Blog Amnesty: The Beaufort, Baby, and ShanDong MaMa

As you may have noticed, posts have been thin on the ground here at Ballroom Blintz lately, as my life has been comprehensively taken over by my day job (speaking of my day job, EVERYONE COME SEE ALL THE FILMS AT MIFF!). Despairing slightly at my backlog of posts, I decided to take a leaf out of Claire from Melbourne Gastronome’s book and declare blog amnesty and do a few quick round ups of places I’ve recently visited before they completely slip out of my mind.

THE BEAUFORT

I’ve been wanting to visit The Beaufort for basically forever since hearing about it’s American-inspired pub food and the high level of friendly service from it’s staff. I popped along with a large group of friends (we were able to book a table, which is always nice these days), and we were all pretty impressed with the nautical fit out, and the fact that a place that had all the hallmarks of too-cool-for-schoolness was actually enormously welcoming.

Drinks-wise, there’s a lot of cocktails and mixes that are a bit of fun and won’t burn holes through your pockets in terms of price. I enjoyed both my Jerry ‘n’ cherry – Sailor Jerry with cherry coke and a slice of lime – and my Perfect Storm – Sailor Jerry with ginger beer and lime (honestly, name a drink after a film and I will order it every time no matter what’s in it).

For savoury I had the portobello mushroom burger, which I remember as being slightly a bit too sloppy for my liking due to the chefs going to town on the sauces, but otherwise it was enormously tasty, very American diner reminiscent. It’s also worth noting that The Beaufort do a lot of vegie and vegan dishes, so no one has to miss out on deep-fried treats.

Now here’s the really impressive part of the evening – the service. I am always interested to see what a venue’s staff do when things go wrong; I always figure it’s the best indication of a place’s real worth. So when we all initially ordered our dinners everything came out very promptly, except Schaefer’s meal (who incidentally spent the whole evening saying increasingly outrageous things in the hopes of getting quoted on this here blog. I AM NOT REPEATING ANY OF THE TERRIBLE THINGS YOU SAID, YOUNG MAN, I CARE TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUR FUTURE EMPLOYABILITY VIA GOOGLE SEARCHES!). Once staff were made aware that a meal was missing, the dish swiftly made it to the table, no dramas. Then we ordered dessert. I initially went with the ice cream sandwich. Soon enough, the same staff member who’d helped us retrieve Schaefer’s meal approached me wearing a facial expression that, as a table of seasoned hospitality workers, we all knew too well: “ohh shit something’s already gone wrong with this table and I don’t want to have to tell them something else is wrong!” They had unfortunately run out of ice cream sandwiches. I wasn’t unduly fussed, and asked if I could have the rhubarb and apple crumble instead. The enormously apologetic staff member wouldn’t even take the extra few dollars difference in price from me, and the crumble was such a deliciously comforting expanse of spicy stewed fruit and oaty topping that I was well pleased.

And then the staff brought us all a round of free tequila shots.

Yep, we’ll all be back.

The Beaufort

421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 8171

thebeaufort.com.au

BABY

For some reason I was unduly prejudiced against Baby since it launched. Not even the connection with my beloved Chin Chin could shake from me the impression that it all sounded a bit wanky – it probably had to do with hearing about the genitalia-shaped neon signs decorating the restaurant (SERIOUSLY JUST DEAR GOD WHY).

While I still stand by the opinion that wang lights are wanky as all get out, luckily the food was amazing enough to turn my doubting Thomas frown upside down. This had a lot of to with the fact that they have a PAN-FRIED PIZZA!

Seriously, don’t even bother looking any further past the buttata pan-fried with fiore di latte and cherry tomato quarters, this needs to be the very first thing you order. As it is pan-fried the dough ends up having this smoky, charred tang to it that ticked all my tastebud fancies. Throw in tons of oozing fiore di latte and this results in a happily moaning Hayley passed out under the table with a food coma.

In non-fried goodness, I also sampled the funghi pizza, which could have used a little more funghi to be honest, it was a bit sparse for my mushroom-loving liking, but otherwise thin, crispy and cheesy. I also insisted on a side of the green beans with tomato sauce as a vegetable-leavener, and ended up reveling in the fact that they were basically delicious tomato crack. Seriously, if you can even look past pizza when you go here, order the beans. Sweet, tomato-laden goodness.

Baby

631-633 Church Street, Richmond

Ph: 9421 4599

www.babypizza.com.au

SHANDONG MAMA

If you are expecting a dumplings gush-fest right now, well, that’s sort of what you’re going to get. As while I really like the vegan dumplings on offer here, it’s a very different dish that has actually stolen my heart.

Everyone across town seems to adore ShangDong MaMa, and after a couple of visits now I’m certainly in the camp of having quite a bit of affection for this wee, unpretentious dumpling house hidden away down a Chinatown arcade. The vegan zucchini steamed dumplings are the only vegie dumplings on offer, but they are definitely well worth sampling, filled to bursting with shreds of zucchini and herbs. Mix your own dipping sauce from the pots of soy, vinegar and chilli on the tables and get dumpling dunking.

