The letters “SPQR” went everywhere the Romans did. An abbreviation of Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (“The Roman Senate and People”), the phrase demonstrated the empire’s strength, from Egypt to England.
In Melbourne the letters are now code for a humbler ambition: to serve excellent wood-fired pizza in the upper-CBD. Behind the modest three-room venue are David Mackintosh and Pete Bartholomew (Movida, Pei Modern and Lee Ho Fook) and Tom and Natalie Gaden (Satchmo’s Den and Boom Bap).
Using Caputo flour and a 18-year-old sourdough starter donated by Pei Modern’s Mark Best, the dough is stretchy and textural, blistered with crisp bubbles after a 60-second blast in a 420-degree oven. Its tomato paste is 100 per cent appellation-controlled San Marzano tomatoes, which is pressed by hand and unreduced, giving it a fresh and happily sour flavour. Toppings come from quality provedores, such as Savour and Grace Smallgoods. Head pizzaiolo James Gulli graduated from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and had a stint at 400 Gradi. In short: SPQR’s pizzas are real good.
When the liquor license arrives this weekend there’ll be Italian varietals from both Australia and Italy, such as barbaresco and nebbiolo from the King Valley, and cheap yet delicious sangiovese and pinot grigio available on tap. “Table wine is for drinking, not sniffing. Therefore it’s served in tumblers,” says co-owner Tom Gaden. “But, we’ll have proper stemmed glassware and $200 bottles of barolo if people want to go in that direction.”
Likewise the Nick Harding-designed space is low-key and comfy – a sunken dining room with high windows and teal piping, and a standing-room-only foyer serving pizza by the slice. As a musician who performs under the name Tom Showtime, Gaden’s keen to support local music. Northside Records and Wax Museum will curate the weekend’s playlist, and on Wednesdays amateur DJs can turn up to play an hour-long set for a pizza and a bottle of plonk.
26 Liverpool Street, Melbourne
(03) 9671 3326
This article was updated on October 7, 2016.