When? - 3rd of October, 2013
Where? - Universal Italian Restaurant & Function Venue. 139-141 Lygon St. Carlton
Price? - $14
Website? - http://www.universalrestaurant.com.au/
Reviewers – Cale, Carly, Dale, Kylie, Lee, Nikki, Shanan, Stefo, Tony
Call me Ishmael, as a good parma on Lygon street has been my white whale for quite some time now. You would think that Melbourne's most prominent Italian Restaurant district would be rampant with quality parmas, yet that just doesn't seem to be the case - We have tried a few over the years (like here, here & here) with varying degrees of success but we haven't found one that we have been absolutely wrapped with.
When Universal was suggested to me, I immediately thought they were talking about The University Hotel, A pub further down the road that I had seen in the past and made a mental note to give a try (University/Universal... They sound kind've similar). It wasn't until I went on their website to get the phone number that I realised that we weren't going where I thought we were, Oh well, The location was set so I made the booking, we loaded up the parma bus and headed to Universal.
We don't normally do restaurants here at Parma Daze, there is no rule against it, it just seems we come across a lot more pubs than we do 'restaurants', so this was something a bit different. Universal is a lot more spacious on the inside than it appears from outside, at 7 o'clock there were already quite a few people both inside and out on the street, yet there was still enough room to stretch your legs.
While we're on the subject of Lygon street - especially this area of Lygon street, One thing I absolutely hate is running the gauntlet of spruikers trying to get me to go into their restaurant. Its uncomfortable and in my opinion should be banned. I have literally been walking down Lygon with two large pizzas, a garlic bread and a pasta, yet I still got hassled to go into restaurants. If I am looking for a place to eat on Lygon and they have a spruiker out the front I will actively avoid going in to that restaurant so as not to condone the practise. Luckily the Universal had no such person out the front, Unless they just hadn't started for the night - which I sincerely hope isn't the case.
Beer selection is limited, with only one tap running beer (Pure Blonde) and the other running cider (strongbow) If you want to get any fancier then set your sights on the bottled selection. Corona, Peroni, Little Creatures, White Rabbit - all costing at about $8 a stubby.
A few of the review team were stuck in traffic, so while we waited we started without them and ordered a pre-game of cheesy garlic bread. We were all damn hungry so the majority of it went before I could snap a decent photo - I won't post it here as it isn't the best image, but if you're really curious I chucked it up on our Instagram after taking it) The garlic pizza was delicious. Plenty of garlic and so much damn cheese I thought we'd taken a road trip to Bega, a perfect way to kick off the meal.
The starter was polished off very quickly, the others arrived and we set our sights on the main menu. Parma was sighted...
Looked good! Pricing at just $14 it was very friendly on the wallet as well. We placed our orders and awaited our dinners.
Before very long at all (extremely prompt service, especially as the place was quite busy) our parmas began arriving out of the kitchen. Two by two, as if Noah himself loved parmas as much as we do.
God damn that is an impressive looking plate! Absolutely massive, I put the fork in the shot to give you some sort of perspective. This was an absolute monster.
So we've got a tick in two boxes. It's cheap, it's big ... but is it good? Completing the trifecta would be an unexpected feat for this unassuming Lygon St. cafe. I picked up the cutlery and tucked in.
The schnitzel was quite big, the sheer size of the massive plate makes the schnitz look small but this was definitely a big'un. The crumbs were crispy without the slightest hint of sogginess. The chicken itself was thinner than I would have liked, and not of the best quality, but nothing to gripe too badly about.
There was quite a bit of nude schnitz showing on top, but due to its large size that can be excused - The areas of schnitz covered by topping would be enough fill a normal man quite easily - and the crunchy topping free shnitz around the sides provided a nice palate cleanse in between bites of the flavourful toppings.
And thats about where my criticisms end! The traditional napoli was rich and full of flavour (definitely what I expected from Lygon St.) Like the garlic pizza there was an abundance of cheese, which sealed in the heat and kept the dish piping hot till the very end. Even the few basil leaves on top added a fresh tang to the dish and made it that much more visually appealing.
There was no ham, but being in the Italian district of Melbourne I wasn't expecting one. Yes it would have been nice, but we're going 'traditional' here, so it's really hard to complain about that.
The chips were fantastic. You know an establishment is proud of their chips when they put their name in front of them, and all mention of chips on Universal's menu referred to them as "Universal's beer battered chips". Massively chunky, perfectly seasoned with the spot on ratio of crunch on the outside to fluffiness on the inside. If they had've been served with some sort of dipping sauce (even a bit of heinz tomato sauce would have done the job) then we would have been looking at perfect marks.
Beside the parma laid a truly monumental mound of coleslaw, definitely not out of the supermarket deli section, this slaw was fresh and delicious, with plenty of dressing to spice it up. It's always nice to see some thought put into the salad, rather than your standard pile of green stuff with a tomato wedge.
All up this was a good meal. For only $14 this is a damn good meal.Value on this dish is well and truly off the charts, and this isn't even a special parma night, this is a $14 dish every day of the week.
Being just a quick stroll from the University makes this one to remember for all you starving students out there, for a damn reasonable price there is no way you are leaving hungry - for my money the Universal has got to be one of the best value parmas in town.
The Universal's parma isn't perfect, but for the price the few gripes I had with it are easily forgotten. I'm gonna keep looking and try and find a better Lygon st. Parma, but the bar has been set high. Damn high.
Delicious traditional napoli
No shortage of cheese
Crispy crumbs - no sogginess
Big! You won't leave hungry
At only $14 its a steal
Not the best quality chicken used in the schnitzel