13/20

Baby

631-633 Church St, Richmond, VIC

All Details
Baby's guanciale alla carbonara pizza.
Baby's guanciale alla carbonara pizza. Photo: Eddie Jim

Larissa Dubecki

"SINCE EVERYONE IS IN THE same predicament, restaurant lines are often a good way to meet people and make friends. Be this as it may, most people when they go to eat dinner do so because they are hungry and want to spend a pleasant evening, and standing in line for an hour … tends to leave one neither satiated nor in a very friendly frame of mind.'' The Moscow Gourmet, 1974.

Lightning strikes twice. Baby, the Italian answer to Chris Lucas' runaway Thai locomotive Chin Chin, has opened to the same scenes of mass hysteria assuming the form of queues 100 deep. Why? Who knows, but it's the restaurant equivalent of the Beatles.

How a humble Italian tratt serving pizza and pasta (pretty good pizza and pasta, but, you know …) can inspire such devotion ought to be on a marketing syllabus. Each opening of a Lucas restaurant proves he has tapped into a gestalt, mystically attuned to the needs of his young dining acolytes.

Baby is the restaurant equivalent of The Beatles.
Baby is the restaurant equivalent of The Beatles. Photo: Eddie Jim

But as Moscow Gourmet points out across the distance of 38 years and a defunct socio-political philosophy, queueing sucks. You might opt for less-fashionable dining times and establishments, but Lucas is smart to bank on the cannibalistic logic of human nature: if there is a queue, whatever waits at the end must be worth it. As far as I can see, his formula for success takes the tried and true - use good produce, cook it well and don't leave your audience feeling ripped off - and sprinkles it with the fairy dust of pop culture. Hence Baby's bespoke neon lights, which make pop-art allusions to genitalia. Another first.

Fine diner Pearl has been erased from this corner spot. After a cut and blow-dry it looks like funky restaurants tend to do now: more Scandi than Italy, with an Ikea's worth of blond wood, tan-coloured canvas used liberally for warmth and texture, and bar seating around the open kitchen all the better to soak up the mise-en-scene of stressed chefs.

It has the feel of a family restaurant - not too fancy, durable, wipeable - and at an early hour before the queue-nistas take over it appears well-behaved young diners are made welcome. There's one in the bathroom, stripped to her undies after a spill but still exclaiming happily to her mum about the pizza. Quite rightly. The new Melbourne norm, it's crisp rather than crunchy and passes the one-hand test.

Like all good pizza, it makes a virtue of its simplicity. Silver dashes of salty anchovy season a zucchini version emblazoned with the sunshiny yellow of the flowers, tiny green discs of baby stem and mint leaves trapped in a puddle of fiore di latte. Guanciale - cured pork jowl - is a melting moment of porcine perfection, matched with non-rubbery egg yolks for the perfect iteration of the breakfast-for-dinner trend.

You could hit the pizza menu hard and walk away happy, but queueing for longer than eating would make a mockery of the exercise. The intrinsic modesty of the starters list is right for the clientele, who probably won't care that the charcuterie, which wins points for the lardo and loses them for an ordinary bresaola, isn't sliced to order. There's a snowy tumble of fresh buffalo ricotta curds, all salty-lactic with a slightly sour edge; and pink slices of olive-studded mortadella, branded by the griller for smoky sweetness. Under-seasoned fried sardines with tired-looking battered zucchini ooze oil, and a trio of polenta wedges topped with gorgonzola, salami and mushrooms is unremarkable.

Pasta is a good bet. The ragu served with firm-to-the-bite rigatoni is a good 'un, the beef cooked until fibrous but not stringy and not too stewy (nor, conversely, gelatinous - but you'll know what kind of ragu does it for you).

A main of white-wine-braised rabbit - good value at $24.50 - is expert cooking of a difficult meat with the sophisticated note of tarragon. And tiramisu is no cliche when it's seven layers of happiness dusted in chocolate.

Baby could be resting on its laurels, but the Italian-leaning wine list suggests care as well as commitment to the thinner wallets of the Gen Y crowd, and the waiters are doing as well as can be expected under a state of siege.

Pizza and pasta are a big subject in this Italian-hearted town, and the food doesn't quite make the top of the league table, but that hardly matters to the crowds that materialise out of nowhere each evening.

There is alchemy at work here. Chris Lucas must be laughing.

THE LOW-DOWN
The best bit The energetic vibe
The worst bit Getting a table
Go-to dish Guanciale alla carbonara pizza

Wine list Italian-leaning with enough affordable options
We drank Arrivo Rosato di Nebbiolo (Adelaide Hills, SA), $56
Vegetarian Four starters, nine pizzas, four pastas
Dietary Ample choice under starters and mains, gluten-free pizza options
Service Straightforward
Value Fair
Noise An ear-crunching roar
Parking Street

 

How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.

