It’s official, Smith St’s Meatball & Wine Bar is no more. So long, old friend. We’ll miss your meaty, ball-shaped goodness.
Although Matteo Bruno’s Collingwood digs may have served its last meatball, there is a silver lining: the restaurant king has turned the old venue into a brand new bar. And it’s looking damn fine.
Welcome to Baller, Smith St’s new laid-back watering hole.
Matteo wants this to be a separate beast from the runaway Meatball & Wine Bar franchise. This is a bar with good food, not a restaurant that serves cocktails. And meatballs are definitely not on the menu (well, not really).
We’re quietly digging the décor in here too: it feels like a return to old-school Smith St. A little rough around the edges (thanks to a beautiful exposed brick feature wall), plenty of comfy couches, more plants than the average greenhouse, black subway tiles and three-tiered candelabras for mood lighting. The sort of place you can crash with a pint and just shoot the sh*t in peace.
Let’s start with the booze. Baller is running a pretty sweet happy hour between 4pm and 7pm. We’re talking $3 pots, $5 basics and wine (!!) and $20 cocktail jugs. With a selection of bar food at half price to boot. You can also grab a bucket of Kona beers for a cool $20. Not too shabby. The beers are delightfully unfussy—a mix of Mountain Goat, Draught (yeeeeaaah), Dos Blockos and a Sunshack Apple Cider. The vino list is also pretty tight: expect some local reds, whites and rose, plus well-travelled bottles from Abruzzo, Puglia and Molise in Italy.
The bar menu is small, but packs a punch. Deep-fried ‘beer nuggets’ with dipping sauce. Cured meats and hard cheeses. Loaded fries, topped with Bolognese and mozzarella (you can choose between shoestring, crinkle and square cut). The hero though is a new Matteo invention: the pizza pie. One part pie, two parts pizza—stuffed with gooey, cheesy goodness, veal meatballs, sausage onion and smoked cheddar, or broccoli, pesto and parmesan. We haven’t seen these in Melbourne before. But damn they go well with a cold pint of Draught.
Special mention to Baller’s bar game, too. Drop a gold coin in the tip jar, take a shot at the mini basketball ring, and if you score you get a free pot! Well played, Bruno. Well played.
Image credit: Annika Kafcaloudis