May 13, 2012

169 Camberwell Road, Hawthorn
PEOPLE!I may have had the best pizza of my life last Friday night. Honest to God. This calls for drastic action, namely, bringing this blog post up to the front of the queue (I normally write them in chronological order). Prepare yourselves.

The venue? Firechief. Recently opened, it is one of six new venues by Paul Mathis this year, three of which are in Camberwell (he lives in the area). Mathis, who was behind Blue Train, Taxi, Transport and other places in the city, has done well to bring some fresh nosh to the area, and if the teeming building of Firechief is any indication, it looks like the Eastern suburbs crowds are extremely grateful!

Firechief looks like it used to be (but wasn’t really) a fire station: the high ceilings and large front windows suggest there used to be a huge garage door there. It makes the notion of wood fire pizza even more appropriate.

Inside, the place is casual, unpretentious and family-friendly. It’s quite noisy, but the lighting is warm and it feels a little like a G-rated beer hall, especially with that formidable chandelier hanging in the middle of the room. An excellent option for large groups, athough N and I enjoyed settling down quietly against one wall for a good chin-wag and some vino.

Lucas, the extremely personable front-of-house manager, was all too happy to run us through the menu and explain the three different pizza ovens they use; “valoriani” wood fired, “moretti” twin deck and a modern conveyor oven. The pizza chefs here have been sent to Italy for pizza courses, and the pizzas comply with the standards of a rather scary sounding ‘associazone’ in Naples, so rest assured that these are some damn fine pizzas.

I say stick with the wood fired and the twin deck; leave the $10 – $20 conveyor pizzas for the kids (slightly pricy but the ingredients are top quality). The pizzas in the moretti are cooked on a stone floor at 360 degrees for 4 minutes and display the more creative, modern flair that the kitchen has to offer. The valoriani pizzas, made with strict attention to a recipe from Naples, spend a mere 2 minutes in a scalding 400 degrees (yikes), and come uncluttered and truly authentic.

We decided on a red from Italy (you may have noticed by now that I am by no means educated in the art of wine – I just picked one with a pretty sounding name). It was rather excellent, deep but fruity. I enjoyed the multicoloured cutlery, it evoked memories of kindergarden (albeit of plastic cutlery, not serrated knives).

The decor is minimalist with yellow accents and some oh-so Melbourne finishing touches. I liked the cute coat rack fashioned out of rolling pins.

The real deal here is the pizza obviously, but they have a number of yummy sounding entrees and mains that are also of the hearty, Italian type. Damn that pizza of the day sounds good – I love me some anchovies.

In the end, we decided to try the margherita D.O.P – the authentic, made with san marzano tomato, bufala mozzarella, sea salt, basil and EVOO. Every pizzeria should be graded on the strength of their margherita, and this one was up there with some of the best. The tomatoes were unbelievably fresh and sweet, the cheese was ace and the base was thin and charred in all the right places.

We’d had a thirty minute wait for our pizzas (to be fair, the restaurant is huge and it was fully packed), so when they arrived all conversation stopped until we were both three slices in, at which point we wiped our mouths, muttered the words “brill” and “so good” and then swooped in for another piece. To quote N, “cheese + bread, I love”.

The pizza that changed my life (too dramatic?) was the Friarielli; pork sausage, rapé, fior di latte, parmigiano, basil, chillies and EVOO. The cheese was salty, the pork sausage seriously flavoursome, but all this was lifted by the brilliant lemony-bitterness of the greens and the chili. Spectacular.

Here is Nic (heck, the girl’s on this blog often enough, she deserves a proper name) endorsing the pizza at Firechief.

I was so thrilled with my night out at Firechief that it was all I could talk about the next morning. I raved about it so fervently that at one point it drove my brother to yell “Get a grip, woman!”, and book us a table for three that night. Pizza two nights in a row – my life, my life…

I insisted we order the Friarielli again, although sadly it was just 30 seconds short from being perfect – a little more time in the oven to properly melt the cheese was needed. We also picked out two from the second section of the menu. The pizzas out of the twin-deck don’t have that smokey-charred taste from the wood fired, but it does mean you can be a little more inventive with the flavours.

The prawn and pancetta was excellent, one of the best white pizzas I’ve had, though I felt there was a tad too much pancetta which tended to overwhelm it with saltiness. However the mojo dressing (aoili style with mustard and vinegar, I’m guessing) was kicking.

The dorper lamb was a heavy, middle-eastern affair, and came with saltbush lamb, a (slightly too strong) tomato paste, feta, almonds, parsley and mint. Brilliant lift from the fresh herbs. Complete overload of pizza and still I want more – put Firechief on your “go to” list!

Firechief on Urbanspoon

Filed under: Camberwell, Hawthorn, Pizza