In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
Restaurateur Chris Lucas loves a catchy name first he gave us Chin Chin, now theres Baby.
Like its predecessor, Baby has been wildly popular ever since opening (last month).
Staff say theyd expected at least breakfast would be calm to begin with, but the place has been pumping pretty much from dawn til late, every day.
I imagine theres a brief lull between 4pm and 4.15pm, but otherwise its all systems go-go-go at The Restaurant Formerly Known as Pearl.
Another thing Baby and Chin Chin have in common is a language tape playing on loop in the toilets.
At Baby, you can learn to say io non copisco in the time it takes to tap the kidneys. Genius.
Obviously, décor-wise, the two diverge.
Aside from the location, recessed from Church Street within a pizzas toss from the bridge, you wouldnt recognise the once-hallowed altar of Geoff Lindsays duck curry.
The red light bathing the entry and white-painted interiors conjure a traditional trattoria, with a dash of renovator chic in the canvas backdrops and wood floors.
Leather-cushioned banquettes and cool Bentwoods in filing-cabinet grey with tan leather detailing lift the tone but the mood is very definitely relaxed, loud, bright and busy as Christmas.
There are some excellent staff here like wine guy Shane, possibly the most charming somm in Melbourne and also some duds.
Things go pretty smoothly on a late-ish weeknight, but Sunday lunch is amusingly skewiff.
Staff bring the wrong wine to us, forget a carafe at the table next door, and then deliver us the wrong pizza.
Even when the right one arrives, its still slightly wrong. Its puffy, pan-fried dough is dressed with melting, creamy mozzarella burrata, basil leaves and tomatoes straight from the fridge. Not caramelised as the menu promised, but raw, chilled and sliced.
A prosciutto pizza is more on the money a simple arrangement of thin, crisp crust topped with pukka produce like fior de latte and San Marzano tomatoes.
Such quality ingredients are the backbone of the menu, from the trio of cold cuts in the salumi misti to the free-range chicken cacciatora, but the kitchen doesnt always do them justice.
There is ricotta with mint and broadbeans, served on a too-crisp, too-thin bruschetta. What could be a light, summery muddle of seasonal ingredients on chewy charred toast is a crunchy bread wafer with bruised mint and lacklustre beans.
Tuna tartare also lacks that just-fresh shimmer. I like the intense savouriness of capers, feisty olive oil and chilli, but too much salt smothers the tuna flavours.
Pity the waiter whisks away the plate before were quite finished.
Theres a heavy Italian emphasis to the wine list in origin as well as grape variety but bottles are priced reasonably, with plenty in the $40-$50 bracket, and at least one for $39.
Our pasta has been made on a chitarra, apparently, a stringed box (chitarra = guitar) over which the pasta is rolled gently to extrude square spaghetti ribbons. Its cooked in very salty water and served with porky garlic sausage chunks, chilli and wild greens also amazingly salty but not in an awful way. Me piace molto.
We want the rabbit braised in white wine and peas, but they dont have it, so we settle for the blue-eye with clams, tomatoes and salsa verde.
Desserts cover some of the greatest hits of Italian dolci, from tiramisu to the individual lemon tarts that are all the rage this Sunday lunch.
We snack on more rustic sfinci instead, four fried pastry bombs crusted in cinnamon sugar and a hint of orange zest, with a so-so chocolatey goop in which to dip them.
The sorbet and gelati selection wins rave reviews, from the mango (super) to the nougat (wonderful).
Sorbets, spaghetti and calamari aside, Im not blown away by the cooking. But friends who are also dining this sunny afternoon tell me later they thought Baby was fantastic though maybe a bit loud. They live just nearby, so their opinion is the one that matters.