Mussel Mania at the Provincial

299 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9810 0042

November’s Flavour of the Month special at The Provincial is Monday Night Mussels. A bottomless bowl of mussels (with the requisite pommes frites, of course) for $29.50. I met up with some friends to test it out, and also to celebrate Ms A’s final exam (ever)!

The mussels come in three flavours (though I get the feeling these might rotate from week to week, so no guarantee this post will be accurate for the following two weeks). The first I tried was ‘Moules Mariniere’ – white wine, shallots, garlic and cream.

While this was certainly a very traditional style, I found it a little too salty. I definitely liked the crispy little garlic chips in there though.

The pommes frites were perfect little sticks of golden goodness, and in this instance, the perfect foil to the saltiness of the Mariniere.

Round Two was the tomato, chilli, coriander and pork belly (yes, that’s right… so much for my month-long moratorium on pork).
This was by far my favourite, the rich tomato sugo having just the right amount of acidity, and a present, but not overwhelming amount of chilli heat. The little pork belly lardons in the sauce were delightful, too.

Round Three – well, I had to try them all, for your reading edification, right? Mussels with Pernod, orange and fennel.

These were a little disappointing. The fennel provided a lovely aroma, but I felt there wasn’t enough orange in the mix, and overall, again it was a little too salty.

For my comeback special – that is my fourth bowl – I went back to the tomato and chilli version. I’m not sure if it was a mistake  – we did see some flames in the kitchen – but the mussels this time had a wonderful smoky flavour. The last bowl was the best bowl!

And where I should have left the night. Of course, the dessert menu came out, and I stupidly couldn’t help myself. I’d swam a kilometre in the pool earlier in the day, so I deserved some dessert, right? I ordered the Citrus Curd Tart with clotted cream.

The tart was wonderfully, well, tart, and the pastry crust was nice and short. Had I not already been gestating an obese seafood foodbaby, I’m guessing it would have tasted like a perfectly refreshing end to a meal. As it played out, it ended up tasting like regret.

The Provincial Hotel / Cafe Provincial on Urbanspoon

Mario’s Cafe

303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 3343

About a decade ago – and I can’t believe I just wrote that – I used to go to Melbourne Uni, so naturally, I spent a fair amount of time in and around Carlton and Fitzroy. While time marches on, and many things change, some stay the same. Like Mario’s.

Famous for the career waiters with an attitude which, depending on who you ask, is either surly, no-nonsense, or charming, Mario’s has been dishing up reliably good Italian food since well before I first went there in the late ’90s. So when meeting up for dinner with a group of Mr N’s friends and a little unsure of where to go, we went for the safe and familiar option. The fact it was across the road from Black Pearl, where we were knocking back aperitifs helped its cause, too.

My attention was caught by the specials board, and I ordered the lamb rump with eggplant mash, beans, red capsicum and goat’s cheese.

It was alright, but the eggplant mash needed seasoning, and was a little on the lukewarm side. The lamb was well cooked, but again, under-seasoned. Perhaps this was just some sort of Italian restraint thing I don’t get, but I thought the dish could have done with a sauce.
Mr N’s friend Mr N (confusing when you shorten people’s names to a single letter!) ordered the lasagne, which looked of quite a decent size, but having just come from the gym, he was left a little unsatisfied. Note to bodybuilders: order two serves of pasta at Mario’s.

Mr C had the baked gnocchi with bacon and ricotta (or fetta, I can’t remember – which do you think it is?). It looked like a smallish dish, but being gnocchi, it doesn’t take a lot to fill you up. He was very happy with his choice. I think I would have been too.

Mr N and Miss K both chose to have the braised lamb shank, which looked and smelled great. A super hearty meal, which was what the drizzly Winter night called for.
Mr J went for the classic steak, which came out with homely looking vegetables and potato rosti. Again, looks like it could have dealt with a little saucing, or some mustard?
Mario’s doesn’t really do sophisticated food. But if you’re after somewhere ‘safe’ to take a group of people you don’t know very well, it’s a pretty good option.

Marios Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Provincial Hotel – the Roast Collection

299 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9810 0042

A cold and rainy night was sort of the perfect backdrop for my one and only outing to this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Roast Collection event calendar. The streets were unusually empty for a Friday night in Fitzroy, but you could hardly blame the punters, inclement weather always makes me want to stay home too. But the booking had been made weeks in advance, and I was looking forward to catching up with good friends over a hunk of meat. And at $35 for two courses, who was I to pass this up?

I must admit that I haven’t been inside the Provincial before. I always assumed it was just another Fitzroy pub, with perhaps a beer garden out the back. But what probably used to be a beer garden out the back was actually an enclosed glasshouse-like dining courtyard. We were quickly shown to our table by one of the delightful waiters; I should comment right now that all of the waitstaff that night were perfectly charming.

Some wonderfully soft bread rolls came out to the table shortly after ordering, but we were a little perplexed by the lack of bread plates at our table. Never mind, we all tucked in. It became evident that perhaps the bread was supposed to accompany the first course. Leek and potato soup.

