Ain’t nothing new about a meatball. But for some reason Melbourne is having a love affair with the spherical sausage. The latest ball-themed eatery is Meatball & Sons, the first in a proposed chain of 10 restaurants, which recently opened its doors on Brunswick Street.
Opening a mere two blocks from Meatball & Wine Bar on Smith Street, comparisons are inevitable. Co-owner Carlos Swinton-Lee acknowledges similarities between the two businesses. Inspired by two restaurants he is familiar with in London, Swinton-Lee began working on the concept in 2011. “I looked at that [Meatball & Wine Bar] site in Flinders Lane. Then a couple of days later there was paper up in the window, and a picture of cattle,” he recalls. “When I found out it was going to be meatballs, I couldn’t believe it.”
Swinton-Lee gives Meatball & Wine Bar credit for pioneering the concept in Melbourne, but insists his offering will be significantly different. “We’ve tried very hard to ensure we’re not emulating anything here,” he explains. “We’ve got our own individual style.”
Meatball & Sons’ list certainly takes less of a purist approach, with traditional Italian dishes making way for internationalist interpretations such as tandoori chicken meatballs with homemade raita and mango chutney; a Thai chilli chicken meatball on a tempura eggplant with onion and chilli jam and bourbon-glazed pork balls skewered with corn.
The two-level terrace takes inspiration from the brightly coloured British grocers of Swinton-Lee's youth, particularly his grandparents’ store. Dry goods line the walls, textiles are set against brick and wood and an image of a giant helter-skelter looms over the bar. “It’s me tipping my hat to where I grew up,” says Swinton-Lee. “There are a lot of design cues in here that remind me of my childhood.”
The grocery theme isn’t superficial – Meatball & Sons plans to sell sauces, handmade pasta, preserves and, of course, take-home balls. Swinton-Lee says there is a meatball to suit every taste. “Everybody, all across the world, has their own version of a meatball,” he says. “It’s a great value, hearty food. It’s a really accessible dish.”