Chris Lucas' newest child: Baby Pizza
Address: 631-633 Church St, Richmond
Phone: (03) 9421 4599
Open: Seven days 7am-11pm
Hey, I haven’t met you, and this is crazy, but Chris Lucas has a new joint, it’s pizza, baby. Just to clarify in case my terrible lyrical appropriation lost you, the man behind Chin Chin has opened up a new Italian restaurant called Baby Pizza, where Pearl used to be in Richmond. Even though service only started a couple of days ago, the crowds are already onto it. Like it’s popular older Asian cousin, Baby Pizza doesn’t take bookings, but if you can’t get in for dinner or lunch, they’re open for breakfast and there’s always takeaway.
We popped in on Saturday night to suss it out. Baby keeps things simple with pale timbers, canvas and neutral colours, adding sparkle and shock value via the use of genital-shaped neon signs. Yep, you heard me: glowing gonads and fluro fannies. But it’s the kitchen/bar that commands attention, where you can sit on stools (careful not to bump your head on the hanging cacti) and watch your food being prepared by a herd of chefs moving at lighting speed. Bunches of vine tomatoes sit in bowls on the kitchen bench and homemade Italian sweets rest on wooden stands, tempting you from behind the glass. If bench seating isn’t your thing, there’s also cushioned banquettes for those with sensitive bums, as well as chairs wrapped in bicycle grip.
Pizza is the hero at Baby, with an entire side of the A3 menu devoted to them. I ordered the Fior di Zucca with fior di latte, zucchini flowers, anchovies, chilli, Parmesan and fresh mint. It was very tasty; courtesy of a generous amount of cheese and a generous helping of salt that I’m sure would have horrified my arteries had I seen it being made.
Also ordered was the Gamberi pizza with marinated prawns, san mazano tomatoes, chilli, and garlic and parsley oil. It sounded good on paper, but it was less impressive than the Fior di Zucca: the prawns were small and sad and the pizza overall was quite dry. Perhaps a better alternative would have been the Salumi with fior di latte, prosciutto cotto, spiced sausage, borgo hot salami, pancetta, oregano and san marzano tomatoes. On the topic of meat, the Salumi Misti (a selection of cured meats) on the table next to us looked divine.
Baby also offers specialty pan-fried and grilled pizzas, as well as pasta, salumi, spezzatino, and a selection of seasonal sides and salads. We had the Polpette di Carne, traditional meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, served on polenta. Five balls arrived: tasty enough but lacking a little in juiciness. It perhaps wasn’t to Baby’s advantage that the person who ordered the meatballs has done some work with Meatball and Wine Bar in Flinders Lane.
We also ordered a side of Patate al Forno (oven roasted potatoes), and they were stunning. Cooked to a crisp on the outside with rosemary and full cloves of garlic, they were quite possibly a highlight. It’s hard to resist ordering a salad as well because a) they sounds fantastic and b) you need something to balance all those carbs (who orders pizza and a side of potatoes? We do, obviously). At first, the Pollo poached chicken salad with fior di latte, green beans, fennel and rocket came to our table, but it wasn’t what we had requested. The staff were quick to replace it with our original choice, the Cavalo e Piselli with julienned cabbage, pea, parmesan, mint, radish and chilli, which was simple but unbelievably fresh. Bueno! If you can’t decide between the dishes, go for the ‘banchetto’ ($66pp) and the Baby staff will mother you with an assortment of plates.
Having eyed off the lemon tart at the bar since we walked in the door, I knew what I was having for dessert before I’d ordered dinner. I’m a sucker for a good lemon tart, and the one at Baby was up to scratch with a sweet and zesty curd, thick and crumbly base, and a soft meringue crown. We also had the selection of sorbet and gelato, which consisted of pistachio, mango and rum and raisin. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it hit the spot.
In terms of booze, it’s difficult not to order a cocktail when they are all $15, especially when there are options such as the Torino with two scoops of lemon sorbet, citrus vodka and prosecco; or the Pisa with Limoncello, ginger and citrus vodka and chai syrup. The beer and wine lists also have a strong Italian focus, featuring local producers as well.
The service at Baby was friendly and efficient, although they’re already bracing themselves for the CLE (‘Chris Lucas Effect’ – a phenomenon where diners queue for hours to eat at a restaurant overflowing with patrons in the face of a ‘no bookings policy’). We were asked repeatedly if we were okay for drinks and if there was anything else we needed, and when it was established that we were okay and no, there wasn’t anything else we were after, the bill was promptly brought to the table, even though we didn’t ask for it. This will annoy some diners, but it’s simply the nature of a successful restaurant seeking a high turnover of customers. The more quickly you eat, the more sittings they can squeeze in. Simple.
Overall, Baby is solid. Although there were a couple of misses alongside the hits, I have no doubt in my mind the place is going to smash it. It’s perfect for the Richmond/South Yarra border. It has Southside-affordable food (pizzas are all under $20), pumping music, a fantastic drinks list and an approachable interior with some amusing quirks. Baby may not be perfect, but it’s 100 per cent reliable if you want a decent meal or a few cocktails, and definitely if you want to be part of the in crowd. Although it’s less than a week old, it’s clear that this Baby is already all grown up.
Parts of this blog post were first published in AgendaCity