Where: Primo, 104 High Street Northcote
What: Perfect pit stop after a movie at Westgarth, particularly, but not exclusively, if you’re vegan and/or coeliac
Who: Mama Mentor and Premature Nana
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
It’s common knowledge that I am Team Pasta as opposed to Team Pizza, but Italian restaurant Primo in Northcote had received such rave reviews that I was willing to loosen my stance for a night (it also so happened to be New Year’s Day, and Primo was one of the few restaurants open for trade). I was dining with Mama Mentor, an aspiring vegan, and Premature Nana, a relatively new vegetarian, which made the choice even easier – Primo has a clear vegan section and numerous vegetarian options. Both last appeared on Whatever Floats Your Bloat in mid-2017 in this review of Tora Dumplings.
Primo is plenty cool with its neon signs, green leather booths and marble terrazzo floors, and the perfect pit stop after watching a film at the Westgarth. As it turned out, I didn’t have to defect to Team Pizza – Primo is known for its hand-stretched organic flour pizza, but it does have a small, albeit well-curated, pasta section. I had the choice of a handmade gnocchi, casarecce and fettuccine as well as two spaghettis and one rigatoni, but alas all of them had high-histamine ingredients – the gnocchi had caramelised onions, the casarecce had tomato and eggplant, the fettuccine had mushrooms, and tomato featured heavily in the remaining three. Still unwilling to budge from my pasta preference, I ordered the handmade fettucine with chicken, mushroom and cream ($25) – although because I opted for the gluten-free version, I paid $3 extra for store-bought gluten-free casarecce instead. Primo is a Coeliac Australia-accredited restaurant and must have separate kitchens to prevent cross-contamination because upon ordering, my waitstaff asked me if I was coeliac.
I liked my pasta without loving it (that should teach me to order pasta in a pizzeria!). Traditionally a tomato-based pasta fan (is there anything better than a puttanesca or an arrabbiata?), I’ve struggled to adapt to my body’s disavowal of any pasta that isn’t cream-based or olive oil-based. The gluten-free casarecce was al dente yet pleasantly slippery, swimming in a pool of cream with thinly sliced button mushrooms, small chunks of chicken and parmesan shavings.
It was slightly too rich and indulgent for me – I tried to cut through the cream by sprinkling lots of chilli flakes atop the pasta, but let’s be honest, when do I not avail myself of chilli flakes? This is not to say that this pasta wasn’t good, more that it didn’t tickle my fancy in the way an olive oil-based one would’ve. It goes without saying that I took two Lacteeze beforehand (if only there was a pill that helped you ingest high-histamine ingredients).
Primo’s pizza menu is divided into vegetarian, vegan, meat + seafood, and local classics sections. Mama Mentor ordered the ‘terra bene’ pizza off the vegan section, which had an eggplant puree base topped with Swiss mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, pesto and roquette. Mama Mentor forewent the optional extra of vegan cheese but didn’t miss it at all – she remarked that this was one of the best vegan pizzas she’d ever had.
Premature Nana ordered the ‘white boy’ pizza off the vegetarian section, which comprised everything I can’t eat – caramelised onions and lots and lots of cheese (fior di latte, gorgonzola, smoked scamorza, and grana padano to be specific). She enjoyed her pizza but couldn’t finish the entire thing – she took nearly half of it away for later consumption and commented that it tasted just as good cold as a 10pm snack as it did fresh and piping hot (her initial plan was to have it for lunch the next day, but the allure proved too strong). Both of them complimented the thin and crisp crust that managed to steer clear of being dry.
If I were to have my time again at Primo, I’d definitely have a pizza – if I were following my intolerances, I’d order the ‘louie’ pizza off the vegan section with its roast pumpkin, garlic and vegan cheeses and if I wasn’t, I’d make a beeline for the ‘otto’ pizza which has nearly all my favourite ingredients jostling for space on one base (potato! pork sausage! chilli!).
Because we were visiting on a day when everyone was either hungover on the couch or hustling in the kitchen getting a headstart on their new year’s resolutions to cook more, we managed to nab a table without booking. On a regular night, however, you’d be best off booking or finding a seat at nearby bar Low Key and getting Primo pizza delivered there – the waitstaff even let us in on a secret: the pizza is cheaper if you order it from Low Key.
I escaped with one bloat this time, but may push the envelope of what my body can tolerate by ordering the ‘otto’ pizza next time.
Primo is open everyday from 5pm to 10.30pm.