I’ve previously stated that Fitzroy’s Ladro makes one of my favourite pizzas in Melbourne and until now I’ve not veered away from Ladro Gertrude to visit its sister restaurant Ladro Greville in Prahran.
Ladro Greville is a bigger, glossier version of the original restaurant. The antipasti/pizza/pasta/roast menu is familiar, as is the easy conviviality of the dining room and the friendly staff. Ladro Greville has the advantage of a much larger courtyard area and more space and thus is more suitable for children and large gatherings – plus of course more seating means less of a wait for a table.
I was invited to sample Ladro’s new menu by Italian chef Niko Pizzimenti. The owners hunted for over 7 months for the right person to come along – they wanted someone brought up in Italy and obviously with a passion for the cuisine. While his menu is firmly rooted in his home country and his family’s traditions, it uses ingredients which are 75% sourced locally and 25% imported, in keeping with the owners’ philosophy of using local produce where possible (they even have beehives on the roof!).
We started with antipasti with a modern twist – wagyu bresaola with walnuts, horseradish and orange oil ($15.50), an artful pile of creamy 16 month aged San Daniele proscuitto paired with a sweet rockmelon jam ($15.50) and cold smoked bufala mozzarella the size of your fist ($15.50). Can’t go too wrong with good quality cured meat and cheese but I recommend saving your appetite for other things.
The calamari fritti ($13.50) used to be fried with a traditional breadcrumb batter but after so many requests from customers the kitchen have perfected a gluten-free flour mixture, making them a hit with the gluten-intolerant. The calamari is caught from Port Phillip Bay and it was tender, the casing light and perfect dipped in the lime and garlic aioli.
Our last small-sized dish was in the form of a juicy chargrilled Moreton Bay bug tail resting on a pool of thick Tuscan and tomato bread soup ($12.50).
As always, Ladro’s pizzas were excellent. I particular favour their chewy, bubbly charred crusts and the toppings, though simple, are allowed to shine. No ‘super supreme meat lover chicken teriyaki’ horrors here and each pizza is made to order – it takes one minute to make one pizza using a team of 3 people.
Case in point – the chef’s favourite is the Bianca which is brazenly simple. Sliced onion, bufala, fior di latte and proscuitto – nowhere to hide. The bufala from Carlton’s La Latteria is so fresh that sometimes it arrives in the kitchens the same day it is made.
My favourite pizza is topped with fat slabs of fresh porcini, snap frozen and air freighted from Italy, the earthiness of the mushrooms heighted by the smoked bufala ($21.50).
For those who are gluten intolerant all the pizzas can be made with gluten-free bases. The bases are made every second day using a mixture of soy, rice, corn and tapioca flour and are proved, risen and rolled in a way similar to traditional bases. The kitchen is completely cleared out when the gluten-free bases are made and stored in a separate area to minimise the risk of contamination.
Given that I only ever order pizza at Ladro I was blown away by the pasta. The filled pastas are made fresh every day by Niko’s Zia Piera – an exacting Italian lady who works 5 days a week to turn out the pasta for the two restaurants. The dish of the night for me was the basil tortellini filled with fresh blue swimmer crab, fragrant basil, cherry tomatoes and a hint of chilli ($26.50). Also try the baked gnocchi al forno (alla Sorrentina) which is the chef’s family recipe, the sort of thing eaten at a Sunday gathering ($23).
To finish off we were offered two of the menu’s stalwart dessert dishes – bomboloni and pannacotta (both $11). As I’ve said before, Ladro’s lightly fried bomboloni with vanilla bean ice cream and blood orange syrup are not too be missed.
The perfect orbs of sugared fried dough are the kind of dish that would cause a riot if ever removed from the menu. Such is its iconic status that even the excellent pannacotta with salted caramel and poached pear pales in comparison.
Finally, make sure you take a bathroom break! Co-owner Ingrid Langtry used to design bathrooms and I loved the white diagonal tiling (apparently a joke on having too much wine and seeing things lopsided) and hand-spun metal basins from a foundry in Coburg. I felt daft taking my camera into the loo with me so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself!
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