Baby PizzeriaNovember 17, 2014
631-633 Church Street, Richmond
‘Not another pizza place!’ I can hear you all saying, not so soon after my post on 400 Gradi! Well, to you I say, when you’re in the mood for pizza, you’re in the mood for pizza, and neither hell nor high-water will keep me from it. Furthermore, I think you’ll find that Baby Pizzeria is a million miles away from 400 Gradi both in terms of the food and the general vibe of the place. Don’t believe me? See exhibit A: the pair of lips greeting you at the front door.
Mmmm, if that picture doesn’t make you think about wrapping those big pink lips around a piece of cheesy bread, I just don’t know what will. We’re just in the door and already we know the place is young, hip, and overly sexualised. What else?
We also know it’s popular. If the ‘no bookings’ policy wasn’t a dead giveaway, the buzzing crowds and the fact that Baby is owned by Chris Lucas, the man behind gastronomic icons Chin Chin and Kong, should set things straight.
We also know that it’s Italian, and unashamedly so. Pizza, pasta, cold meats, antipasto, a few salads, all traditional, well-rehearsed fare. The restaurant is large, and encompasses two dining rooms and a smaller area of bar seats surrounding part of the open kitchen. During our visit we had contact with about half a dozen staff, who were all attentive, if a tad brisk.
Despite the Lucas pedigree, I wasn’t 100% sold on Baby. Perhaps too many years of being scarred while waiting for a table at Chin Chin, becoming increasingly drunk and frustrated, has turned me off “trendy”, hyped-up places. I’m also not sold on the overtly sexualised nature of the place. It’s not that I’m a prude (although there was one light fitting that was particularly racy), I just don’t think food needs to be served with a side of lip porn to be sexy. For me, food that is simple, authentic and rustic (like the pizzas at 400 Gradi) is far sexier.
Having said that, and because I knew I was perhaps a little pre-disposed to critique this place quite harshly, when I went there for lunch with R and V, I made sure I kept an open mind. And you know what? Keeping an open mind is a really great thing. Sure, the place is very cool and packed with yuppies from Richmond and South Yarra, but the food was delicious. Expensive, but delicious.
We began with a caprese di buffalo salad, with buffalo mozzarella, basil, cherry tomatoes and linguarian olives. This was delicious, fresh and well seasoned, but probably not worth $18.50.
Next up was a rather small serve (despite being main sized) of rigatoni al ragu, with slow braised beef. This was pretty good, a standard take on ragu, nice flavour coming through the sauce. Rigatoni was also cooked to perfection.
This being a pizzeria, we thought we ought to try some of the pizzas on offer. Not being in a tomatoey mood after the salad and pasta, we went with two pizza bianco. The broccolini pizza with fior di latte, gorgonzola, spicy pancetta and garlic oil was good but not great. The toppings were fine, the combination was clever, but thinking back to those charred, bubbly delights at 400 Gradi and DOC, this was no comparison.
In contrast, the Salsiccia was much better. Fantastic even. It reminded you of why Patrick Swayze said, ‘nobody puts Baby in the corner’. Fior di latte, spiced Italian sausages, friarielli and chilli. Not quite as amazing as the Friarielli pizza at Firechief, but still wonderful. I particularly loved the heat of the chilli and the lemony greens.
So what’s my verdict? It’s good, the food is delicious (if a tad pricy for what you get), and if you like to feel like you eat at cool, trendy places, then this is the place for you. Is the food in the same league as, say, DOC, 400 Gradi, Ladro, or even Rosa’s Kitchen? No way, but that’s not what Lucas is trying to achieve here. In a nutshell, Baby does to Italian what Chin Chin did to Thai – it takes it, sexes it up, adds some cocktails and a long wait list, and produces food that is authentic-ish, and tasty. Not amazing, but tasty.
I suppose that at the end of the day, my preference will always be with the more rustic, homely, Rosa’s Kitchens of this world. They may not be as overtly sexy as Baby is, they may not be as polished or trendy, but they’re the kind of restaurants that would quote Mindy Kaling and say, ‘I’m hot, but I don’t even know it, which makes me even hotter’. Tongue in cheek, yes, but that’s the kind of food that really gets me going. What kind of Italians get you hot and bothered?
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