Although I’d read mixed reviews about Biggie Smalls I went with an open mind, because after all not everyone has the same expectations, needs or tastes and I’ve enjoyed watching at least some of the transformations in and around the North Fitzroy, Collingwood and Clifton Hill area/s, which I’ve known for many years. They have been my playground for a long time.
[off topic piece of trivia: I was shopping with my daughter in Smith Street the day Princess Di was killed in a car accident in Paris. The year was 1997 and I clearly remember the announcement over the radio of the shop I was in across the road from the Safeway Supermarket (now Woolies). Boy oh boy has the street changed since then.]
Although Collingwood still has a hint of the feel from the ’90s and early 2000s (which is when I got to know the area), these days Smith Street Collingwood is no longer a downtrodden junkie strip, but has gentrified into one with a growing young hipster crowd and a plethora of new and interesting eating houses. That said, the mojo that made people love Smith Street in the first place is in danger of being lost, but that’s an observation for another post and each generation has its own idea of mojo I guess. I’m part of one, so I watch the transformation. That makes life interesting in itself, doesn’t it.
Back to topic …
Chef Shane Delia’s decision to open in Smith Street seems to be a very well researched and savvy business move to deliver the goods to a suitable clientele in a funky inner urban suburb.
Now for my experience.
Biggie Smalls doesn’t shout at you as you walk up to it, unless you look up. The awning is painted underneath with some rather well honed murals and I like that a lot. It has an urban New York city feel and that’s fun (mind you I haven’t been to New York since 1993! OMG was it that long ago).
There are bench seats with stools – some at the bifold open window and others down the side. Nice touch for people waiting. As a long narrow space, the fitout is fine – booths down one side and the cooking space / serving counter down the other. The feel is clean without being sterile, well organised and really inviting. All good things.
Up high on the wall near the front is the menu with the food offerings. I had difficulty deciding between the A-Rab (lamb, smoked hummus and other things) or the East Coast, which I chose for the slow cooked maple glazed pork belly and crackling. The peanut butter hummus looked interesting too. I opted for the traditional yoghurt sauce because mayo of any sort didn’t sound right for a kebab. To the kebab I added a small side of crinkles, harissa mayo and because it was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon I ordered the Hills Apple Cider to drink. Lindsay, the staff member who took my order, was helpful, friendly, knew the menu well and had a warm manner. I like that.
The tables out the front were full, so I chose to sit on a (what I soon realised was a relatively uncomfortable) stool at the front window. A good spot for people watching.
The crinkle cut fries, harissa mayo and cider arrived very quickly. To be honest I was pretty underwhelmed by the harissa mayo and fries. The mayo had a bit of a strong eggy taste and I didn’t detect any harissa heat or good seasoning at all. I would have liked some sour, spicy tang to it – along with heat. Plus it was served in a small PLASTIC TUB … so wrong! I abhor unnecessary waste and this was it, in front of me on that bench. Perhaps it’s okay for a takeaway, but not to eat in. A spoonful in a small serving dish would be far more acceptable.
The fries (erm – crinkles) themselves just seemed like frozen crinkle cut chips with a blend of not really interesting dried herbs on them, but for $4 the size of the bowl was fine and I ended up not being able to eat them all. I did like the crockery – blue-rimmed, white enamel ware. Very now and oh so practical (except if you’re relying on a dishwasher).
The kebab arrived shortly afterwards and the friendly waitstaffer instructed me how to peel back the wrapper and eat it. I kinda knew that but I guess they didn’t know that and I guess also that there are people out there who don’t realise you don’t eat the wrapper … kidding.
I blissed out on the first bite. The meat was smokey and soft as a long, slow braised pork should be. There was a little, though not much, crackle sort of on the top then I lost it. I thought it was a bit unnecessary. The bread was also really lovely – great texture and flavour.
The rest of the flavours melded nicely, although I couldn’t detect the peanut butter humus at all. The highlight of this kebab was definitely the meat and despite the menu’s claims, the promised heat simply wasn’t there for my palette.
At $28 I found it was a good value, tasty Sunday lunch. Fresh, tasty and filling. The crinkles I could have done without (especially – and I say it again – with that not great harissa mayo in the awful plastic tub). I actually would like to go back and try some other varieties.
As of a week ago I’m back living in Tasmania, so that will have to wait until my next visit to – or extended stay in – Melbourne. It’s my second home after all.