Hello dearies! A little diversion from my cheap eats theme today in order to give you the skinny on a brand new dining location in Mt Lawley. Normal service shall resume shortly though for those of you that are still keen to get out and about on a budget, so don’t fret now.
The humble pizza. The second half of the 20th century saw this unassuming Italian street food spread like wildfire around the globe and it has now reached a state of near ubiquity. Small wonder too as it has a bready base, tasty toppings and you can eat it with your hands. What’s not to love, right? Along the way it’s seen more than a few reinventions; from greasy fast food fodder to fusion inspired gourmet delight and pretty much everything in between. Given this, when I heard that the folks behind Cantina 663 and El Publico were opening in a new, trendy pizza joint in Mt Lawley I was a little curious as to what they were going to bring to the already crowded table.
Situated on Beaufort St in what was formerly Barolo, Ace Pizza has gone for a funky, urban take on Italian cuisine. The entrance is to the side (front door entrances are so last decade), the staff all wear t-shirts emblazoned with a capital A, C or E and the layout is all plush booths with a dimly lit green and black motif. In that regard at least they have managed to come up with something pretty unique. Even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what they were going for décor wise, it was nevertheless an interesting space that will no doubt appeal to the super-cool urban diners that are Ace’s target market.
Perusing the menu it was a case of Italian food re-imagined by the Gen Y set. Traditional items like salami, mortadella and pizza are sat alongside more adventurous fare such as ‘fried mac n cheese’, ‘beets n salted ricotta’ and ‘swordfish, charred cauliflower n pine nut’. Similarly, the drinks and cocktail list was littered with Italian staples given a modern twist. Special mention must also be given to the wine list as the folks at Ace Pizza have taken the time to craft an interesting selection of imported Italian stuff and locally produced Italian varietals. This means you’re able to find a Fiano from Margaret River and an Arneis from the Adelaide hills alongside your Chianti, Soave and Vermentino shipped in from the mother country. Very nice work indeed. While we decided on food a couple of us were intrigued by the Americano cocktail on tap (capari, rosso, vermouth and soda, $9) and so started with that. Fizzy and bitter as one would expect, it was an interesting, refreshing way to start the meal but I don’t think I’ll be rushing back for one any time soon.
For starters my partners in crime and I were unable to avoid the decadent allure of the ‘fried mac n cheese’ ($7) and so also ordered the much healthier ‘chop chop beef’ ($14) too. Upon questioning our waitress as to exactly how one would go about frying macaroni cheese, she described how they cook and then chill the aforementioned cheesy pasta dish, cut it in to squares and then crumb and deep fryt. This pretty much describes it perfectly, and can I just say; OH…MY…GAWD! The crunchy, crumbed outside contrasted delightfully with the oozy béchamel laden macaroni underneath. Thank heavens there was only enough for half a cube’s worth each as we all agreed we could have quite happily polished the lot off on our own (and lived to regret it afterwards). The beef was finely chopped skirt steak served raw with an olive oil, rosemary and lemon dressing and some crisp bread. While it was nice and definitely made for a good contrast to the fried sinfulness for the mac n cheese, I felt it could have done with a little more lemon juice in the dressing to give it a lift. That being said, I applaud them for having the courage to put it on the menu and it’s great to see new places being adventurous and taking some risks.
For mains we went for two pizzas, the Lincoln Lady with san marzano tomato, mozzarella, black olive, anchovy n very hot salami ($20), the Amalfi with prawn, lemon, garlic, capers and basil ($22) along with the ‘mushies and polenta’ ($15) from the wood grilled section and the fat pasta, rabbit and porcini ($21). Now I have good and bad news to deliver, so I’ll start with the positive and move on to the negative. The good news is that the mushies n polenta and rabbit pasta were amazing. Served on a bed of soft, creamy polenta (not that horrible instant bright yellow stuff that you may have been assaulted with before), a variety of mushrooms were grilled to perfection and served topped with some herbs and a generous lashing of grated parmesan cheese. Adopting the current trend of cutting up fresh lasagne sheets to make chunky ribbons of pasta they topped it off with succulent braised rabbit and sautéed porcini mushrooms in a light creamy sauce. I’m a sucker for rabbit and don’t see it on menus anywhere near enough for my liking, and this was one of the nicest examples of it I’ve ever tasted.
Now on to the bad news: the pizza. To put it simply, it was rubbish. I know a few of you out there are thinking “how can you stuff up pizza?”, but believe me, it’s harder than it looks. As with all good Italian food it’s in the details; the right recipe for crispy dough, a good tomato base and the right blend of ingredients on top. Sadly, Ace Pizza managed none of this. The base was doughy, seemed a little undercooked and was a bit sloppy. While I’m not exactly sure what they put in to their tomato base, it had that Dolmioesque preservative taste. Finally, the toppings weren’t much chop either. We’ve since figured that they gave us a Ms Loren (spicy sausage, ricotta and lemon) instead of our desired Lincoln Lady, but even letting that slip the sausage was lacking in oomph and everything else was pretty bland too. The Amalfi was a bit better but way too salty and I’m sorry, but if I’m paying $22 for a seafood pizza I expect real prawns and not those tiny shrimp you get out of a tin. Very poor form indeed. They could definitely learn a thing or two from Neighbourhood Pizza down the road in Mt Hawthorn.
Thankfully, things picked up again when we got out tiramisu donut and ace soft serve for dessert. If I thought that the fired mac n cheese was heart-attack inducing enough, then the donut took things to a whole other level. Fried, coated in sugar and filled with an amazing coffee liqueur custard, our only saving grace once again was that we only had a quarter of one each. Now perhaps it’s just me, but this new craze for home-made soft serve is a little baffling as I really can’t taste the difference between it and the stuff you get from a Mr Whippy Van (and they have flakes and will dip it in chocolate for you). That being said, Ace Pizza manages to make it fun by giving you a bottle of salted caramel sauce, a bottle of ‘ace’ magic (get it?) and a small tub of honeycomb and one of biscuit crumble, thus allowing you to essentially make your own sundae. Sweet, tasty and interactive, it was a good way to round off the meal.
In summing it up, I’d have to say that ironically enough the only thing that wasn’t ace was the pizza. It’s funky, it’s got a good feel, the service was decent and most of the food was fantastic. That being said, maybe I’m just missing the point here. No one uses the term ‘ace’ seriously anymore, so perhaps it was intended with irony and is all some kind of uber-hip situationalist joke that I didn’t pick up on. I hope so, because given how right they got everything else it would explain why the pizza was so woeful; it was meant to be.