As you may have gathered, from all the time I spend a) cooking and b) writing about cooking, we don’t eat out much. But I’ve actually eaten out twice in the last fortnight, both times at the same place.
This is because I went there once with work, and was so excited about All the Amazing Parma that I went dashing back to choir afterwards and said “We have to go to Mrs Parma’s before choir next week, because they make amazing everything parmagiana!”. I am, as it happens, a major fan of parmagiana – it’s cheesy and tomatoey and comforting, and you get chips and salad with it, – what more could you want?
Mrs Parma’s answers this question, and does so with style.
This is, without a doubt, one of the cleverest ideas for a food business that I have seen. Basically, Mrs Parma’s does parmagiana and it does beer, but it does both these things very well and in a very wide range of flavours and kinds. You can choose from veal, chicken or eggplant as your base (the eggplant is amazing – vegetarians are really not missing anything eating out here), and then there are ten different toppings, ranging from a classic parmagiana to more exotic options such as Mexican, wild mushroom, or a chilli that claims to be the hottest in Melbourne. Very simple for the chefs to prepare, but there is a real variety of texture and flavour here, and given how much Melbournians love their parma, it’s a very effective menu choice.
Chips and salads are served on the side (in separate bowls, in fact – no soggy chips here), and on first glimpse the servings seemed a bit small. But the parmas themselves are so filling that you really wouldn’t want more. There are daily parma specials, and the menu says specifically that they have gluten and egg-free options, which is nice to see. Sadly, there are no dairy-free or vegan options, but given that cheese is pretty much the point of parmagiana, this is not a surprise. Update: Apparently, they will make a vegan option if you ask them to, which is excellent! They do have a few other menu items, but I had a bit of a look around both times I went there, and didn’t see anyone eating anything that wasn’t parma of some description. After all, why would you?
At the bar, there is beer and ale. Lots of beer and ale, all of it local, and much of it from microbreweries. Alas, I am of absolutely no use as a reviewer on this subject, because I’ve never met a beer that I found drinkable. Though the raspberry infused beer sounds sort of fascinating. Again, there are a few soft drinks on tap (which are pretty awful, actually), and I think wine, too, but that’s not really what this place is about. It’s about good old Aussie beer and parma, and if you have a problem with that, mate, well you can… finish that sentence yourself, because anything I can think of is actually startlingly offensive, so I’m not going to go there.
As for the quality of the parma? I think it’s pretty bloody good (this whole thing is bringing out the ocker Aussie in me, I tell ya, mate). The veal schnitzel actually tastes like veal, something that is all too rare in my experience. (Why does veal schnitzel so often taste like off ham? I don’t understand it!). I tried it with three cheeses on my first visit, which in retrospect was a foolish combination to choose, because it was very rich and very heavy. I really should have predicted that. The veal itself, however, was crisply crumbed and beautifully cooked and tender, the passata was good and you could taste the oregano, and the cheeses were rich and decadent, though with a bit too much blue for my taste.
On my second visit, I ordered the eggplant bolognese, and swapped plates part-way through with my friend who had ordered chicken with pumpkin and feta. (I have told this is terribly insulting to the chef, who has created a particular meal with a particular combination of flavours in mind. If the chef from Mrs Parma’s is reading this, let me assure him or her that no insult was intended – the options all looked so wonderful that my friend and I couldn’t bear to choose just one, and that is why we swapped.) The chicken was very good, but of the three bases, I would say the eggplant was definitely the best – juicy and delicious and for once I could understand why eggplant is sometimes referred to as ‘meaty’ in flavour and texture. The bolognese topping worked well with it, and I think the three cheese topping would be amazing. The pumpkin and feta topping on the chicken wasn’t bad, but tasted a bit insipid next to the gloriousness that was the eggplant.
I also have it on good authority from my fellow diners that the mushroom topping is excellent, as is the Mexican.
As for other aspects of the meal, I do advise you to book in advance if you plan to go there – we thought that with four of us arriving before 6pm there would be no need, but they had a bit of trouble fitting us in. This is one full bar – which bodes well for its future, I am glad to say. Despite this busyness, the service was friendly and very fast – we arrived just before 6pm and were out by 6:45, and we did eat in a reasonably leisurely manner. I don’t think the food took more than ten minutes to arrive.
In short, if you are looking for really good parma in Melbourne, I can wholeheartedly recommend Mrs Parma’s. The only downside I can see to the place is that I did feel terribly full afterwards. But then, that’s probably my fault for being unable to resist finishing all the delicious food that was on my plate…
Oh, alright then. There is one other downside: that blasted menu has a grocer’s apostrophe! The cheese belonging to the parma is the parma’s; but when you are making a list of multiple different kinds of parmagiana, the word you should have at the top of the page is ‘Parmas’. Please, please don’t do this to the English language. It has never hurt you, and it is cruel to pick on it when it can’t fight back.