What does it mean to find a good pizzeria? Entire civilisations have been built on less than that. Whole worlds come from dough, tomato, cheese; and the advantages of basil, sausage, chilli are unsurpassed by the miracles of humanity from the wheel to the combustion engine to the internet. One can live without those three inventions, but to live without pizza is to live half a life at best.
I have often thought Australian pizza culture has become as good as anywhere in the world. I say this fully aware that what counts as pizza for many people here is to be found in the American fast food chains that dot the suburbs. I myself put too many hours into creating BBQ Chicken Meatlovers in my franchise chain days. They are hours I will not get back, but it does not mean I will eat the pizzas that no one came to pick up. The reason I think Australian pizza culture is excellent though is simply for choice – there is the fast food style as I just mentioned, which sometimes hits the spot after a night of heavy drinking, when you only have $5 in your pocket. Then there are the family run places that make a kind of Australian pizza from the 1990s, a thickish crust with Hawaiian occupying pride of place, but they get the job done and are reliable sources of nostalgia for me. I look at them fondly and every now and then indulge in this type of pizza with a romantic glee. And then, bursting onto the scene lately are the Italian woodfired kind that have brought the original style from the motherland down under where we can feast on San Marzano tomatoes, fior de latte, pecorino, prosciutto crudo. They were a long time coming to Australia, but now they are here, you have to embrace them wholeheartedly. When I lived in Melbourne it was a habit to go to DOC, 400 Gradi, Ladro. It became a kind of indulgence that was also a prayer, a giving thanks to the pizza gods for having blessed my area with their sublime gifts to humanity.
I am lucky, and happy, to be back in Western Australia and when I am up in Perth, I have an excellent place around the corner from where I grew up and usually stay. It is opposite my primary school on a non-descript street in a quiet suburb, but it is revolutionary. It is Monsterella. I went there tonight with friends of me. They are pizza tragics or connoisseurs or aficionados, and I wanted to take them to my neighbourhood place. The branding is excellent and the atmosphere convivial. Would they appreciate the food?
We start with lamb skewers – tender morsel that are salty and doused in lemon, straight from the wood oven with a char on the outside. And then, it becomes pizza o’clock. What to choose? So many and yet there are so few of us? We get one each with the plan of sharing them all – a Miliano, a Frankie, a Ronaldo. The Miliano has sausage, caramelised onions, pecorino and it fuses into a rich, flavoursome, umami bomb of deliciousness. The Frankie has cherry tomatoes, fior de latte and prosciutto, and it is over too soon, a balanced pizza with a good crust to boot. And the Ronaldo comes with salami, chilli, rocket. It is hot, just the way I like it.
Pizza like this is a gift to the world, a kind of generous offering from the gods that we cannot ignore, even if we are in a suburb that no one has heard of. People travel for Monsterella and my father tells me this includes those from ‘south of the river’. That is at least a thirty-minute drive. It goes to show you how much good pizza matters to people. My friends and I are satisfied. This is a good life.