Where: Small Axe Kitchen, 281 Victoria Street Brunswick
What: Pasta for breakfast
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
It’s certifiably unwise to follow up a bloat-filled dinner at Ricky & Pinky with breakfast pasta the morning after, particularly one that doesn’t come in a gluten-free version, but not for the first time, I couldn’t resist.
Not that Small Axe doesn’t have a plethora of delicious dishes that you can otherwise choose from. Bircher muesli gives way to a warm chestnut rice pudding, savoury lovers are well catered for with dishes that range from Sicilian meatballs to deep fried sandwiches, and sweet tooths can indulge in the likes of a citrus salad with candied rosemary and spiced sugar syrup as well as the intriguing grilled brioche, pistachio granita, espresso mousse and torrone with blood orange jelly.
I have it from an informed friend that Small Axe used to be a traditional Italian café and while it is now teeming with schmick hipsters who are willing to wait 45 minutes for a caffeine injection, chef Adam Pruckner has drawn heavily on his Sicilian heritage in the conception of Small Axe’s menu, retaining some of the old-school charm of his predecessor’s café.
The café itself contains a bustling front portion that is accompanied by an outdoor adjunct, after which it opens into an expansive sun-filled room with well-appointed wooden tables and hanging plants. It was a nice departure from those high stools that you’re sometimes forced to fold yourself into in packed cafes, perched on communal tables where you awkwardly try to talk while simultaneously eavesdropping on people’s conversations.
I can credit Small Axe with expanding my consumption of non-milk lattes to include the curious spelt latte. What is a spelt latte? Is it gluten-free? I didn’t have the compulsion to ask my waiter if it was because I was, after all, about to eat a full plate of pasta. A further Google search didn’t yield much, so I have to assume Small Axe has discovered the best kept secret since almond milk.
My bowl of breakfast pasta provoked envy in almost everyone who was sitting at the table. Reminiscent of an amazing pasta alla gricia that I wolfed down recently in Rome (as you do), the breakfast pasta featured al dente tubes of maccaruni cooked to perfection, with the refreshing addition of peas, mint and salted ricotta interspersed among bite-sized chunks of salty cured meat. The oozing yolk of a wobbly slow cooked egg coated the pasta, while the generous lashings of grated pecorino added a sharp bite to the dish. This all sounds like it may have been too much, and it might be if you’re a regular person who isn’t prone to consuming pasta for breakfast, but the serving size was just right.
Speaking of heart attack-inducing breakfasts, my friend outdid himself when he ordered the fried scarmoza sandwich with pickled green tomatoes, with the sides of a potato croquette with cheese sauce and charred thick bacon with fennel relish. His order was met with a bemused look from a rather judgemental waitress who proclaimed she’d only ever order such a thing were she hungover, and even then, she probably wouldn’t be able to bring herself to. Plz – no one ever needs an excuse to justify an order of cheese sauce.
Thick slices of sourdough bread sandwiching a generous amount of scarmorza cheese were deep fried, resulting in some serious ooze factor, and the bacon turned out to be more of a bacon steak rather than crispy rashers of bacon – although it did live up to its ‘charred thick bacon’ moniker. The fennel relish was a welcome and rather unusual addition, while the potato croquette seemed to be a posh hash brown, which is not to say it wasn’t amazing.
All other dishes incited sighs of contentment and nods of approval, while perhaps less of the heartburn experienced by me and my aforementioned friend.
Two friends ordered the polenta-crusted sardines with organic toast (whatever that means), smoked olive tapenade, and golden currants with pine nuts, which I would have been all over if [a] there wasn’t breakfast pasta and [b] the dish didn’t contain golden currants because I’m still scarred from the sultanas in my mum’s biryani.
Another friend ordered the Sicilian meatballs, which came with a slow cooked egg, pecorino and organic toast and the last friend on our table ordered the soft polenta with broad beans, peas, nettle, mint and lemon which looked akin to a green porridge and tasted even better.
Small Axe has ruined breakfast for me; I’ve never been so pleased with my decision to do away with my intolerances, which doesn’t often happen. Out with eggs on toast and in with various forms of breakfast pasta, I say.
Small Axe Kitchen is open from 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday and from 8am to 5pm Saturday to Sunday.