380 Lygon Street Carlton
It’s an institution. Even in its pre-renovated days back in Faraday Street, despite the assumption of space it was always cramped. Brunetti has now moved to its new home within Lygon Court but still, despite the high ceilings and long passageway it now inhabits, with separate dining areas and eating experiences, the place is packed.
It will always be packed, Brunettis. That’s the other thing; to those who really know it, it’s Brunettis – as any self-respecting Aussie knows, an establishment only becomes truly endearing after you change it to its plural. Thus, Brunettis is the place that many, many people have been going to for years now, and it’s much adored by all. Venue change and all, I think it’s only gotten better.
It was packed when we went for Tuesday lunch during the school holiday period in October. Though it started off with ample space, by the time we’d finished our mains and had moved onto cake and coffee, the place was, as Hubbie would say “jamming.”
We’ve been to Brunettis heaps of times before, as it coincidentally and fortunately was off our favourite restaurant strip of this great city. We’d go out to eat, and finish by stopping by to salivate at the cakes and take some home for later. It would be a Saturday night, there’d be a line of people outside just waiting for a free table to open up, with the mass crowd inside the restaurant waiting to be served coffee and cake reminiscent of something you’d see in a mosh pit. I think even back then there was a section devoted to savouries, well within the venue away from the sugar-seeking crowds, but having never gone to Brunettis for something salty I couldn’t say for sure. It’s definitely there now.
I must admit, although the idea of so many petite and beautiful looking sculptures of pastry and sugar was always so appealing, it was never a really truly ‘wow’ experience for me. Sure I still wanted to come back and experience more of the cakes in the display, and to this day I still want to buy one of those $40 cakes to take home and eat over a week, but there were never any heavenly explosions in my mouth. I was really keen to give it a good go and be proven that these mouth-watering delights do exist. We hadn’t been to Brunettis in ages, and hadn’t experienced it in its new home, so when the opportunity arose Hubbie
and I went with baby girl and MIL into town, to check out the new digs.
They’ve really gone all fancy-schmancy. I loved it. We were having our mains right near a black and white photo of what looked like Sophia Loren standing over a multi-tiered wedding cake. If anyone can confirm this is Sophia, please let me know (I can’t find the image anywhere on google). The theme in the new venue is that of modern Italian opulence, with some great old reminders of yester-year like those awesome B&Ws. They have their cake display up one end of the shop, followed by the coffee-making team in a hub, much like it was before, followed by another sweet pastry section, then the savouries, with all the dining areas opposite, including a sectioned-off private dining area for the posher crowd in the far corner of the restaurant.
For lunch we shared the following:
Sopressa Roll, Ragu Arancini and Porcini Pizza
I’m not a huge salami fan, but this roll was really yummy and fresh, so good. There was salami, peppers, artichokes, and it really felt like an antipasto party in my mouth. The Arancini was cheesy and saucy, and the Porcini Pizza was interesting with its choice of mushrooms, but still great. We easily cleaned it up between the three of us.
Because we were sitting under Sophia near the savoury section, we then decided to move closer to the sweet stuff and change locations, and fortunately Hubbie found a great table right between the coffees and cakes on the other side of the room.
What I also like about the place is that it’s brimming with waiters, but they’re not so focused on their task of clearing tables/delivering food that they won’t stop and NOT look annoyed when you ask them a question. For example I stopped one waiter to ask him if I could get some extra share plates, and despite the fact he was about to pick up and balance several precarious looking dishes, he warmly told me I was more than welcome to take more. Another waitress happily located a high chair for us, and another waiter who looked like his name would be Giovanni, young boy recently come to Australia from Italy to make a better life for himself, having gotten a job at Brunettis due to ‘family connections’ (I’ve got the plot all lined up), who was walking by clearing tables, very nicely said in his fine Italian accent that he would find us a high chair (we’d since moved tables) and came back after his search to happily provide us with one. Despite the busy-ness, another waitress played “hi” with baby girl (she is waving at everyone at the moment – baby girl not the waitress), and it just made me, us, feel good. I could tell all the wait staff are very on the ball when it comes to clearing things away – get people out, so more people can come in. Despite that, they’re not pushy, or trying to get rid of you, they’re just being efficient and making sure tables are cleared so new customers can sit down without rubbish at their tables. And in between I’m happy to report, they’re absolutely lovely.
