Leonardo’s Pizza Palace wasn’t open long before chef and co-owner Nick Stanton added an instant classic to the menu: the Ramblr pizza.
It’s part-homage to his acclaimed, now-closed South Yarra diner Ramblr (due to reopen later this year as a pizza-by-the-slice bar), and part-homage to a white bolognese pie Stanton ate at a pizzeria in New York’s Lower East Side seven years ago.
At Ramblr, Stanton’s Asian-leaning take on a classic Italian Bolognese had inspired a serious following. Now, at retro-Italo pizza joint Leonardo’s in Carlton, the dark, sticky and slightly sweet sauce has undergone a reimagining that kicks it a little more firmly into camp Italia.
“I actually thought the Ramblr bolognaise would work better on a pizza than the dish at Ramblr,” Stanton says, laughing. “I probably shouldn’t say that, but it was in the back of my mind the whole time we were building [Leonardo’s]. It’s got the right amount of salty, sweet and umami. And texture … You don’t see so many white-sauce-based pizzas here, and it works so well with white sauce.”
Deposits of the meaty treacle arrive on a béchamel base with discs of melty fior di latte and chopped spring onions. If you get to a slice immediately you can easily eat it with your hands, but wait any longer and it starts to resemble one of Dali’s clocks: cheese, béchamel and Bolognese combining into a single indistinguishable mass. Spicy orange oil seeps all over the pan, your plate and potentially your shirt, and cutlery starts to seem like a good idea. Crusts, slightly charred from time spent inside the blazing hot Leonardo’s brick furnace, are best reserved then dipped into the little gravy boat of house-made ranch that comes with all the pizzas here.
“I didn’t want to get too out there with the toppings until I was 100 per cent happy with the dough, because the dough is the most important part,” Stanton says. “[The idea] was sitting in my head for that long that as soon as I got the chance to do it, it worked first go, it was great. We got lucky.”
Stanton came up with the original Ramblr dish after a trip to Hong Kong, where he was inspired by the flavours of Xinjiang (a region in north-west China) cooking. The sauce is made from coarse beef mince cooked down with fiery gochujang (fermented chilli paste) instead of tomato, Shaoxing wine in place of the usual red, and stock infused with soy sauce. The Leo’s version swaps a bed of thick-cut noodles for one of chewy pizza dough.
“It’s so nice, we still get to make it even though Ramblr’s closed. People have a soft spot for it,” Stanton says. “It’s cool to see it live on.”