Lower Templestowe is not really the epicentre of decent food in the Upper East Side of Melbourne (unless you count Golden Dragon Palace or Taipan, I guess) but apparently it houses one of the best pizzerias in Melbourne. Pizza Espresso, run by the brother of the dude who runs the relatively new +39 in the city, has been around for years but I had only heard that the place existed only very recently. Sad, I know. Anyway, we decided that tonight would be a good night as any to try the place out, using “my birthday” as an excuse. The table was originally booked for five (my family) but we invited my cousin, Jess and her mum (my aunt) Emy to come with us too seeing as they were in town. We also had to invite this random lady who happened to fly down to Melbourne with Aunt Emy for laughs because it would be the polite thing to do. As much as I don’t really like inviting randoms to MY dinner, it would be rude to invite my cousin and aunty while leaving the poor lady at Emy’s house with nothing to do for the night.
Anyway, a booking was made for 7:30pm and by the time we rocked up at this small restaurant in Macedon Rd, the place was BUZZING. It was night-club dark, full of fully sik wogs people and doof doof music. My mind instantly drifted back to the days of ZOS and I shuddered – hahaha, who else remembers ZOS? (or am I just too old?). The olds instantly felt uncomfortable and my mum may have muttered something about “crazy young people” but I ignored her as I told the waitress that I had a reservation. We were led to a table right near the washroom where a middle-aged Asian couple were washing dishes, a sight which I found rather weird at a place like this but hey, whatever works. I didn’t like that we were placed so close towards the washroom but given that it was a small restaurant, I’ll forgive them for that. Besides, the interior actually seemed pretty cool particularly the pizza oven that was placed smack-bang in the middle of the dining room. We chose several things off the menu to share and not long after, our focaccia arrived.
It was just a basic one ($11.50 for a large). The cheapest and simplest of a reasonable list of focaccias that sounded more and more extravagant as the list went down. Really, it was just a simple base brushed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and sea salt. Very spartan, really. But boy, it was good. It was crispy and puffy while still retaining its chewiness. And it was mighty tasty too.
Lasagna al forno ($16). The way that lasagna should taste like, just like nonna makes it. The home-made tomato sugo really made all the difference.
Fettuccine al gamberoni ($19.50). Don’t be fooled, this dish was actually tinier than it looks. When it was presented to us, my parents were like “is THAT all?” but please note that although they’re experts when it comes to Indonesian and Dutch cooking, they’re actually clueless when it comes to other countries’ cuisines. Heck, they think that lemon chicken is “proper” Chinese food so it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that they think that “real” Italian food is the stuff you get at La Porchetta, you know, spaghetti marinara with seafood extender. Anyway, this dish may have been small (small for the entire table, anyway) but it did not disappoint. Again, the home-made tomato sugo was there holding the fresh ingredients together, the succulent tiger prawns (none of that “artificial” prawns you get at some of the pizza shops in the suburbs!), the sauteed rocket and the silky egg fettuccine all mingled as one.
The pizzas. The top one is a Frutti di Mare (basically, a seafood pizza $20 for a large) and the bottom one is a capriciosa ($18 for a large). Firstly, the frutti di mare looked pretty bare in comparison to other renditions of seafood pizzas which are often choked with baby clams and all sorts of weird things that live in the sea (including plastic-y prawns). Surprisingly, this version of a seafood pizza worked quite well. There were only a smattering of fresh tiger prawns, calamari, baby octopus and baby mussels but the key behind this pizza’s success was the fresh ingredients. The capriciosa, while less exciting, was definitely a step-up from the ones I’ve tried in pizza places in the area. Again, fresh ingredients made all the difference as did the ham-of-the-bone “which didn’t stink like matchstick hams” (mum’s words) and the subtle fior di latte cheese.
The third pizza we shared (foreground) was Salsiccia e funghi ($20 for large). It was pretty much the same as the capriciosa but with “Italian sausage” instead of ham. For some reason, I didn’t particularly enjoy this one probably because I felt that the sausages were a bit “dud” …. y’know when you’ve met some hot Italian stud at ZOS only to find that later on in bed, he was a bit…. ermmm, let’s drop this analogy shall we.
At this stage, none of us are actually full-full but we’re satisfied enough not to want to eat again for the rest of the night. We’re just about to order dessert when the random lady (let’s call her L, because her name starts with L) goes up to the cashier and has a word with the waitress there. Janice and I are rolling our eyes, thinking that she’s there to whinge about something (she has a penchant for whinging in restaurants, I’ve learnt) but it turns out that she wanted to order a special tiramisu cake for me which was very nice of her.