SPQR Pizzeria review

Go-to dish: the margherita pizza - you can't lose.
Go-to dish: the margherita pizza - you can't lose. Photo: Stefan Postles

26 Liverpool St Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Opening hours Mon-Tue 5–11pm ; Wed 12–3pm, 5–11pm ; Thu-Fri 12–3pm, 5–11:30pm ; Sat 5–11:30pm ; Sun 5–11pm
Features Bar, Business lunch, Cheap Eats, Family friendly, Late night, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9671 3326

So this is the latest from golden-fingered operator David Mackintosh, one of the prescient restaurateurs to give Lee Ho Fook, Ides and Rosa's Canteen life. It's a pizza place and a pizza place only. Oh there's wine (quaffable stuff from a tap, and good stuff from Italy) plus salad and Peroni. But that's it. That's enough.

You can order whole pies and eat them in the delightfully wipeable dining room of tiled floors and chairs in a vaguely corporate shade of steely blue. A glass partition and caramel panels divides this space from the simple bar where you can order by the slice. For $10, you also get a tinnie. It's not a pretty room in the way that brutalist buildings aren't classically beautiful. The charm lies in the function.

Here, that's to focus your attention to the business at hand. In hand, rather. And probably all over your lap.

Hell hath no fury like a pizza oven warmed.
Hell hath no fury like a pizza oven warmed. Photo: Stefan Postles

SPQR is Latin shorthand for "the senate and people of Rome", but the pizze they've been dishing on Liverpool Street since mid-September isn't Roma's native pizza in teglia. All respect to those thick-set slabs sold by weight (which you'll find at Northcote's Lievita). SPQR plays by Napoli rules - arguably the strictest in the game.

The wood-fired oven runs 400 degrees hot, cooking the pizze in 60 seconds. The base, sourdough here for extra bite, is ultra fine in the centre, rising to a thicker-yet-aerated crust that's char-blistered while toppings are barely transformed.

Done right, Napoli pizza is one of the world's perfect foods. Like ramen or fried chicken it has a million variations, but also a path to perfection. A tao, if you're Chinese-philosophy minded.

Functional: the dining room at SPQR.
Functional: the dining room at SPQR.  Photo: Stefan Postles

With a couple of weeks getting acquainted with their furnace, the team at SPQR does a margherita to be reckoned with. Tomatoes stay juicy and sweet. Mozzarella sighs. If you pick up a slice after 10 seconds on table, even when you correctly roll it like a taco, the toppings fall in your lap. It's a soupy, creamy crisp-shelled weapon of mass deliciousness. It's meant to be.

Would it be ridiculous to only order margheritas? Not from where we're sitting - that would be beneath the blackboard scribbled with roughly 12 options and the speakers pumping A Tribe Called Quest. Of those dozen, half blanco (no tomato), half red, the San Marzano numbers have come out on top every time.

Enhance yours with pecorino and crisp, fatty lugs of pork jowl (finer slicing of which might make it more delicious still). The ode to spaghetti all'amatriciana sees a $2 donation go to earthquake recovery in Amatrice. Salt fiends should harness the potency of the acciughe's anchovies, glossy purple kalamata olives, chilli and capers. That's a lot of firepower on a plate.

Pumpkin, pinenut and watercress salad.
Pumpkin, pinenut and watercress salad. Photo: Stefan Postles

In contrast, the tomato's acidity is a role left unfilled on the pork sausage and potato pizza. Chilli oil helps, but so would some zing. Ditto a scantily clad garlic-rubbed base dressed only with frazzled basil leaves and everyone's favourite cured pig fat, lardo. We turn ours into a sandwich with the anchovy number which I can highly recommend.

Is the trim a talking point? I love the bright and substantial pumpkin, pine nut and watercress salad, also the rocket crisped up with shaved fennel and crowned with a whole cream-filled mozzarella.

The antipasto board is basic. There are Heathcote fianos and Alpine barbera wines nice enough for banker-types to drink with friends, but they're all under $70. There's Okar, and Melbourne Gin Company gin so you can have an Australian negroni, and unlimited mineral water in upcycled glass.

There's a great system of taps for quaffable table wines.
There's a great system of taps for quaffable table wines. Photo: Stefan Postles

The tiramisu is a fat wedge with a strong espresso hit. The panna cotta is quite sweet.

But no. The alluring pull of focused eateries like this is never having to answer follow-up questions to friends. Everyone knows the score. That's why you like Tipo 00. That's why you'll like it here.  

The lowdown

Discover the tao of Napoli pizza at SPQR

Pro Tip: Get your loyalty card punched for free slices.

Go-to Dish: Chase your margherita with a margherita.