572 Barkly St West Footscray, VIC 3012
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 4pm-11pm; Fri-Sun 11.30am-11pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8320 0325|
How do you enter a neighbourhood as first-time operators when you've seen other newbies faced with anything from disgruntled digital fist shaking through to graffiti and a few smashed windows? Probably like Harley and Rose. Not exactly like the dysfunctional lovers in the Black Sorrows' song, but I suppose there's some crossover if you believe that this first venture on the old Ovest site by Josh Murphy and Rory Cowcher, two ex-McConnell group chefs, was meant to be.
It's not a hard argument to make. If "something for everyone" is a label you generally slap on venues that are confused and generic, in this case the term might stand as a badge of diplomatic pride.
Here on the old Ovest pizza site, the toilets are bathed in glowing red, the soundtrack is pure Aussie bangers, but then behold, a wine list rich in options from South Australia's Lucy Margeaux and Ochota Barrels, courtesy of wine buyer and manager Mark Williamson (last treading the boards at Cumulus and Builders Arms) and a menu that has hallmarks of a McConnell venue but is dressed down so you're straddling the family-friendly and serious food fan line. It's like Heartbreaker bar had a four-way with the Lincoln pub, your favourite family pizzeria and a really good bottle-o.
Yep, the good times are plentiful and built for all.
A pre-emptive gripe: the room isn't what you'd call pretty unless you love beige blinds, maroon trim, bareback tables and school chairs. But for families, not needing to stress about dropped margherita pizzas is probably a major draw.
A sense of ease is probably this venue's greatest strength.
That, and for everyone drawn by Cowcher and Murphy's credentials the duo have come through with a typically ingredient-championing menu that strike the right balance between formal and fun.
The McConnell family resemblance is there but here, your cod roe dip is a fluffier version than the Builders Arms', almost like it's had a blow wave before being served in enamelware with crunchy fingers of focaccia. There's a direct link to Meatsmith via the excellent, coarse-yet-spongy mortadella dressed with mustard fruits.
Other strong snack adventures: tapioca-centred gorgonzola croquettes with a sweet, sharp quince relish are like biting into molten, cheesy bean bags. See also the dangerously hot, tangy and crisp discs of fried green tomatoes tamed by labna. Good times.
There's been an effort by the chefs not to get pigeon-holed as a pizza joint, but the wood-fired oven that fuelled former occupant Ovest isn't something you want to ignore. Bases are thin and crisp with chew though not in the Neapolitan-style with puffy billowing edges.
Beyond a strong margherita, the Goolwa pipi number lifted with caramelised onions, cream and a little lemon and parsley proves the place of seafood on pizza. You'll find more of Meatsmith's smallgoods on the meatier versions and the potato party gives you big waxy slices for ultimate carb-on-carb action.
That oven does double time with the broader menu, too. Sourdough croutons are smoked for a juicy tomato panzanella salad. Octopus with waxy marinated potatoes and a bright pesto has a nice smoky edge but possibly more chew than you'd like.
Is execution hitting 100 per cent? Not yet. Cacio e pepe – spaghetti spiked with parmesan and black pepper – is a very gooey version you'll need to wade through. Our whole pinkie snapper is nicely perfumed with lemon myrtle and served with a buttery sauce bourride, but needs a few more seconds under heat to come away from the bones. Better: a fragrant meatball situation over a chilled bed of risoni, yoghurt and cucumber is light and lovely, as is a salad of mint, squash and anchovies.
Slips happen. We get a wrong order. Our pizza chases our main fish course, whether by accident or strange design, we're not sure. But there's an air of calm here, and a good service team adept at righting the ship that somehow makes it seem like far less of a big deal.
Maybe it's Daryl Braithwaite in the background. Or the pina coladas made on dark rum so they drink like a malty tropical flip. Or the accessibly priced burgundies available alongside fun-size magnums of pet nat that you can stroll next door and get straight off the bottle-o shelf.
Footscray has good reason to be defending itself. It's a multicultural heartland and we'll all be poorer when we can't get live crabs and sugarcane juice at the markets, and the injera shop can't sustain the rent.
But if change is coming to Footscray, let's be glad the likes of Harley and Rose has been built with an ear pressed to the beat of Footscray's heart.
Vegetarian: Have a fried green tomato and potato pizza party.
Drinks: Pina coladas, a full bottle shop of edgy wines and craft brews. Winner.
Vibe: The room is wipeable and the service is switched on. Everyone's happy.
Pro Tip: The front terrace is built for Sunday sessions.
Go-to Dish: Goolwa pippi pizza ($24).