152 Toorak Road
South Yarra VIC 3141
+61 3 9867 2772
Disclaimer: Linda and Libishski dined as guests of Pinocchio’s and PR Darling.
I don’t often dine at South Yarra for dinner. Ugh, the parking! Ugh, the crowds! Ugh, Joey Scandizzo! But when Susie from PR Darling sent me a warm e-mail, inviting a guest and I to visit Pinocchio’s, I knew I had to check it out. I mean, why not? I love Italian food with more passion than a Ferrari engineer loves his finished product. Plus, I’m currently on an indefinite carb-loading phase.
Pinocchio’s is actually a South Yarra institution, having been there for 38 years. When St Kilda Football Club director John Gdanski and business partner Renato Chilelli bought the aging restaurant to complement their Hampton restaurant, also called Pinocchio’s, they quickly brought it to life – just like Geppetto did with a piece of wood.
The restaurant is very much like the rest of Toorak road, vibrant and modern with lots of friendly personalities – and I don’t just mean the caricatures on the wall. Part-owner Renato spent some time talking to us about how flawed the Urbanspoon grading system can be while Rose did a great job not just looking after us, but also the rest of the floor which got busy and rowdy towards the end of our meal.
Pinocchio’s has a very extensive menu, with the 27 different pizza flavours and homemade pasta made onsite at the Hampton restaurant being the highlights. I’m not a fan of restaurants that try to do too many things at once but when Rose suggested we ‘sample a few things off the menu’ instead of going a la carte, we couldn’t resist.
We started off with an impressive-looking entrée tasting plate. Clockwise from 12 o’clock we have the baked parmagiana, the lamb shoulder sliders, braised baby octopus, mushroom arancini, duck confit croquettes, milk-fed veal cubes, baked goats cheese and crispy calamari.
I loved the cute printed plates here! Just as good were the duck confit croquettes which were served with a cherry dip. The filling was gamey and creamy and the crispy coating pretty much sealed the deal for me.
They called the lamb sliders here ‘panino di agnello.’ They really didn’t need to disguise these beauties with a fancy name – the slow-cooked tender bits of lamb combined with creamy aioli were enough to make me happy.
The red wine braised baby octopus came served with chorizo and roasted peppers. The octopus was very tender and I didn’t mind the sauce either, it’s just that octopus is one of those things that I can’t eat too much of so there was still some left over when Rose came to take our wooden plank away.
Our crispy calamari was polished with a very subtle orange and fennel salt. I didn’t mind them, but Linda found them a bit too soggy for her liking – a fair call since they were supposed to be ‘crispy.’ When we questioned Rose about this, she said that calamari was normally served in paper to retain crispiness, which made me wonder why they didn’t do it here in the first.
The claypot-baked parmagiana (eggplant, not the chicken and ham kind that’s popular at trivia nights) was served with fried sweet potato. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potato so I’m afraid a lot of this dish remained untouched, though I did like that the Napoli sauce and the generous amounts of cheese diffused a lot of the sweetness.
We also enjoyed the other dishes on the wooden board. We were impressed with the milk-fed veal cubes that were tossed in a lovely creamy tuna and caper berries sauce and ditto the baked herb ricotto, essentially goats cheese bits served with blood orange reduction and toasted pumpkin seed wafers. I should also add here that Linda doesn’t like goats cheese, however she said the baked herb ricotto was her favourite dish out of the lot.
Our mains then arrived. We sampled two pizzas from the pizza menu, the bufala (San marzano tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, oregano, fresh basil) and the prosciutto (San marzano tomato, dior di latte, San Daniele prosciutto, rocket and parmesan). I couldn’t decide which pizza I liked better; both of them contained fresh and simple flavours that produced excellent results. What also impressed me were the pizza bases – they were super-crispy all over, yet still retained a bit of doughy-ness. Beautiful.
I wish I could also say good things about the conigilio mezzaluna (pasta filled with Gippsland rabbit ragout). Dressed in a veal and butter sauce, this dish had as much promise as the Essendon Bombers at the start of the season (lawl). The sauce was lovely and so was the homemade pasta, but the filling was dry – that pretty much spoiled it for me.
Better was the gnocchi, in all its Napoli sauce, fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella goodness. While Linda said that the gnocchi was too soggy, I liked that the fluffy balls of starchy goodness disintegrated into my mouth in an matter of seconds. The risotto, on the other hand, was a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, I Ioved the heady Mediterranean shellfish broth that the rice was cooked in and the fact they were generous with the seafood. But the rice, oh the rice! Each grain was undercooked, thus spoiling the dish for us.
There was supposed to be another wooden plank with a second lot of mains (SAY WHAT?) but we were both too full. Not wanting to waste food, we told Rose to not worry about the other dishes. Having said all that though, we didn’t say no to dessert.
Given how good the pizzas were, I have to say that the desserts paled in comparison. The vanilla panna cotta was nice, but that’s about it. Ditto the apple crumble, though I thought the stewed rhubarb bits that came with it were too ‘vinegar-y’.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t a fan of the chocolate cannolo. Okay, I’m not normally a fan of chocolate anything but this cannolo was probably the thing I liked least out of all the dishes we sampled. The pastry tasted like it was stale and the filling that this odd minty aftertaste that didn’t sit well with myself and Linda (and she likes chocolate more than I do. The poached fruit salad on the side wasn’t bad, but the tiramisu was fantastic. It was full of flavour, without being too sweet.
Our dinner at Pinocchio’s steered towards the cheerily positive side. There were some dishes we weren’t big fans of but the ones that were done extremely well made up for it. The service was consistent and friendly throughout the meal, despite the restaurant being busy towards the end. I also liked that Rose and the team were very receptive to the feedback we gave them throughout the night. Because South Yarra is a bit of a hike for me to go to for dinner, I can’t see myself rushing back when I can get equally delicious pizzas in the city and closer to home. But if I’m in the area and feel like a crispy pizza with simple and beautiful trimmings, Pinocchio’s would be the first place I’d go to.
On that note, let’s talk about the Melbourne Pizza Festival. I’ve been looking forward to it for quite some time but because of assignments, assignments and more bloody assignments, I didn’t realise that it has crept up on me. If you’re in Melbourne between 10-30th June, come enjoy some of Melbourne’s best pizzas plus a drink for only $20 at participating pizza restaurants (or $50 for a three-restaurant voucher). Pinocchio’s will be participating, as well heavyweights such as Ladro and 400 Gradi. Check out the events calendar on the Pizza Festival website below to see what dates you can rock up to participating restaurants – I will be attending a few events myself, hope to see you there!