319 Lygon Street Brunswick East, Victoria 3057
|Opening hours||Mon–Wed 3pm–late; Thu–Sun noon–late|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9387 6779|
La Bussola has been in Lygon Street for as long as most people can remember. It had plenty of worn charm in its bare bricks, its lightbox menu and its pizzas both classic and odd (Bologna, anyone?). It was a perfect venue for primary school birthday parties and soccer club pizza nights, where the margheritas flew and the lemonade flowed.
With East Brunswick now a hotbed of cool bars, food trucks and Good Food Guide faves such as Rumi and Bar Idda, it was only a matter of time before the old pizza places got taken over or knocked down and turned into apartment building parking lots.
La Bussola has had a non-hostile takeover by some inner-north entrepreneur types who have given it an almost imperceptible makeover. The name has been translated to Compass, but the decor stays: the brick walls, the mural of Vesuvius, the wrought-iron light fixtures that recall the Bourbon Spanish influence on southern Italy. The additions are a new bar, some booth seating and high tables up front.
Chef Joseph Nauer is working through the old menu without changing the character of it. Pizzas are the mainstay, and at $15 for a large-large, they're good value.
The dough recipe was passed on by Nino Barboni, owner of 35 years, although, as Nauer says, "There wasn't really a recipe. You know the old Italians: a handful of this, a bit of that." The electric oven stays, too: it makes really good pizza, says Nauer. They're not the blistered discs of wood-fired blah blah of the "real" pizza revolution, but the margherita is ripe with sugo and slices of fior di latte, while a capricciosa is a guilty pleaser that's been zhooshed up with ham shaved in-house and whole olives instead of those old tap washers.
A casalinga pizza with spicy home-style salami and sweetly roasted peppers has graduated from special to regular, and vego-friendly potato (with caramelised onion and taleggio) and broccoli (caramelised onion and blue cheese) have been added. The Bologna is still here, with Nauer's own ragu, while another special is loaded up with fragrant pine mushrooms and slippery jacks.
Nauer says he learned to make pasta from Joseph Vargetto at Oyster Little Bourke; pumpkin ravioli are sweetly pumpkiny, with nutty hints of slivered almond and a balanced, light brown-butter sauce, while the eggplant parmigiana – two halves, crumbed and smothered with blistered cheese and tangy tomato sauce, and served with shoestring chips and a garden salad – is (almost) more than one man can eat.
There's a good steak, fish of the day, and textbook pizzeria dolci: a creamy house-made tiramisu, and cassata and ice-cream brought in (from Aurora and Jock's). It's all tasty good value, and the only thing on the menu for more than $20 is a decent bottle of wine: how old-school is that?
Do…order the Tropical; you know you want to
Don't…forget takeaway: they still do 'em
Vibe old-school in new clothes