Where: Bontempo Pizzeria, 416-418 Brunswick Street Fitzroy
What: Cheapest pizzas on Brunswick Street after Bimbo’s
Who: Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat i.e. Mr WFYB, Monemoiselle and The Doc
Bloat score: 2 – The belt had to be completely removed
Bontempo Pizzeria may appear to be just another sleek Italian restaurant frequented by a well-heeled crowd, but a closer perusal of its menu reveals astoundingly good-value pizza, pasta and alcoholic beverages.
Sitting where miscellaneous pub Palookaville used to, relative newcomer Bontempo is reinvigorating the less frequented patch of Brunswick Street that includes Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew and vegan stalwart Yong Green. Patrons of Palookaville won’t recognise it – the mishmash of kitsch, ill-matching furniture and colourfully ornate walls have been replaced by long wooden tables and exposed brickwork, mainstays of any Melbourne establishment that prides itself on its cool factor. The result is a spacious, bright and open space that is immediately warm and welcoming, but not unlike pizzerias of its ilk.
What does set Bontempo apart is its prices. Pastas come in either entrée or main sizes and range from $12 to $21, with the upper echelons understandably occupied by pastas that contain fresh seafood. Pizzas come in small and large – which is unusual for a pizzeria that isn’t a fast food restaurant – and range from $11 to $18.50. Conversely, the large individual pizzas served at 400 Gradi, DOC Pizza and +39 cost between $20 and $30.
The reasonably priced pastas and pizzas encourage the notion of sharing, but there are a few impediments. Firstly, there’s me, and the availability of gluten-free pasta and gluten-free pizza prompts me to choose the former, partial as I am to a good plate of intolerance-friendly pasta. Vegans will rejoice that Red Sparrow aren’t the only ones serving up vegan pizza – Bontempo’s pizzas can be substituted with vegan cheese as well.
I steer clear from the tomato-based pastas due to the likely presence of onion and garlic – tempted as I am by the Matriciana and the Calabrese – and decide to go for the most Australian-sounding pasta I can find: the Panna e Avocado with chicken, mushrooms, cream, parmesan and you guessed it, avocado. This dish usually comes with rigatoni, but I ask for it with gluten-free fusilli and without any onion and garlic.
The second impediment to communal sharing is Mr WFYB, who can’t enter an Italian restaurant without ordering a Margherita for himself. This leaves Monemoiselle and The Doc free to share a few dishes between themselves without having to cater to an everything-intolerant person and a picky vegetarian – they go for the small Capricciosa with the $1 added option of artichoke, the small Salsicce & Fungi with pork and fennel sausage and mushroom, and the small Spaghetti Di Mare with prawn cutlets, scallops, shrimp, mussels and vongole tossed in olive oil, white wine and garlic.
The exceedingly affordable prices extend to the wine menu, where the most expensive bottle is a Hamelin Bay bottle of Shiraz at $42. The cheapest bottle of red and white respectively is $19, which brings the price of a glass of house wine to…almost $4? We decide to splurge and get a bottle (or two) of the Stefani Estate Pinot Noir at $38 a bottle, which is a nice and light drop for the evening (what am I saying, I don’t know wine, but I can say that this one tasted good).
The food takes a little while to arrive, but we are too enraptured by our reasonably priced glasses of wine to worry too much about it, particularly in a new restaurant that is just finding its feet.
The Doc – who, as her name suggests, saves lives while most of us are trying to stay awake in our office drone jobs – has a bite of my gluten-free fusilli and confesses that she can’t tell it’s lacking the all-important component of gluten, which is music to my ears. It is exceedingly good gluten-free pasta, with each spiral bathed in a rich and velvety white wine, parmesan and cream concoction that I only tackle after popping two Lacteeze. I like that the avocado remains in discernible little pieces, while the chicken and mushroom add a textured element to the otherwise homogenous dish. I do find the dish lacking in salt – which is easily rectified – and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask for a side serve of chilli flakes, which I douse all over my pasta. This is comfort food of the highest degree and exactly what I feel like.
Mr WFYB is a man of few dishes and can’t tell me much about his Margherita other than the fact that he likes it. To justify his miniscule appetite, Mr WFYB swears by the rule that it’s rude to completely finish your plate of food lest the host think they didn’t provide you with enough and leaves a slice of pizza untouched, despite this rule being inapplicable in a restaurant setting and one that only applies in East Asian countries such as China, where Mr WFYB has never ventured.
Monemoiselle, who first made an appearance on this blog due to our shared love of Houhai Dumplings, and The Doc find that the two pizzas and pasta that they’ve ordered between them is too much, but are complimentary about each dish.
The Spaghetti Di Mare is simple and fresh, with the plentiful notes of garlic accentuating the generous selection of seafood included. The Doc finds the addition of frozen shrimp superfluous to the dish, but is otherwise highly positive about the dish. Because they can’t finish it and I simply can’t resist, I avail myself of one forkful of spaghetti and it is every bit as garlicky as they say – my stomach recoils in simultaneous joy and pain as I await my moment of reckoning.
The flavours in the Salsicce & Fungi are well balanced, with the richness of the pork and fennel sausage counteracted by the vibrancy of the mushroom and parsley.
Again, I reason with myself that I can’t write this blog post without sampling more dishes on the table, and so I have a slice of the Capricciosa. The presence of grilled fresh artichokes elevates Bontempo’s Capricciosa above that of its contemporaries, and I enjoy it as much as an everything-intolerant pasta person can enjoy a pizza that is almost certainly going to make her sick.
I could have escaped with zero bloats after my maiden visit to Bontempo, but alas, my greed got the better of me and I paid the price for my one forkful of pasta and one slice of pizza the day after.
Bontempo is a pizzeria that doesn’t take itself too seriously – the ‘Tropical’, the ham, bacon and egg ‘Aussie’ and the pulled pork ‘Bont’ sit alongside more traditional Italian pizzas such as the Napoletana, Melenzane and Marinara. Similarly, Bontempo’s Carbonara doesn’t seem to follow the much-discussed no-cream rule. What it does do, however, is serve up a varied menu of simple yet memorable dishes that belies the incredibly reasonable price tag.
Bontempo Pizzeria is open from 5pm to 9.30pm Sunday to Thursday and from 5pm to 10pm Friday to Saturday.