I’ve had a couple of other vegetarian dishes, too, with varying levels of success. The garlic broccoli, as I was warned by a waiter, does indeed come out “European style”, with little boiled florets covered in minced garlic. Nice if you like your greens with garlic (which I do), but very basic. The sesame noodles were similarly quite rustic, with soft, handmade noodles served with shredded zucchini and carrot, and topped with a sesame paste that you mix through to coat the noodles and vegetables. Quite tasty and nicely unusual, but definitely the sort of thing that is best to share, as it gets a bit samey when tackled by yourself.

But the dish that now haunts my dreams is the scallion pancake. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it is less a pancake than two bulky pyramids of potato strands twisted together with splashes of spring onion rounds dotted through it. The strands are crisp on the outside, and as you pull at them (this is very much a fingers dish, good table manners be damned), you uncover the soft centre where the hot potato literally melts in your mouth. It’s a textural wonderland, and deceptively flavour-packed, and if it was a person I would marry it and be contently entranced with its simple, home-crafted charms.

ShanDong MaMa

Midcity Arcade, Shop 7, 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 3818

www.facebook.com/shandongmama

Ladro Greville Street

Shameful confession time: I had never been to EITHER of the Ladros before I received an invitation from Joe to join him at the Prahran location for his birthday dinner. Me, who has such a love for thin-crust pizza. Heavens! This was an oversight I was terribly keen to rectify.

Now, I am going to tackle this particular review a little differently to my normal meandering method. While I loved Ladro’s food with a mad passion, there were several aspects of service that I found problematic. So I’m going to get all my grumps out of the way first before plunging into the delight of the food.

First of all, the waitstaff that we encountered were quite cold in demeanor. The gent in charge of our table was taciturn, unsmiling, and attempted to rush through our ordering in an unpleasantly brusque manner. Other staff were not quite so bad, but there was virtually zero interaction apart from “Your pizza is now in front of you, now WHOOSH! off I go into the night.”

Then there was the wait for food. Now, I am a deeply impatient person, I do not like to wait for anything (reason why you will never see reviews here of any of those places that don’t take reservations and you have to wait for hours to get in. “Two hour wait for tables?! FUCK OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOFF!”). But often waits for food can be alleviated by the quality of your company, and in the case of this Ladro visit I was in extremely good company, so I was happily distracted for a good while. But then that silence descended upon the table – you know exactly what kind – where everyone simultaneously realised that we’d been waiting a very long time for food. In all, we waited 45 minutes before any food reached the table. The space had not even been half-full when we ordered, and we received no word from waiters on whether our orders would be reaching us soon, even when it became obvious that we were all getting restless and muttering, making me think that perhaps this kind of wait is the standard. Disappointing.

Now, here’s the final doozy. Let me detail how you really tick Hayley off in a pizza restaurant: give her a pizza she has to cut up herself. Seriously, can this insistence on giving customers whole, uncut pizzas just die in the arse already? Or at least can we be provided with cutlery that can actually manage the job without causing extreme discomfort? The pointer finger on my fork hand nearly bent over backwards with the pressure of trying to cut through the crust, and I wasn’t the only one in our party nursing very sore hands afterward. Nor was I the only one muttering darkly that the cutlery was exactly the same as what’s provided at Lucky Coq, and at the very least their uncut pizzas are only $4!

Right, I promise that is the last gripe out of the way, now here’s the delicious goodness!

The pizza bases at Ladro are thin. Ever so thin. They crisp at the edges and bubble with air pockets that shatter into slightly charred triangles of crunchy delight. They not only manage to be crispy, but they are also chewy, the kind of satisfying chew that massages your molars. These bases are so damn good that when I was starting to get full I seriously considered scraping off the topping and just hoeing down on the carbs.

But that is not to suggest that the topping was bad, oh no! My boscaiola – flor di latte, porcini, field mushrooms and thyme – was a gorgeously rich spread, with abundant mushrooms and melty, stretchy, pungent cheese.

Indeed, every pizza that reached our table was a beautiful thing to look at. Clare’s potato pizza was all overlapping potato slices with the occasional dot of green in the form of rosemary and basil. Catherine’s salami delivered on it’s promise and was covered in equally-spaced rounds of red salami swimming agreeably in tomato and mozzarella, like an edible polka-dot pillow cover. Schaefer’s puttanesca was undoubtably the prettiest, all full cherry tomatoes and whole black olives perched on top, although Jojo’s gamberi e piselli came close, with big fat prawns surrounded by a fringe of green peas and basil.

Joe and Muffin had the best idea though, in that they shared a boscaiola and a Scout’s pizza (tomato, taleggio, caramelised onion, dressed rocket and parmigiano) between them. It was the best idea because even though these are great tasting pizzas, they are BIG pizzas, and having a single one to yourself does get a little arduous. Both Muffin and Joe expressed their satisfaction in having a bit of variety. So I will definitely be following their example next time.

So even with all my service gripes, I’m keen for there to be a next time? Yep! Ladro provided pizzas that were just as delicious and well-crafted as I had hoped to imagine, and there are plenty of vegetarian options that I am keen to explore (starting with the Scout’s pizza. Food envy!). Although I must admit that I’ll probably try out the Gertrude Street original before heading back to the Prahran location, in the hope that perhaps the level of service northside is a bit more polished.

Ladro

162 Greville Street, Prahran

Ph: 9510 2233

http://www.ladro.com.au/