Osteria House

We had our weekly dinner catch up last night with the usual suspects, this time at Osteria House down towards the end of North Carlton (near the corner of Rathdowne and Pigdon Streets). Nestled comfortably amidst a row of shophouses – flanked by a bottle shop and a residential property – Osteria House seems rather nondescript and an unlikely choice when you’re thinking of “dinner with kakis” (“kaki” means mate or companion in Malay), but there is a certain charm about the humble and unfussy décor of the place.

It was a Wednesday night and the restaurant was empty; apart from our table of 6, there was only one other table of 4 sitting not too far from us. Yet the place seemed warm and hospitable, and the chatters and laughter made me feel well at home.

The waitress (probably the boss’ daughter) brought us the menus. It wasn’t extensive or grand, just some paper wedged between two sheets of hard protective plastic. They look like they’d been around for ages too. There were probably about 15 different kinds of pizzas and a variety of about 10 sauces to accompany the pasta of your choice. We opted for a tortellini tirolese (tomato, cream, zucchini, mushrooms and what I thought was eggplant), a classic spaghetti marinara, and a very rich penne l’osteria (cream, peas and bacon). We also ordered a pizza magherita and a four seasons (seems to be the pizza of choice for the undecided!)

The food took a while to arrive. Considering there were only two groups of diners (and the other table had already been served), our 15 minute wait seemed like ages for our growling stomachs.

The pizza magherita arrived first. The crust was a little too thick for my liking but the bread dough was good, if you like a thick pizza base. The tomato paste was distinctively homemade (the chunks of tomato pulp gave it away). It was completely flavoursome and the top of the pizza was a little charred, but it tasted really good. It was, however and very unfortunately, far too salty. It was as if someone had tipped a whole jar of salt into the tomato sauce! Quite a shame because it would’ve been otherwise an excellent starter to whet our already-enormous appetites!

Next up, the pastas. They were pretty impressive. If not for the wrong choice of pasta on our part, the tirolese sauce was actually excellent. It was flavoursome and it was chock full of mushroom and zucchini deliciousness. The balance between the tomato and cream was well mastered and it was overall a very enjoyable dish. It would’ve gone better with a short pasta like penne or something, but then again us starvin’ marvins couldn’t care less!

My favourite was the spaghetti marinara. It had the right amount of garlic and tomato sauce without being overpowering or offensive. The morsels of seafood were tiny but there was lots of them; more importantly they tasted pretty fresh, and the spaghetti had an amazing bite and texture to it. I highly suspect they used a bronze-cut spaghetti in this dish because of the texture, but even if they did not, it sure tasted pretty darn marvellous!

My least favourite was the penne l’osteria – ironically the Jman’s choice – because the cream was too rich for my liking. One could argue that I am biased towards non-cream-based pastas, but this was far too rich and gluggy for my palette. The Jman, however, enjoyed it and heaped even more parmesan cheese on top. The parmesan cheese, as he said, was surprisingly good. No stinking 10-day-old parmesan smells but freshly grated and pleasant.

Finally the four seasons pizza. It was disappointing in my books. It had mushrooms, ham and green peppers. The ham was the spoiler for me because of the unbearably strong meaty smell that made me want to run ten miles away from it. I thought the dish could’ve done with a better quality ham to give it the edge.

On the whole, Osteria House fared better than expected. They did well in some areas – namely the pastas which I highly recommend – but having been a frequenter of La Bussola, I dare say that I haven’t found a family restaurant that beats them in the pizza department. If there’s anything that would lure me back, it would be the pastas and the tucked-in-the-corner quietness that envelopes the restaurant and transports you out of the madness of the Melbourne city.


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