We have a soft spot for pizza, who doesn’t? And we have found a few pretty good joints here in Melbourne – from the authentic Italian staff at St Kilda stalwart Il Carusi (where you will find rich, sweet tomato sauce slathered on thin and crispy bases, paper tablecloths and very drinkable red wine) to upmarket fare at Ladro (on Greville Street in South Yarra and Gertrude Street in Fitzroy – the funky fit-outs and interesting pizza toppings do the two fashionable addresses proud). Then there is old reliable Pizza e Birra on Fitzroy Street (which also serves a range of pastas and meaty mains, plus Italian antipasti-style starters), city slickers +39 on Little Bourke Street and Joseph Abboud’s (of Rumi fame) super- delicious Lebanese take on the beloved Italian peasant food at The Moor’s Head in Thornbury (full review to come – just one quick tip – order the fairy floss for a post-pizza trip back to childhood).
Places that failed to live up to the hype include Mr Wolf – toppings too sparse (not in a less is more way, but in a stingy way), too noisy and frantic inside, and a high chance of sitting next to excitable kids and, even worse, excitable adults.
But let’s now turn our attention to Paul Mathis’ new kid on the block – Firechief, which along with sister brunch / coffee chop operation Goldilocks, opened in Camberwell late 2011 / earlier this year. As lovely front of house man-in-charge Lucas is keen to point out, it has been a gradual process, with both halves of the refurbed high-ceilinged warehouse space getting to grips with jam-packed services (on a busy Saturday night, Firechief can see in excess of 200 diners pass through the doors in up to three sittings – seems like everyone wants a slice of the action – ouch).
Rollings pins on the wall, oversize rustic chandelier, splashes of yellow and the odd pot plant housed in wooden boxes – all very Melbourne (in fact Paul Mathis Design has been shortlisted for the 2012 Australian Interior Design Awards.
Pizza connoisseurs – now is the time to get excited. Three ovens provide three different pizza styles. That’s right – authentic and original pizzas from Naples are made according to strict guidelines (outlined by a rather stringent pizza-loving ‘associazone’) and cooked in a 400o wood-fired oven for just two minutes. Crispy, uncluttered and authentic toppings – we opt for Crudo – San Marzano tomato, bufala mozzarella, topped with San Daniele prosciutto and basil ($24.90).
Then there is the modern artisan ‘hand-style’ pizzas – cooked in a classic Italian twin-deck oven, worked by hand and shovel, and placed on the stone floor at 360o for around four minutes. We ordered the Prawn and Pancetta – Tiger prawn cutlets, fior di latte, crispy pancetta, mojo dressing (tangy aioli-style sauce, offsetting the salty meat) and fresh rocket ($23.90). If you flew to Italy tomorrow (we wish), this is most likely the kind of the thing you would be biting into (ok, the toppings have been given the Melbourne treatment) while knocking back of few cheeky glasses of chianti. On that note, the drinks list is a happy mix of old and new world grapes and grain, and old-school aperitifs.
The third class of pizza is ‘the great Australian family pizza’ cooked in trays in a conveyor oven with local Aussie ingredients – six minutes at 340o sees fluffy bases and some less authentic, but no less popular, toppings – think pineapple, egg, pepper-marinated chicken and scallops.
There be salads – fresh tomatoes, fior de latte, cucumber and basil – among other fresh and zingy offerings. Also starters make for good pop-in-the-middle-of-the-table sharing plates, in case you’ve had enough dough for one sitting (like that would ever happen). Deep-fried calamari with yoghurt tzatziki dip ($13.90) was our choice.
Happily sated, we think we might have found our new favourite pizza place – unpretentious, affordable, with a great range of pizzas (without making up topping combinations for the sheer heck of it – a pet niggle of ours), good drinks and decent coffee. Mama would be proud.
169 Camberwell Road East Hawthorn
Tel: 03 9831 1700 / www.firechiefpizzeria.com.au