This was a hearty way to start the meal, though I felt it could have been a little thicker. And not to quibble, but the soup arrived a good 15 minutes after the bread, so by that stage, all of the bread was gone. 🙁

Having read Penny’s review of her experience last week, on her recommendation, I ordered the 12 hour slow-roasted lamb shoulder, tempted as I was for a bit of roast chicken. The rest of the table, it seemed, had the same idea, and all five of us chose the lamb option. It took another half hour or so after the soup to arrive, but I’m assuming they slow-roast the lamb for 11 hours, and put it back in for another 1hour once the order is received, so that’s understandable. When it arrived, the wait seemed all worthwhile.

We were all a little surprised when the roast arrived at the table still on the bone, and even more surprised when the waitress announced that “now, this is the two person lamb”… meaning an even larger one was to come for the other three of us!

And arrive indeed it did! Served with roast pumpkin, wilted spinach, some sort of sweet jus, and the absolute standout of the evening, pan-seared semolina cakes, which had a creamy, mildly cheesy, ultra-rich texture. It somewhat overshadowed even the melting-off-the-bone lamb! My one criticism of this dish is that it lacked saucing. While the lamb was beautifully cooked, it somewhat lacked flavour. The jus was there, but a little difficult to get off the serving plate onto your own. Thankfully, we were old friends at the table, so none too shy about dipping our meats in the communal jus! I guess that’s part of what serving a roast at the table entails; there’s a communality and intimacy about sharing food that I love about this style of eating.

Between the five of us, we didn’t come even close to finishing neither the two nor three person lamb dishes, and we were all happily groaning about how full our bellies were.

The rest of the menu looked quite enticing, though there was nothing particularly innovative, it had gastropub favourites like risottos and pork belly. Mmmm, pork belly. Might have to revisit.

The Provincial Hotel on Urbanspoon

Bimbo Deluxe

376 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 8600

Bimbo Deluxe is an odd place. From the large bulbous glass bottles of infused vodka above the bar, to the strange little bell-shaped room with the funny accoustics up the back, it’s got a mix of character and enterprise that never really gelled for me. That aside, cheap pizza is a pretty strong draw-card. With $4 pizzas at most peak periods (except Friday nights), it’s hard to argue. Especially with pizzas that are pretty good, even if they’re not on par with Ladro or D.O.C. And even when they’re not $4, they’re still pretty cheap (most under $10).

This visit, I was going to order the agnello (lamb) pizza, as I’ve had it before and it never fails to satisfy, but on Alex‘s Foursquare recommendation, I opted for the fontina and potato pizza.

Such intense cheese, and carb-on-carb goodness, how is it possible to go wrong? They didn’t go wrong, but I should note this pizza is pretty heavy going once it starts to cool. You really start to feel the stodge of the potato and cheese combination.

Mr D had the roast pumpkin and pine nut and rosemary pizza.

The pumpkin, again, is a little heavy, and its sweetness makes it quite rich. The rosemary is a naturally great foil for this, and pine nuts are well toasted and plentiful.

While it isn’t somewhere I’d go on a first date, or take my family out for a meal, it’s a casual, if somewhat grungy – both tables we sat down at had pizza debris and there were no staff around early evening bussing or cleaning – place which serves up decent pizza which is so cheap you can afford an extra beer or two!

Bimbo Deluxe on Urbanspoon


358 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9416 0091

There are certain things you don’t really like to admit. Especially if you used to live in the heart of Fitzroy. One of them is that you’ve never been to Babka. Well, I had that moment, and now it’s over.

Babka is something of a Brunswick St institution, a bakery cafe which serves up not only great baked goods, but as Alex of the MSG put it, “breakfast with a Russian influence”. We stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, around 3pm, and yes, breakfast was indeed still being served. It’s served until 6pm there. There was a bit of a wait for a table (there usually is on weekends) but it wasn’t too painful.

Bread for the table. It’s nice that they provide a selection of their breads; I particularly liked the seeded loaf (you can’t see it there, it’s hiding behind the big white slice!).

I ordered the lamb pelmeni, with a spiced broth, silverbeet and chilli. The little dumplings were good, but I’m more used to a Chinese dumpling, which is more about the filling than the wrapper. The silverbeet was nicely cooked – it still had some crunch to it – but the chilli was really quite superfluous. No heat whatsoever! They did look pretty, though.

Ms R had Maroussia’s dumplings, which were a mixture of mushroom and cheese dumplings, which came with a labne. I got to try one of the mushroom ones, which was a nice balance between earthy mushroom and the doughy wrapper.

Alex had the menemen – scrambled eggs with capsicum, fetta, parsley and mint. Not only pretty, but tasty to boot!

Ms J had one of Babka’s famous pies, and while I didn’t sample it, I know they’re famous for a reason.

Perennially popular, Babka’s one of those places it’s better to turn up to early-ish in the morning or later in the afternoon. Also, can e trickier fitting groups larger than four. If you just want to try the bread or the pies, they’re available for take away, too.

Babka Bakery Café on Urbanspoon