While walking along Lt Bourke Street with Aaron last weekend, I came across the sexiest coffee machine I’d ever seen in my life…
Check out the very sexy Victoria Arduino espresso machine, which brews special cups of coffees by the Romcaffe brand. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this site was, in fact, home to Melbourne CBD’s newest proper pizzeria … and we’re not talking about “fake” pizza a la Pizza Hut, Dominos, or even La Porchetta. Nosiree, we’re talking about those flat yeast-based pizzas from Naples. Think Bimbo Deluxe but more “real”, for lack of better adjective. The place I’m referring to is known as +39, which some trivia buffs would know as the international dialing code of Italy. While I’m unsure whether to call it “Plus thirty-nine” or even “Thirty-nine”, I know that this will be the place I will reply to people who ask me if there is a half-decent pizza place in the city. Now, I’m not saying that +39 serves the best pizza in the world (it doesn’t) nor am I saying that everything about it is perfect (it’s not), I’m saying that Melbourne CBD simply does not boast a good handful of decent pizza restaurants. Even Italian powerhouses such as Bottega and Grossi Florentino would not have pizza on their menu as it’s traditionally known in Italy as “street food.” One would probably have to head out of the city for something that qualifies as “pizza”, even past Lygon Street which, while used to serve good pizza, now serve predominantly tacky renditions of Anglo-Italian fare such as “Aussie Pizzas” with ham, cheese, pineapple and egg (WTF!?! ). Ugh.
So yes, when I saw that we finally had something that did not look like a Pizza Hut or a La Porchetta, I thought ‘Great!’ Which is why Adam and I ended up at +39 at 5:30pm this evening. Yes, I know, an early dinner but 1) I was hungry and 2) I had studying to do later tonight so why not? Anyway, the place was almost empty when we arrived but it was still early and besides, the modern concrete bunker-like dining room would be too noisy for a proper conversation when it starts to fill up later on. We chose a table by the window overlooking Lt Bourke St as we browsed the menu and asked for some water. Now, +39 calls itself a “Pizzeria and Degustation Bar” but the fact that there were only four choices available for the “Degustazione” option (with the fifth one being crossed out by a thick, black marker) made me wonder why they bothered with the “Degustation Bar” suffix. Furthermore, the fact that all the “Degustazione” options consisted of charcuterie such as freshly cut prosciutto, salami and speck which made me wonder why they didn’t just add the four options in the entree column which was named “Riscaldamento” (Warm Up). Shrugging, I went ahead with ordering my choices.
While one pizza and a focaccia to share was a given, it was much harder to chose between the four degustazione platters. Should I go the one with cheese and honey truffle? Or would the seven cheeses and fruit mustards satisfy me better? Oh, but I do want to try some of the cured meats! After doing an eeny-meeny-miny-mo, my finger landed on the “Degustazione Di Salumi e Pecorino”, the cured meats and cheese combo which we requested to arrive before the foccacia and the pizza. After settling down with a glass of red (which they didn’t pour enough of, the cheap bastards) and having asked for water about five times, we settled down with the newspaper (provided along with magazines at the counter) before our food came.
This is the “Degustazione Di Salumi e Pecorino” ($24.50). As you can see, I have labeled each element to make it a lot easier for me and you. We each got two pieces of pecorino cheese which, as some of you know, is a firm sheep’s milk cheese that has a sharp, salty flavour. It’s a cheese that I keep a wedge of at home and grate it over my richer, meatier pasta dishes instead of the more delicate parmesan which I use for simpler pasta dishes. The pecorino romano (which is more commonly available in Australian restaurants and markets) provided a strong and biting taste in comparison to the richer and more “relaxed” flavour of the sardo. Three varieties of salumi complemented the cheeses, the thin and waxy prosciutto slices (Adam’s favourite), the round, garlicky slices of sopressa salami and my favourite, the spicy air-dried and salted cured beef known as the bresoala. I thought the meats were yummy as expected but I wasn’t sure whether pecorino was the right cheese to use in conjunction with the meats. I felt that they were too rigid and too sharp for the already salty meats. I would have preferred something a little milder and softer like stracchino but hey, that’s just me .
Our Focaccia Caprese ($7, from memory) was +39′s take on the Caprese salad. It came with slabs of fior di latte mozzarella, which was much more subtle than the mozzarella that other restaurants use in their pizza (mainly because fior di latte is made with fresh cow’s milk whereas the “generic” mozzarella is made with skim milk). Its texture was not dissimilar to that of haloumi but much less salty, a bit like tofu. Fresh basil leaves and cherry tomatoes dotted the cracker-like yeast base, both of which added pleasantly sweet nuances to the dish. Having said that though, I felt that the focaccia could have done with a bit of salt (none was provided on any of the tables) but a sprinkling of extra virgin olive oil steered the foccacia off the “bland” territory. Another thing I have to point out was that the menu said that the focaccia would come with “roma tomatoes” and clearly roma tomatoes they ain’t!
Our Tirolese pizza ($20) may have been less colourful but it was definitely not less tasty. Again, the base was a flat yeasty one but instead of being dry like the focaccia, it had much more chewy-ness to it. Creamy mascarpone cheese was spread all over the dough which was then sprinkled with chopped caramelised leek and thinly-sliced speck, a type of prosciutto which I found to have a more subtle yet sweeter taste than other varieties. I really liked that they used a less salty cheese for the pizza (a saltier one would have overpowered the speck) but I couldn’t help but think that this pizza could have been helped with one more ingredient as it seemed a little lacking. Nevertheless, still a great pizza and something that I would definitely order again.
I was still only halfway through my pizzas when Adam finished (!!) so he decided to order a short mac. While he wouldn’t rate the coffee as his favourite, he did not label it as horrible (“It’s better than Hudsons Coffee”). He didn’t particularly like the way that the coffee tasted “almost burnt” but apparently that’s how Italians like their coffee (??) and without roasting it until it’s burnt, the barista would not have been able to produce a crema like that. I managed to have one tiny sip myself and could best describe it as “rich and earthy.” Indeed it didn’t suck but then again, I’m more of a latte girl so it’s hard for me to be objective on this one.