I didn’t feel like cooking last night so I went for a walk. My destination was Biggie Smalls, which is a new hipster fusion of Shane Delia’s mixture of north African and middle eastern flavours and kebabs and Americana dude food. It’s a mouthful theoretically and literally. It’s on the Collingwood side of Smith St where the pop-up scroll shop was before it moved (before that it was a Chinese medicine shop).
The concept is similar to George Calombaris’ Jimmy Grants on St David St, which I have eaten at a couple of times but not reviewed. At the beginning I didn’t want to contribute to the hype, which seemed excessive, and I dislike his hyper-capitalist dismissal of workers and fair wages. Now it’s obvious it was just a proof of concept for a chain coming soon to an up-market shopping centre food court near you. I assume Delia is planning similar growth for Biggie Smalls but I’m more curious about this as it seems to be offering something more interesting.
One of the complaints about Jimmy Grants was the smallness of the souvlakis. They were about a two thirds scale of a gyros / souvlaki / kebab at a traditional establishment. The price is about the same as a traditional kebab, but the premium price for the size is entirely justified by the premium quality of the ingredients and the flavour that is produced. Their bread, for example, is simply perfect.
It’s the same at Biggie Smalls, where one of their kebabs will be a high quality substantial snack, rather than a meal, for most people. You’ll want to order one of the side dishes as well. I had the ‘juicy’ ($11) – beef kefte, onion and cumin hummus, herbs, pickles and onion. Other choices are more fusion oriented and peanut butter features prominently in the menu. There’s peanut butter hummus, for example.
You get a choice of old school garlic yogurt sauce or new school Kewpie mayo. I chose yogurt but it was barely evident in what I got. The meatballs were very tender and cooked medium so they were still pink in the middle. The flavours were strong and fresh with liberal use of spice. Overall the kebab is a winner and most enjoyable.
Instead of a side I chose a dessert – the bombzel – a peanut butter caramel injected pretzel ($7.50). I ordered it without icecream ($2 extra) not because I am a cheapskate but because I have sensitive teeth and choosing icecream is basically choosing pain. The pleasure of the taste has to be significant to make it worth the inevitable suffering and a scoop of plain vanilla icecream just doesn’t pass the risk / reward test.
Nonetheless it arrived with icecream and I faced a dilemma. Send it back? That seemed snooty for a cheap casual eatery. I had been taking photos of my kebab but everyone does that so I doubt I had drawn attention to myself and was receiving special treatment. More likely it was just an opening week upgrade designed to make me happy. The service was otherwise good and the staff seemed well trained, so I didn’t think it was a mistake.
In the end I needed the icecream to soften the pretzel and make it more palatable, which I ate mainly to fill me up. It’s a total failure of a dessert. There was no oozing. I expected oozing peanut butter caramel but there was none. The pretzel has a very thin crisp salty skin and inside it’s like fluffy white bread with a few tiny sad lumps of caramel the consistency of peanut butter. And I mean only a few, like the last sad jam doughnut sitting alone on a bakery shelf at the end of day that hasn’t sold because it doesn’t have enough jam in it.
Biggie Smalls is loud and fun and well placed in the Smith St precinct. The value is acceptable. It’s not overly expensive for what you get (a complaint often leveled against Belle’s on Gertrude St, and one I made about Mr Claws, a short-lived nearby endeavour). Neither is it a bargain. It provides novelty, but doesn’t satisfy the authentic kebab craving.