza cooked with the perfect amount of wood-fired char. The ‘Melanzane and Peperoni’ with san marzano tomato, fior di latte, wood-fired roasted capsicum and eggplant parmigiano and fresh basil ($22.00 – Wood-fired). Next time I will be ordering from this range, but throwing some protein on top.
‘Braised Lamb’ with Italian crushed tomatoes, 8 hour braised lamb, goat’s cheese, toasted almonds, fresh parsley and mint ($23.90 – Moretti oven).
‘Vegetarian’ with seasonal vegetables, pineapple, kalamata olives on crushed tomato and mozzarella ($16.90 – conveyor oven). Again, another vegetarian option enjoyed by all. Each pizza was sizeable, 8 slices per pizza (one standard size) and not to mention, very affordable for restaurant standards.
You don’t mess with this Australian classic – except this time we replaced ham with chicken. The ‘Hawaiian’ with crushed tomato, mozzarella, shredded Virginia ham (chicken today) and pineapple ($16.90 – conveyor oven).
‘Firechief tiramisu’ with coffee jelly, genois sponge, vanilla bean custard, creamed ricotta, toasted almonds and kahlua ($14.00). A rich, tasty and easily divisible choice among 3 – 4 chommers. Mind the strong coffee jelly loitering at the base – not suitable for children and non-coffee lovers. Overall this was a great way to end a tremendous feast at this fine establishment.
Do not even sit there for one second and pretend that you don’t like pizza because you do. The Chommery knows the truth. Look no further if you desire delicious, family friendly and affordable dining. Why not make a night of it? Catch a screening at The Rivoli Cinemas located diagonally opposite. Pizza + Movie (+-) choc top = Good times.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Italian – pizza focus
Noise: Most definitely
Bookings: Via phone and e-mail
Suitable for: Pizza lovers + very kid friendly
Price: $25 per head
My View: A superb eating hall
Address: 169 Camberwell Road, Hawthorn East (loads of parking at rear of building)
Phone: (03) 9831 1700
In the pursuit of becoming an all knowledgeable foodie (one can dream) I have found one cuisine falls by the way-side – Italian. I think it relates to a loopy mentality that goes something along the lines of, “I can make a spag-bol at home”, so why would you go out for it? You are now probably thinking that I am naive and slightly stupid. You’re probably right too.
We decided to steer clear of the burger bonanza, take a trip away from Thai and choose something other than Chinese. I had Franco Choo’s in Prahran on my list ever since it opened in 2011.
The menu consisted of three entrees, two main courses and two desserts. For a night out as a couple, this was a blogger’s paradise. It was suggested by the waiter that a 3 course menu was available for $43.00 per person. We did some calculations, assessed our hunger levels and naturally, obliged gracefully.
The vitello tonnato was a beautiful appetiser consisting of thinly sliced poached veal with tuna mayonnaise ($13.00). The veal was served cold and the pieces were much thicker than a carpaccio which is good for the big chommer. The thick dressing of mayo was full on but totally delicious.
If only this pasta came in a main course size – if not that – if only I could have a life time supply in my fridge. Either one, I will be happy with. The pasta was perfectly boiled – perfect al dente (none of that shmooshy/watery stuff). The pork mince gave it a meaty goodness that my heart desires, and the shavings of cheese was a great topping (especially when tossed through). Note: Photo does not do justice (PDNDJ).
Saffron braised free-range milawa chicken leg, artichokes and polenta gnocchi ($26.00). If the chicken falls off the bone without the use of a knife then generally speaking you have a winner. Each soft piece was dripping with chicken goodness as the remainder braised itself in the sauce on the plate. The polenta crisps were delicious without being over-fried and worked well to soak up the sauce.
Why not throw in an overused cliche – This dish looked too good to eat! Pan roasted barramundi, squid ink risotto and new season’s pea ($28.00). A generous portion of fish that possessed a crunchy and nutritious skin. Call me crazy but the highlight was actually the risotto. I don’t know if you buy the squid ink from a calamari store or Officeworks but it makes for amazing flavours!
Almond meringue rotolo (roll), strawberry and blood orange sauce ($11.00). Strawberries (check), cream (check) = happiness.
While dessert has become a staple conclusion on my eating adventures, it usually only consists of one only – we did manage with two this time. Warm semolina pudding, burnt orange caramel, pear and mascarpone ($12.00). Another very visually pleasing dish for the evening. A really interesting option that worked very well. The crushed pistachios are a great finishing touch.
I am sure these are not the typical dish you imagine when you hear of an Italian restaurant, but sometimes it is better that way. The combination of flavours, the beautiful arrangements and the high quality produce used in each dish, places this gem aside from the standard pizza/pasta charade. The menu changes every 2-3 weeks, so odds are we will have a different experience next time. Now it is time to tie up your shoes, because you can’t refuse a lovely night out at Franco Choo’s.
The Important Details…
Noise: Gentle background music
Suitable for: Adults – no children
Dress: Slightly above average
Price: $43 for 3 courses – no alcohol
My View: Small but great!
Address: 179a High Street, Prahran
Phone: (03) 9529 7310
In 1993 the widely popular St. Kilda institution Cicciolina, was established. She has now graced Melbourne with her presence for almost two decades. Serving up heavily influenced European fare in an authentically humble eating environment. You can count on being in good hands as soon as you step in the door. Interestingly enough the restaurant name La Cicciolina was inspired by a multi talented porn star, politician and singer, whose stage name was La Cicciolina (thanks Wikipedia).
