135 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 7545
I was meant to get this entry posted last night but a huge work project, work evacuations and OMG BUMPING INTO SEAL AT FLAGSTAFF GARDENS OMG got in the way. With 12 hours sleep and chocolate cake in my system, however, I have no excuse today so here goes.
The cooler evenings call for all things rich, saucy and comforting so when Sophie suggested we catch up over some delicious homely meatballs at Meatball & Wine Bar (MWB), Amy and I had to say yes. We rocked up at the little restaurant on Flinders Lane at we thought was a reasonably early hour, but we were surprised to see how packed it was for a cold Wednesday night. Luckily there was an empty table outside, which we accepted while thanking our lucky stars for the absence of rain.
MWB’s concept is very similar to the Meatball Shops that are famous all over New York City: the menu cheekily tells us to ‘choose your balls’ (chicken, beef, pork, fish or vegetarian) and choose a sauce to cover them balls ($15). You also have the option to carb-load by adding extras such as polenta, pasta or potato mash for an extra $3. If you’re staying away from gluten, then vegetable sides are available. All meatballs are gluten-free too so you don’t have to limit yourself to jerky or cured meats (though I’d really like to try their San Diego (chilli) jerky next time).
I liked the sound of the Baller cocktail which contained Grappa PO’ di Poli, gum acacia syrup, Jerry Thomas decanter bitters and grapefruit. However, I didn’t have enough balls to drink cocktails at 6pm on a Wednesday night (hey, I’m writing about a restaurant that serves meatballs – of course, I’m going to friggin’ make all these lame puns involving balls!). Instead, I settled for a glass of Sangiovese ($17.50)
Bread and olive oil kept us happy until we received our meals.
Our first plate of balls was the chicken-white-pasta combo. The balls were made out of free-range chicken, pistachio, muscatels and parmesan; I liked the sharp contrast between the sharp parmesan and sweet muscatels, but I did find the meatballs a bit crumbly. I also thought that it was strange that the ‘pasta’ was essentially one long fat strand rather than individual ones. Despite the lovely creamy white sauce and the admittedly delicious pasta sheet, I thought the dry meatballs did render this a dish a pretty average one.
Thank goodness the beef-red-polenta combo was a lot better. The beef meatballs were made with ‘pasture-fed angus Angus beef… that’s it.’ While I’m normally all for eating clean grass-fed beef, I did find these meatballs just as frustratingly dry as the chicken ones. A bit of breadcrumbs would have made the balls stick together but alas, they had the whole gluten-free thing happening. Garrr. That aside, I thought the red Italian tomato sauce and the creamy polenta base was lovely.
It came as a surprise to find that our ribs tasted better than our meatballs. Served with an apple slaw, the ribs were deliciously sticky and citrusy combined with a lovely smoky flavour. Sophie, who’s had her fair share of amazing ribs in the States, did say that she had not been able to find equally amazing ribs in Melbourne but did admit that these were pretty good.
I liked the sound of the whoopie mac, MBW’s version of the whoopie pie which uses an ice cream filling rather than the standard cream cheese. However, we decided to share the dessert special: a buttermilk panna cotta with figs and Campari-soaked blood oranges and caramelised walnuts. The dessert was a resounding success; the delicate panna cotta provided the perfect base for the current season’s fruits while the caramelised walnuts added a lovely sticky crunch.
Despite our meal being a success, I did expect our meatballs to be a LOT better. I understand the need to cater to the increasing number of gluten-free eaters but I personally prefer meatballs that are squishy and not crumbly. Having said that, everything else was fantastic: the sauces, the ribs and the dessert… oh my! I do like the concept of the restaurant and given the huge turnout that night, so does the rest of Melbourne. Hell, MWB must do well enough because only last week, I saw that they opened up another one on Swan Street in Richmond.
I guess if anything, I won’t rule out a return visit. After all, I’d happily eat that creamy polenta base again, perhaps with some pork meatballs, and I wouldn’t mind trying some jerky and whoopie macs. In the mean time, I’ll be making some non-dry meatballs at home.