Where: Fratelli Fresh, 7 Alfred Place Melbourne
What: An Italian franchise that craps all over Vapiano
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
“This menu is designed to be shared” is a phrase that strikes fear into the heart of every FODMAP-intolerant person out there. It’s a choice between alienating all your friends and struggling to suppress your farts as your stomach becomes increasingly more engorged – I usually go for the latter (sorry friends).
At Fratelli Fresh, it was a little from column A and a little from column B. I was fully intending to disregard my intolerances for the night until the waiter ended his introductory repartee with the words: “does anyone have any dietary requirements?” Excoriated under my partner’s pointed looks, I decided to come clean and was pleasantly surprised by the waiter’s existing knowledge of the fact that onion and garlic were out of bounds for me.
When asked if Fratelli Fresh serves up gluten-free pasta, however, is where things turned dicey.
Me: Is there a gluten-free pasta option?
Waiter, shifting uncomfortably: Ah, no. We have gluten-free pizza bases, but here at Fratelli Fresh we pride ourselves on making the best pasta we can, and…
Me: Gluten-free pasta is shit?
Waiter, laughing in a relieved manner: …you said it, not me.
Any sensible person would have gone for a pizza (and why wouldn’t you when there’s a clam bake option?) but I was really in the mood for pasta. Although the tomato-based pastas had onion and garlic in them, I was told I could order one of the following three: the rich and strongly flavoured Penne alla Gricia, the waiter’s favourite Tortelli alla Lombarda or the Linguini alla Vongole.
Tempted as I was by the rare prospect of a seafood pasta without garlic, I went with the Penne alla Gricia because I have yet to be disappointed by a dish that contains guanciale, the Italian cured meat that is the star of all Pasta alla Gricia (refer to this amazing guanciale, chilli and pecorino pizza I had at SPQR and the unforgettable guanciale breakfast pasta at Small Axe Kitchen).
Our convivial waiter recommended a couple of onion- and garlic-free antipasti, although his highly touted ricotta meatballs with tomato and parmesan wasn’t one of them. Reassured that all bruschetta could be made with regular butter instead of garlic butter (sigh), I decided to share the chopper liver and sage option with an accommodating friend. Although my vegetarian partner doubted the goodness of a dish synonymous with an epithet that means little value or worth, I was highly excited to indulge my love of innards until the slumped shoulders of the waiter entered my peripheral vision. The chopped liver was marinated in onion, as all good things are, so we went for the heirloom tomato and basil bruschetta instead.
The edges of the bruschetta were charred and smoky with a perfect level of crunch, and the multi-coloured heirloom tomatoes were crisp and fresh.
Our dishes arrived in quick succession after.
I enjoyed my dish a great deal. Al dente bite-sized tubes of penne were coated in Parmesan and oil, with jackpot bits of guanciale adding pleasing bursts of saltiness throughout. Presented with the likes of chilli oil, chilli flakes and fresh chillies on the side, I foolishly chose the oil, which meant my already oily dish became oilier after I was done. Fresh chilli next time, I think.
My friend ordered the Tortelli Alla Lombarda, which comprised big triangular pockets filled with soft roasted pumpkin and a syrupy fruit reduction. Coated with Parmesan and pinenuts, the tortelli proved every bit as good as the waiter promised.
The two boys were the only ones to heed the waiter’s recommendation to share, and split the gnocchi with tomato, basil and Parmesan and a Margherita between them. I sampled the gnocchi and was bowled over by its pillowy texture and the simple yet striking flavours.
I didn’t taste the Margherita because we all know what one tastes like, even though I was told this was better than most.
Fratelli Fresh was quick and casual, yet unstinting in its selection of high-quality pastas and pizzas. Dietary intolerances are well understood, though coeliacs and gluten-intolerant diners may have to opt for the pizzas instead.
We visited on a Thursday night and the place was only half-full, which is perplexing when the abomination Vapiano, which is an Italian franchise down on Flinders Lane for those who are lucky enough to have not encountered it yet, is packed to the rafters every day of the week.
I escaped with only one bloat, which I credit to the waiter who assiduously ensured that nothing I ate had a trace of onion and garlic. I’ll be back, and I intend to be slightly less strict in following my intolerances next time round – if only so I can have that chopped liver and sage bruschetta.
Fratelli Fresh is open from 11.30am to 3pm and from 5pm to 9pm Monday to Sunday.