Where: Tipo 00, 361 Little Bourke Street Melbourne
What: Not what your nonna would make, unless she has wasabi in the pantry
Bloat score: 2 – The belt had to be completely removed
While my friends back in Malaysia give their parents a sort of monthly stipend to help them out, I take mine out to Italian restaurants down dank alleyways whenever I get a new job. Because I’m a proud member of Gen Y, this happens every two years – luckily for them! They weren’t in Melbourne when I last moved jobs, but I probably would have taken them to Rosa’s Kitchen because that place is the best, and definitely worth the five-bloat score I gave it in my mind after.
Less rustic than Rosa’s Kitchen with an upmarket feel that doesn’t detract from its accessibility, Tipo 00 is fast becoming one of my favourite Italian places in the CBD. I hear you used to be able to walk into the cosy 40-seater and get a table, but those heydays were long over by the time I started frequenting it – call in advance and make a booking to avoid the disappointment of more organised people gloating at you from their privileged carb-induced pedestals.
Part of my pre-dining ritual is to scour the menu 10-11 times in the days and hours leading up to a meal (which is probably part of the reason why work included Zomato as one of its banned websites), and I knew from my in-depth research that the grilled calamari with artichoke and pickled lemon would be one of my mum’s picks. After tossing up between the ocean trout terrine with horseradish, and the pan-fried calves’ livers with balsamic sauce, we went for the terrine as our second entree.
A selection of delectable sounding risottos and pastas litter the menu so much so I never even make it to the two items on the ‘secondi’ section. And after admonishing my mum for even daring to think of ordering something other than a pasta, we both went for the special of spaghetti with pancetta, broccoli leaf and toasted breadcrumbs, while my brother and father went for trusty menu favourites – the squid ink tagliolini and the broccolini, anchovy and garlic orecchiette. I considered following my intolerances for all of 10 seconds, because Tipo 00 had made the delicious orecchiette fructose-friendly for me on a previous visit, but meh – future Sonia could worry about my reckless disregard on this occasion.
Most restaurants content themselves with serving their guests fluffy, high-quality bread with olive oil or balsamic vinegar, but not Tipo 00. Freshly baked strips of rosemary-filled focaccia with ricotta and basil oil arrived with a flourish, to the delight of us all.
After hesitating, only because I had to search through the contents of my bag for my beloved Lacteeze, I devoured my designated strip. My mum loved it so much she wanted another serve, but that’s the problem with fancy, complimentary dishes – is it taboo to ask for another? We never found out.
The two entrees arrived in quick succession. Though it looked incredibly pretty, the ocean trout terrine wasn’t what I expected – being conditioned as I was to terrine being something akin to a pate. Not that I was disappointed – the ocean trout was creamy and succulent, jazzed up by the acidic kick of the horseradish cream beneath it.
The grilled calamari was an absolute cracker of a dish, which was a relief because I’ve always thought of myself as a staunch anti-artichoke advocate (something to do with me not really knowing what it tasted like, buying a tin of it, making a risotto with nothing but for my then new boyfriend, and us staring awkwardly at each other, each too scared to admit we didn’t like it between each sickening mouthful). Sitting atop a bed of buttery Israeli cous cous with tendrils of this time delicious artichoke, this dish was potentially the highlight of my meal.
Despite knowing that broccoli leaf was an ingredient in my pasta special, I was somewhat crestfallen to discover that there was almost nothing but broccoli leaf in my pasta. There was an amazing melt-in-your-mouth piece of pancetta sitting on my pasta, which I nibbled on gratefully throughout the dish, but the scattered pancetta and the toasted breadcrumbs that were promised were near negligible. It conjured up memories of my mum’s healthy homemade pastas – which explains why she couldn’t stop praising the dish beside me, having ordered the exact same thing – but I couldn’t help but feel ripped off that this wasn’t the artery-clogging meal I had expected it to be. There was a lack of flavour to the dish, and none of the accompanying ingredients cut through the verdant wholesomeness of the broccoli leaf, which I’m sure would make it into your top 5 list of prescribed greens. Although this is purely a personal preference, the pasta also had fennel seeds, which I am not a fan of – more so even than artichoke.
I watched jealously on as my brother and father dug into their pastas, but because it’s been a family tradition to steal each other’s food from time immemorial, I pinched a few strands from each plate. My brother’s squid ink pasta was so fresh it tasted of the sea (in a good way), and my father’s orecchiette was every bit as rich and textured as I remembered.
I didn’t take a picture of this because, hunger, but the rosemary polenta chips were a great accompaniment to our main meals – I used it to mop up my pasta sauce and was genuinely sad we didn’t order two plates. But I am one for excess.
Which brings us to dessert. Not a family that can ever pass on a tiramisu, even Tipo 00’s rendition of one that goes under the name of ‘tipomisu’, we ordered that and the cake of the day – a polenta cake with yoghurt mousse, white chocolate crumbs and rhubarb.
The tipomisu was a revelation. Featuring a hollowed out chocolate brownie filled with mascarpone and cream, it was served to us after our waiter poured a caramel, espresso and dark chocolate hot sauce over it. I have shocked, and alienated, many friends with my general ambivalence toward desserts (sorry, potato chips all the way), but even I loved this. And the best part was: the bitterness of the coffee and the dark chocolate stopped this from being an overwhelmingly sickly sweet dessert.
I felt sorry for ol’ polenta cake sitting in the corner, but it really was very good – the yoghurt mousse and poached rhubarb added a welcome tartness to the sugariness of the white chocolate crumbs and the light polenta sat well in my stomach.
Which is very shocking after all the carbs ingested, but just goes to show – the effects of not following your intolerances aren’t always as you’d expect. Which is why I keep pushing the boundaries, sometimes successfully but mostly less so. I got lucky this time, and yes, a bloat score of 2 is considered getting away with it.
I made peace with my pasta and decided that next time, I would just stick to Tipo 00’s staple menu, which still contains so many dishes I want to try – the stinging nettles and saltbush risotto as well as the scampi, tomato and chilli pachheri chief among them. My family were highly satisfied with their experience and are – despite their preference for me to stay in a position for longer than two years – probably waiting for my next job change.
Tipo 00 is open from Monday to Saturday, from 11.30am to 10pm.