12 Reasonable 13 Good if not great 14 Solid and enjoyable 15 Very good 16 Capable of greatness 17 Special 18 Exceptional 19 Extraordinary 20 Perfection

Restaurants are reviewed again for The Age Good Food Guide and scores may vary.

 

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631-633 Church St, Richmond, VIC

  • Cuisine - Italian
  • Prices - Typical starter, $14.50; pizza, $16.50; main, $24.50; dessert $9.90
  • Features - Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating
  • Chef(s) - Dominic Pipicelli
  • Owners - Chris Lucas
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Daily, 7am-late
  • Author - Larissa Dubecki
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Reader ratings (26)

13 comments so far

  • I ventured a few weeks ago. The pizza was excellent, the service personable, menu charming, the prices ok. The main negative was the obscene volume inside. I appreciate, being in the architectural industry, a chic warehouse-style but perhaps a little noise attenuation.

    Commenter
    danM
    Location
    Melburn
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 2:56PM
    • Thanks for that feedback we have infact addressed this issue with new sound absorbing tiles that were on order but didn't arrive in time for opening. we're pleased to say they are now in and with an immediate impact. we look forward to seeing you soon

      Commenter
      eat@thelucasgroup.com.au
      Location
      Date and time
      January 01, 2013, 3:22AM
  • ".......for the perfect iteration of the breakfast-for-dinner trend."

    breakfast for dinner trend?? are you bonkers or am i reading too much in this?? sigh..nevermind

    Commenter
    melbourne foodie
    Location
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 3:26PM
  • I had to sign up for this one. The single worst Italian dining experience of all time. Starters were tasteless, and that's saying a lot if sardines and mortadella tasteless. Orichette with broadbeans (3) and peas also had zero flavour, and the pasta was RAW (not al dente). Also the Rabbit was very poor too. Had the wrong beer delivered to me too (not a massive issue) and staff that were not interested in us whatsoever. Also staff not sticking to their sections was an issue too. Finally the "chef" plating up the food put his hands into a plate waiting to go out and ate something off it. Absolutely shocking, and quite embarrassed that some people might think this is an Italian experience (having an Italian background).

    Commenter
    AdamF
    Location
    Fitzroy
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 4:57PM
    • Dear Adan F
      You seem to have quite some knowledge of the restaurant business based on you comments lets leave it at that.

      Commenter
      eat@thelucasgroup.com.au
      Location
      Date and time
      January 01, 2013, 3:40AM
  • Meh. Remove the hype and that's what you're left with. There is better pizza elsewhere.

    Commenter
    Tim
    Location
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 5:09PM
    • Dear Tim
      Thanks for your opinion we should say our restaurants success are not based on hype but we believe our success is based on offering many thousands of diners amazing value at extremely accessible prices while using the only best of avalibale ingredients. We're sorry you couldn't appreciate this but we do respect that every is entitled to their opinion... The Team at Baby

      Commenter
      eat@thelucasgroup.com.au
      Location
      Date and time
      January 01, 2013, 3:52AM
  • I don't care how good a Restaurant is I am not going to queue an hour for it. I also am not going to pay $56 for a bottle of Italian Plonk no matter how good that is either.
    Give it six months and you will be able to enjoy the same food and wine for no waiting and probably cheaper prices.

    Commenter
    Shane
    Location
    Morwell
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 7:19PM
  • Ive eaten here a few times, and been happy each time with what ive chosen. Ive tried the salads, pizza and pasta, and had breakfast too. I think people need to realize this is a price conscious establishment, serving good quality food, and a very reasonable price... For that reasonable price, one has to expect to suffer somewhere, and that area is the lining up. If you dont ant to line up, EAT SOMEWHERE ELSE.... makes a smaller cue for those of us who love that this place gives access to great food at a good price.... christ, this place isnt that much more than Laporchetta....

    My girlfriend is Gluten Free, and they even provide options for her, both pasta and pizza.... This review seems a little unfair, and I believe possibly the concept is misunderstood.... Good quality food, for less, but you have to cue..... good for all of us that dont earn big money each year....

    Commenter
    cheap good food, but you have to cue! makes sense
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 12:27PM
    • Dear Cheap Good Food, thank you for your support of our concept.As discussed previously with Shane our guests do not wait in queues. Their details are taken by our greeters and a txt is sent once a table becomes available. Wait times vary according to the day but most guests are seated without any waiting, as was the case with Larissa. And yes are prices are extremely cheap and affordable and Baby has one aim to give you and many others an opportunity to eat and enjoy a pleasant fun experience at an accessible price on an everyday basis.Something we wouldn't be able to do if we took formal reservations.

      Commenter
      eat@thelucasgroup.com.au
      Location
      Date and time
      January 01, 2013, 3:38AM

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