Where: Queen Margaret Pizzeria, 356 Queens Parade Fitzroy North
What: A quaint local, albeit with slightly underwhelming pizzas
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
I’d heard about the legendary Margheritas at Queen Margaret long before I migrated up north, but it took me close to two years after moving to the neighbourhood before I contemplated eating here. Call it my penchant for pasta over pizza, or the many pizza places within close proximity of my house – from the famed Supermaxi to the cheap and cheerful Bimbos – but I decided that it was finally time to pay Queen Margaret a visit.
A group of nine of us visited on a brisk Friday night and managed to snag ourselves a large table outside under the warmth of highly effective heaters. Too effective, some may say, as I was forced to relocate to chillier terrain down the end of the table to eliminate the hot flushes I was soon overcome by. The wood-panelled restaurant was close to empty inside but seemed to have a roaring takeaway business, with people popping in every few minutes to pick up pizzas.
True to its name, Queen Margaret has three types of Margheritas – the QM with tomato, fior di latte and basil; the QM II with tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil; and the QM III with tomato, basil, mozzarella and parmigiano – along with a varied selection of other pizzas, a calzone if you like them as much as Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation; and a few pastas for the non-pizza lovers among us. There are a couple of appealing small plates – from fried calamari with chilli salt to gruyere croquettes with aioli – but we decided to stick to pastas and pizzas, which is a relief because I would have certainly breached my intolerances for those croquettes.
I am a sucker for a good broccoli pizza, but was confused by Queen Margaret’s, which had ‘broccolini’ in the title but ‘broccoli’ in the explanatory blurb. Thankfully I like both. I ordered a gluten-free version of it, although the waiter warned me of traces of onion and garlic in the pre-prepared tomato sugo base.
It turned out to be a broccoli pizza, which unfortunately invited comparisons to the amazing equivalent that is served up at Kaprica. A smattering of cut red chillies lifted the mildness of the mozzarella, parmesan and taleggio in a few delightful mouthfuls, but there were too few chillies to give this pizza the zing factor it required. What I did appreciate were the spinach leaves that had been grilled to crisp perfection, and the thin and crusty gluten-free base.
My two friends immediately next to me chose to share between them the Easy Tiger pizza, which had tomato, prawns, fior di latte, chilli, cherry tomatoes and basil, and a mushroom pappardelle that was on the specials board.
The prawns on the Easy Tiger were numerous and plump, but both of my friends doused the pizza in copious amounts of chilli flakes, which spoke to the lack of flavour throughout the pizza because they’re not typical chilli fiends.
The pasta, on the other hand, was a complete bust. Watery mushrooms and gluggy pasta sat in a light vegetable broth that contained none of the heady flavours of the porcini, enoki and swiss browns. All my friends could taste was pungent garlic; not an entirely bad thing (unless you’re me or a vampire) they conceded, but not what they had expected the pasta to be.
My friend who ordered ‘The End of the Affair’ pizza, which seemed reminiscent of a Puttanesca with its anchovy, olives, capers and chilli, sombrely proclaimed the $4 equivalent at Bimbos a superior version. She said the pizza base, which was too doughy and heavy, overwhelmed the simple toppings.
The others fared better. My Margherita-loving partner couldn’t go past the QM while another two friends shared the QM III between them. The consensus was positive, although all of them found the tomato sugo base under-flavoured.
The friend who enjoyed her meal the most was the one who ordered the butternut pumpkin pizza with mozzarella, spinach, chèvre, pinenuts, thyme and tomato. The complex flavours of the roasted pumpkin, sharp chèvre and crispy spinach culminated in a well-balanced pizza.
With most people on the table sharing, I felt briefly self-conscious about my ability to finish an entire pizza, but my butternut pumpkin pizza-ordering friend nullified any such fears by finishing hers as well. My woeful small eater of a partner offered no help in this department and failed to finish his QM.
The service at Queen Margaret was hilariously uneven. One waiter, whom we presumed to be the owner, was brusque and unsmiling – going as far as to admonish my friend who ordered the mushroom pappardelle as his main because he had misheard him and thought he was ordering the measly peperonata (not that this should have presented a problem, in any case). Our second waiter, who was a doppelganger for Parks and Recreation’s Jean-Ralphio if I ever saw one and similar in disposition, was jaunty and high-spirited – bringing out a selection of cakes from the kitchen after we casually asked about desserts, teasingly calling my friend an Easy Tiger when clearing his plate, and asking us if we were going to ‘Revs’ after, because there’s nothing that prepares you for a night of revelry like consuming an entire pizza. The difference between the two waiters couldn’t have been starker.
Never satisfied unless I leave a meal bloated, I initiated a mass order of affogatos because none of the aforementioned cakes were gluten-free, much to Jean-Ralphio II’s disappointment. The combined espresso shot, Frangelico and vanilla bean ice cream was the perfect dessert cum digestif, but unfortunately left me with a single bloat – nothing too bad, but just enough for me to feel my tummy straining against my belt.
Queen Margaret provided the perfect setting for a group catch-up, but the pizzas were underwhelming if compared to my favourites Kaprica and Lazerpig. One of my friends said she’d had a better experience with their takeaway pizzas, but then we wouldn’t have encountered Jean Ralphio II. You win some, you lose some.
Queen Margaret Pizzeria is open from 5pm until late Tuesday to Sunday.