After much internal debate and soul-searching, we all decided on three desserts with our coffee. I had the White and Dark Chocolate Mousse (pictured here with my cappuccino)
Hubbie had the French Custard Tart
and MIL had a chocolate mousse type cake, but we have no idea what it is, so we’ll just refer to it as the dark brownie-looking one in the photo with a cream bomb on top
All the desserts were great. I think it was a tie between MILs and mine, as I tasted Hubbie’s and though I love custard, it was good, but that was it. Mine was velvety goodness, and I was so glad I went down the mousse path. I felt the prices were really decent for the inspirational creations on offer, but again I think they can definitely afford the prices when they’re producing all those cakes and savouries in such high volume.
That was the fear I had with Brunettis; because they do so much of a variety of food, both sweet and savoury, I wonder whether they are doing too much, but not doing anything well. That’s my thought whenever I come across an establishment that has too much to offer, but falls short of excellence with any of its products. Hubbie and I were talking about this just the other day, and referring to a local hangout which I won’t divulge the name of, other to say that they offer pizza, pasta, steaks, other mains, a wide variety of breakfast, dessert, and drinks, and each time I’ve been there in the past I have not been wowed, in any, ANY measure, being sorely disappointed on many an occasion. We refuse to go there now, and that’s where my thoughts went when I was observing Brunettis. However, that is NOT, definitely not the case there. The savoury was so delicious, and our cakes so scrumptious, that even though the mousse I had wasn’t that 100% piece of heaven I was searching for, it came close, and I have no doubt with more cake-testing journeys there, I will find it 😉
Food: 8/10. Really fresh, and some of those cakes… OMG. Just look at the case. Go on, look. I dare you not to buy anything, or at least salivate, just a little.
Coffee: 7/10. The coffee was strong, to Hubbie’s liking, and I found it not too bad, though I think I prefer my caps smooth. Still good though.
Ambience: Cosy yet bustling, modern yet European vibe. It’s a really nice blend of cultures, and how could it not be on Lygon street?
Staff: Warm and friendly, though we had a bit of a ‘what the?’ moment when Hubbie asked the coffee staff for a jug of boiling water for baby girl’s food. We had to leave our food in the jug at their bench, rather than bring the water to our table, I assume for ‘safety’ reasons. That’s all well and good, just inconvenient, and terribly annoying. When I got up to get her food, another waitress said to me “do you want to take the whole thing to the table?” (as in, the boiling water we weren’t initially allowed to take to our table). Otherwise, they were great.
People: A lot of families because of the school holidays, older couples, and friends meeting for coffee/lunch. I’d say on the weekend it would draw a much younger crowd, if my memory of old Saturday night’s does not evade me.
Price: The savouries were expense. $30 for the three dishes we had, and the pasta menu I perused the $$ were about the same and that was for singular dishes; unless you’re a high-flying businessman, I don’t know if you’d be paying that much on your lunch break, but still, I wanna go back and have it another day, only because our dishes were so fresh, I can’t imagine how beautiful their pasta would taste.
The desserts were more acceptable. Considering the visually stunning creations, quite appropriately priced. Our three desserts and coffees came to about $20, and then I just had to take a few more home in their very nice Brunetti box:
And five of those beauties came to just under $17. Let’s just say I’m happy that I don’t work near Lygon street, because I’d be spending all my money there and expanding my waistline.
Advice: Go when you think it won’t be busy, and the crowd will be just manageable. During high-peak times, on weekends you’ll have to wait for a table, or stalk someone like you would in a shopping centre car park and wait ‘til they knock the last bit of their coffee back before lunging on their table. There are plenty of seats, however there will never be enough at Brunettis.
In a nutshell: It’s a Lygon Street right-of-passage, and until you’ve gone, you’ll never know how good it is to look at so many cakes and want to try them all at once, shovelled into your mouth. But that would be a culinary injustice to this place, so you’ll just have to do what I’m going to do, and go back, bit by bit, and try EVERY SINGLE CAKE they have there, ONE AT A TIME.