Where - 52-56 Old Calder Hwy, Diggers Rest
Price - $28 ($20 on Tuesday parma night)
Website - https://www.houdinis.com.au
Reviewers – Lee & Nikki
On March 18, 1910 in a lonely paddock at Diggers Rest, barely 20 miles from Melbourne, renowned escapologist Harry Houdini made what is claimed to be the first controlled powered flight in Australia.
Unsuccessful attempts to take off were made by Houdini on March 17, but on March 18, 1910, the three successful flights were made. Houdini recorded in his diary “never in any fear and never in any danger; it is a wonderful thing”.
I’m gonna take a stab and venture a guess that this is why the only restaurant in Diggers Rest is known as “Houdini’s” (and the model biplane with hanging from the ceiling of the restaurant lends even more credence to this theory).
Diggers Rest is a strange little town. Absolutely booming when it comes to real estate with urban sprawl exploding out in all directions yet strangely lacking when it comes to restaurants. Entering the town via the Old Calder Highway takes you past the burnt out remains of the Diggers Rest Pub, and I wasn’t joking when I said Houdini’s was the only restaurant in town, a Google Maps search of “restaurant” returning these results -
One restaurant and a fish & chip/burger/pizza take away joint. That’s one hell of a monopoly Houdini’s has on this town! Yet strangely enough I kept hearing about it. No less than four different people telling me that we really should check out Houdini’s in Diggers Rest, that they are a surprisingly good little spot and offer up a damn tasty parma.
I’m sure I’m going to infuriate any residents of Diggers Rest with my next sentence, but I have been meaning to get out country more (yes yes, 20 minutes out of Melbourne isn’t technically “country”) but a trip up the Calder is definitely what the doctor ordered this week, so this Wednesday we headed to the only restaurant in Diggers Rest - Houdini’s Cafe e Cucina.
There is a relaxed, inviting vibe to Houdini’s that I enjoyed. Very different to the pubs we usually frequent I knew from the get-go that this would be a different experience to our usual weekly parma night. We took our seats in the quickly filling bistro (I wasn’t kidding when I said they have a monopoly, this place gets busy. I recommend booking a table if you’re considering heading down), and checked the menu for our evening’s target…
In a bit of a change of pace this week’s parma is served with roast potatoes and vegetables in lieu of the usual chips and salad.
No tapped beer at Houdini’s, stubbies or nothing and I’m afraid the craft beer lovers may go a little wanting with Cascade, VB, Carlton Draft, Dry, Boags, Corona, Crown Lager, Birra Moretti, Peroni, Hawthorn Pale and Kronenberg on offer. I wasn’t too fussed so a couple of Crownies suited me just fine, but if you’re in the mood for something a little fancier you might want to turn your attention to the extensive (and impressive) wine list instead.
After enjoying some complimentary bread balls with olive oil & balsamic (surprisingly tasty) our parmas arrived from the kitchen…
When I first saw this plating style I immediately flashed back to our trip to Omni, our 2017 parma that held the unfortunate spot of lowest scored review ever until they went out of business a few months later.
Luckily, this schnitzel was nothing like the one at Omni, as this one was actually good. Real chicken breast, not too thick and not too thin with outstanding, flavoursome crumbs (I think they had powered parmesan cheese throughout but I can’t be too sure). Cooked to a fine crisp that was extremely pleasant. This is not your usual pub style parma, this is a traditional Italian schnitzel, just like Nonna used to make.
Normally I’m the first to say that a slice of ham would have made a ham-less parma better, but to be honest I think a slice of ham would have hindered the traditional Italian vibe that Houdini’s are going for here. This isn’t a parma, this is a Parmigiana.
The napoli sauce was absolutely fantastic. Rich, rustic, packed with flavour and with a strong home-cooked vibe. The mozzarella was lovely, I normally like a richer cheese blend but I can see why they held back.
All up if you like your parmas traditional then this is definitely one to check out.
The spuds were pretty solid. I’m normally on the fence when it comes to the “should the parma be served on the chips?” debate, however I think in this case they definitely would have been better served to the side. They were flavoursome, pillowy on the inside and but almost super crispy on the outside, and I can’t help but wonder if the “almost” was due to the stacked plating style. Still, very tasty.
The butter soaked veggies were also full of flavour and a welcome change from the usual garden salad, however when I’m paying $28 for a parma I’d like a bit more than one floret of cauliflower, a slice of squash and 3 carrot slivers. They tasted great, but I was left wanting more.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph this parma clocks in at $28, which would be outrageously priced for a pub feed, but restaurants get to play by different rules. The parma was super enjoyable so I don’t feel too burned by the price tag, however if you can’t bring yourself to shell out 28 clams, Houdini’s offers a “$20 Pizza, pasta and parma Tuesdays”, with the following varieties available for just twenty bucks…
A much better value proposition with that one, although to be honest I’d probably still stick to the traditional parma over the novelty toppings as it was a great example of a honest, home-style feed.
I’m not too sure who this review is for. If you live in Diggers Rest you no doubt already know about Houdini’s, and if you live outside of Diggers you’re probably not going to get in the car and make a bee-line up the Calder Highway. However if you do find yourself out that way I recommend the Houdini’s parma. It’s something different than what you’d find at your local pub and definitely worth checking out if a traditional Italian style parma is something you think you would enjoy.
I wanted to end this review on a Houdini pun but to be honest they’re all escaping me at the moment...