Postmistress, Brunswick West

Where: Postmistress, 71 Melville Road Brunswick West

What: Exquisite Italian catering to the vegans and coeliacs among us

Who: Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Papa Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Mama Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Whatever Floats Your Bloat Bro

Bloat score: 2 – The belt had to be completely removed

It’s somewhat of a family tradition to celebrate milestones at Italian restaurants – the perennial favourite is Sicilian Brunswick East mainstay Bar Idda, but we’ve also ventured to Rosa’s Kitchen, Rosa’s Canteen when Rosa’s Kitchen ceased to be a thing, Tipo 00 and Umberto Espresso Bar, among others.

WFYB Bro – whose existence may come as a surprise to anyone who thinks I’m an only child – was in town from Sydney, and I’d heard so much about Postmistress in Brunswick West that I decided we should venture there on a sunny Sunday evening.

Housed in an expansive corner building on the unassuming Melville Street, Postmistress is for the locals on a strip where there’s not much else. The atmosphere on a Sunday night was raucous and lively – the longer stretch of sunlight thanks to the blessing of daylight savings had brought hordes of families out on a night traditionally designated for meal prepping. Laughter erupted from every corner of the restaurant. To their credit, neither Papa WFYB nor Mama WFYB complained once about the noise.

Service was brusque yet attentive after a brief spate of trying to catch a waitstaff’s attention so we could order, much to the chagrin of my parents who love ordering as soon as they sit down (the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, though I like to think I’m more patient).

It’s not an Italian dinner with the Nairs unless calamari fritti is eaten, so we ordered that alongside Postmistress’s cazzilli di patate (Sicilian potato croquettes) and a sole pea and ragu arancino for WFYB Bro. The calamari was lightly dusted with flour and then briefly deep-fried, the result of which were delightfully springy and fresh tendrils of seafood. The perennially picky Mr WFYB was in an intrepid mood and tried a tendril of calamari, only to baulk and wash it down with his ‘chaser’ of potato croquette.

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The perfectly crumbed oblongs of deep-fried potato mashed together with three cheeses (mozzarella, parmigiano and smoked scarmoza) in our double serves of cazzilli di patate were comforting, moreish and deceptively filling. The base of truffle mayo accentuated the smokiness of the cheeses, though its strong, meaty aftertaste threatened to overwhelm the more delicate flavours of the croquette.

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WFYB Bro gave his arancino a solid tick of approval.

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The four of us, bar Mr WFYB, ended up going for similar main meals. Papa WFYB can never go past risotto and Mama WFYB can never go past salmon so they decided to split the daily salmon risotto special and the paccheri pasta with lamb ragu between them. I had a last-minute change of mind and switched from the gluten-free potato gnocchi with Swiss chard, pumpkin, nutmeg and mascarpone to the salmon risotto too, while WFYB Bro also opted for the paccheri pasta with lamb ragu.

Postmistress is great at catering to various dietary requirements – two of the pasta dishes were naturally gluten-free and pizzas came with the option of gluten-free bases. Each dish on the menu was labelled with V, VG, GF and DF for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free respectively with additional instructions available for dishes that could be made vegan and dairy-free.

Mr WFYB can never go past pizza, but mixed things up by going for the popular Postmistress pizza Brucia Culo instead of his usual Margherita, though he surmised the Brucia Culo was basically a Margherita topped with hot salami. He asked me what nduja – one of the pizza’s main ingredients – was and wasn’t perturbed when I answered with: “spicy, spreadable pork salami”. How far he’s come.

Postmistress’s wood-fire oven takes 90 seconds to cook all its traditional-style pizzas and the Brucia Culo was no different – lightly charred edges gave way to thin yet fluffy dough, with the simplicity of the ingredients brought to the fore by their high quality. Mr WFYB greatly enjoyed his ‘adventurous’ foray into meat pizzas and almost finished his entire pizza after stuffing his face with entrees, no mean feat for someone who has the appetite of a beetle.

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Each grain of rice in the salmon risotto had been cooked until al dente, and the herbaceous broth it was sitting in perfectly complemented the small morsels of salmon folded in throughout. In hindsight however, my first option may have been better for my histamine-intolerance – I can’t tolerate stock or onion (according to my dietician’s hand-out) and the gluten-free potato gnocchi would have had neither.

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Papa WFYB doesn’t usually enjoy overly meaty dishes, but he adored the lamb ragu paccheri pasta, as did WFYB Bro. The flat, wide tubes of paccheri pasta, akin to oversized penne, had been tossed with a rich, tomato-heavy sauce comprising large chunks of slow-cooked lamb.

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I’d forgotten that I’d ordered a serve of verdura (seasonal vegetables) for the table and was expecting a medley of vegetables, only to be served with three corn halves. To be fair, they were nicely charred corn cobs served with the same smoky truffle mayo that was served alongside the potato croquettes – it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

By this stage, I was feeling uncomfortably full and struggling to sit upright in my chair – a fairly surprising response to a fairly innocuous meal as far as histamine intolerances go. I thought I may have just been full, but the onset of bloating the next day proved that this Italian meal wasn’t quite as intolerance-friendly as I had first believed. Damn the perfectly scrumptious salmon risotto for ensnaring me at the very last minute.

It’s also not an Italian dinner with the Nairs unless tiramisu is ordered as dessert. I wasn’t able to partake in any more eating at this stage, even though the tiramisu was gluten-free, but everyone bar Mr WFYB shared Postmistress’s tiramisu as I looked balefully on. Mama WFYB thought the sponge fingers weren’t soaked in as much alcohol as she’d like, but was without complaint otherwise.

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Postmistress has all the hallmarks of my family’s favourite Italian restaurants – calamari fritti and tiramisu is on the menu for Mama WFYB, risotto is on the menu for Papa WFYB and pizza is on the menu for Mr WFYB. Postmistress’s menu is a stellar combination of traditional pastas and pizzas that cater to various dietary requirements with aplomb. Add this to your list.

Postmistress is open from Monday to Friday from 12 to 3pm and 5 to 10pm, and from Saturday to Sunday from 12pm to 11pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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