Specialised eateries aren’t really a new concept. Places serving nothing but dumplings, pasta or ramen have been around for years and are hardly uncommon. However, there seems to be a growing trend for places specialising in more niche foods: sausages, bao and even meatballs.
The menu at the Meatball and Wine Bar is basic, of course: in addition to the five types of meatballs on offer there are side salads, cured meats and cheese.
We started with a Burrata ($16.50) from the cheese menu.
For those unfamiliar with burrata, it consists of a mixture of mozzarella and cream, encased in a solid mozzarella package. Yes, cheese wrapped in cheese. As we cut into the tender casing, the filling gently flowed out onto the garlicky breadcrumbs and toasted hazelnuts in a pool of creamy delight.
Mini meatballs ($12.50 for 12)
We were torn between the different meatballs on offer, so our waitress suggested getting the mini meatball selection as these were available in a combination of up to three types. Pork, beef and chicken were our flavours of choice and they were served with barbecue sauce, aioli and a ‘green sauce’. Each little ball was a delightful bite of soft, tender meat. The beef was lovely, as was the chicken and pistachio mix. However the standout for me was the pork which was fresh and zingy with fennel and orange zest. This was a good little meal as all the combinations of different meatball and sauce types kept it interesting.
Sliders ($16 for 3)
I just had to try every meatball type on the menu, so we ordered a serve of sliders for both the veggie and fish balls. In keeping with the Italian theme, the sliders came with a choice of ‘red’, ‘white’ or ‘green’ sauces: tomato, creamy or salsa verde respectively. Given the overall meaty theme of the place, I wasn’t expecting the vegetarian balls to be much more than a token option. Oh, how I was wrong. I don’t think I’d ever enjoyed a mash of chickpeas and cauliflower this much. The pattie was lightly fragranced with coriander and orange zest and complemented well by the red sauce suggested by the waitress. Cheese, aioli and a soft brioche bun added a contrasting dairy richness to the otherwise rather healthy filling. I’m not sure how well the veggie balls would have been on their own, but as a slider filling they were wonderful.
The fish sliders were unfortunately not quite as satisfying. I’m not sure that fish really works as a meatball concept: on its own, the shredded flesh is dry and has a rather unpleasant mouthfeel. It really needs a binder of some sort to give it a better consistency. In the past when I’ve had fish cakes or patties there has often been some potato or something in it; I know that doing this would probably violate the ‘meatball’ classification, but it would be an improvement.
Whoopie mac ($11.50)
Of course, what would a review be without dessert? We opted for the ‘whoopie mac’, which was the only thing on the dessert menu other than the selection of three cheeses. Consisting of ice cream sandwiched between two cookies, there was a choice of four types of each which could be mixed and matched. I went for the gingerbread with caramel swirl ice cream, a winning choice. I don’t normally salt my food in restaurants but I added a pinch here to great advantage: voila, instant salted caramel! My companion’s lemon shortbread and vanilla ice cream was a more classic but equally valid option.
Meatball and Wine Bar is the place to go if you’re craving meaty, warm comfort food. I’ve just discovered they do a breakfast menu too, which I certainly look forward to trying.
The food bill came to $42 each, with both of us leaving absolutely stuffed. If I hadn’t been reviewing I would have probably gone without the starter and dessert, thus consuming a more reasonable amount of food. If this was the case the bill would only have been around $22, hardly a bank-breaker.
While not an original concept (compare Meatball and Wine Bar’s website to that of the strikingly similar Meatball Shop in New York), it does work. I guess that’s the idea behind most specialised restaurants – variety is minimised, allowing quality to reign supreme.Meatball and Wine Bar 135 Flinders Lane Melbourne