When you find yourself in the middle of Acland Street you really couldn’t be positioned closer to the heart of St Kilda. Great location for a fabulous restaurant? – I would say yes! Funnily enough, finding an excellent meal on the the popular Acland Street (Chapel too for that matter) can be a hard pressed challenge for a foodie. This Chommer believes that the highly inflated rents, the stupid tourists and the overall commercial-ness of these streets would be key factors in deterring restauranters from opening. Cicciolina has proven to be one of the most (if not the only) worthwhile destinations on Acland Street.
The combination of the timeless fit out and the friendly staff have managed to create a relaxed environment with enough touch of European culture and sophistication to make Cicciolina one of the better restaurants in Melbourne. The eating space consists of a cosy, small dog leg space with a window front view of Acland Street and a bustling kitchen at the back. Behind the kitchen lies Cicciolina’s own ‘Back Bar’, which is a great place to lounge around on the leather couches, sip cocktails and enjoy a few small sharing plates while you wait for your table. Note: the main entrance is via the lane way adjacent to the restaurant. A strict ‘No Booking’ policy means that if you don’t get here early, you can stroll around St Kilda or drink up in the bar while you wait for your table.
Bread and butter – one of life’s most underrated simple pleasures. Cicciolina serves this to each table as they arrive. I felt the need to express that the bread WITH the butter is an epic combination here. Well worth the calories, carbohydrates and other naughties. Dig in!
I have a sneaking suspicion that the bread is sourced from Baker D Chirico on Fitzroy Street. If that isn’t enough, when your done with your plate, they will replace it with more. Heaven. I was full after 2.5 plates – Not really.
Selection of Antipasto ($20.50). This sharing plate consisted of: dried meats, chorizo slices, sun-dried tomatoes, capsicum, olives and feta with flavoursome accompaniments including a quiche, a frittata, assorted dips (pumpkin and whole white bean with avocado) and one arancini ball. This is an excellent plate to split between two or at a stretch three people. If you go with the latter a second entree would go down well.
Oven baked baby chicken served on chat potatoes and leek rounds with a dijon mustard cream and watercress salad ($35.50). The dressing combined with the leeks and the nicely plump chicky was a winner. The flavours were rich without being over-powering and complemented each other rather well. My only criticism is that I love to eat all that is on my plate however, gnawing on the bone in such a nice place is unacceptable – what a shame!
Premium eye fillet char grilled to order (medium rare – obviously), served with a roasted potato fondant, wilted spinach and a basil and olive oil paste ($40.50). This chommer doesn’t indulge in fine meat even close to as much as he should. Although, saving it for special occasions ensures the ‘wow’ factor remains in tact. Tender, well portioned and full of meaty juice makes for an epic piece of steak. After you have enjoyed this slice of heaven, The Chommery suggests heading on down to either Bistro Thierry in Toorak or France Soir in South Yarra, which also serve excellent fillets.
The only regret of yet another successful night out on the chom, was that we didn’t order the chocolate pudding. Quite frankly, even if we did, chances are there wouldn’t have been enough time to snap a photo before the destruction of it began. Take it from me, the pudding is a must order if you have room. Any how, if Cicciolina is a been there done that, or if you are looking for somewhere new, they recently gave birth to a young, sexy daughter called Ilona Staller at 282 Carlisle Street, Balaclava.
To leave this post on a different note…
Cicciolina fills out extremely quick
Head down early and it will do the trick (6:00pm roughly)
No stress if you get there late
Chill at their groovy bar while you wait
Maybe you could sip some beers
Everybody will say cheers
Once you manage to get inside
You know my heart will be filled with pride
Order from the superb menu
You will see this is a top venue
Cicciolina is the bomb
Go enjoy and chom chom chom
The Important Details…
Cuisine: European / International
Bookings: No, sorry
Suitable For: appreciators of fine chomming. Not suitable for babies.
Dress: Smart casual
Price: $60 per head with an alcoholic beverage
My View: Cicciolina is like a great bottle of red – keeps getting better
Address: 130 Acland Street, St Kilda
Phone: (03) 9525 3333
A short walk down from Sydney’s famous Bondi beach holds this excellent hole in the wall cafe. This place is popular for its Italian flat bread fold-overs that can be filled with a variety of ingredients, the corner stones of which include local and foreign assorted cured meats and cheeses that together provide an excellent snack.
La Piadina proved to be a great getaway from the crowds and hustle-bustle along the coast line. Although the location is secluded it is situated close enough to the beach to wander back down to Bondi after your visit. This place is very small with space for approximately ten people sitting inside and a few stools out the front (displayed above).
The simple design of the open kitchen together with the coffee machine form the foundations which contribute to the cool fit out inside the compact area. A menu of approximately 11 different fold-over options allows for some variety. Furthermore, the piadinas are cut into four pieces allowing groups to share and mix it up.
The first one was No. 11 – Tuna, mozzarella, tomato and rocket ($15) – a classic combination!
The second was No. 4- Bresola, pecorino and rocket ($11). Both of these dishes were made with very fresh ingredients and were delicious!
I would recommend this place for anyone looking to find a reasonably priced, quality feed and to those attempting to avoid the commercial chaos that has become of the area surrounding Bondi beach. La Piadina is a little gem for a heavenly snack.
The Important Details…
Noise: Pleasant background music in the small space
Suitable for: All
Price: $10 – $20
My View: A delightful spot for a snack
Address: 106 Glenayr Avenue, North Bondi NSW
Phone: (02) 9300 0160