Food News

Now open: Pasta Pi-Ci, a gluten-free fresh pasta “deli” in Melbourne’s inner-north

Handmade, dietary-inclusive, and sold by weight. And just three weeks in, word has spread.

Gluten-free pasta varieties at Pasta Pi-Ci: agnolotti with river mint, black garlic, capers and pecorino (left), and "curly boiz", similar to trofie. Photo: L.A. Hall

Many chefs say their food is a labour of love, but it’s particularly the case for chef Lachlan Peachey. He opened Pasta Pi-Ci, his gluten-free pasta shop in Melbourne’s Brunswick, because his girlfriend, descended from a family of gluten-intolerant diners, was craving “not-shit” gluten-free pasta.

The quality of mass-produced dried pasta has improved in recent years (though the confluence of the so-called “clean-eating” and gluten-free industries has resulted in culinary abominations such as red-lentil pasta: “Texturally disgusting, and flavour-wise, it’s not nice,” says Peachey). But there remains a gap in the market for fresh, handmade, and egg-based renditions for the gluten-intolerant, and Peachey believes his pasta “deli” can help fill that ravioli- or tagliatelle-shaped hole.

Pasta Pi-Ci (the title is a phonetic play on the chef’s last name) opened in mid-September, in a former café off Brunswick’s main drag. Step through the door – the one stamped with “tutto senza glutine” – and you’ll find a display table of four pasta varieties, a combination of short, long and “fun, filled pastas”.

Customers select their pasta of choice, and Peachey weighs and packages it up. The pasta takes about 2 minutes to cook at home, and he recommends 100 grams per person for an entrée-sized serve. Depending on the variety, they’re priced from $30 to $38 per kilo (or $3 to $3.80 per 100-gram serve).

The display counter at Pasta Pi-Ci. The variety of gluten-free pasta shapes changes regularly.

(Photo: Lachlan Peachey)

The selection changes regularly. On the day Gourmet Traveller calls, there’s plain pappardelle and native-oregano corzetti on the menu, plus carob-cinnamon pappardelle. “[Carob] is a very Sicilian thing. When you just have carob as a chocolate [substitute] it’s disgusting, but together with cinnamon in pasta it’s beautiful,” says Peachey.

He’s just sold out of the agnolotti with broad beans, Geraldton wax and mascarpone, so he’s making scarpinocc – a filled Lombardy pasta that resembles dented wrapped lollies – stuffed with Taleggio, porcini mushrooms, walnuts and black garlic instead. “I’ve made about 50, so there’s about 150 more to go.”

Peachey – who once worked at the original Ottolenghi deli in London when it opened in 2002 – is the sole chef and operator at Pi-Ci. He hand-rolls, folds and slices about 10 kilograms of dough a day in-store, armed with a motorised Marcato Atlas pasta machine, a carbon-steel ramen knife (“I have tagliatelle knives which are similar shape, but they’re not as cool”) and a combination of rice starch, corn starch and free-range eggs from Burd Eggs in Goulburn Valley.

“The main challenge is replicating the properties of gluten. It might become chewy or fall apart,” says Peachey. At Pi-Ci he’s using a recipe that’s been tweaked over the years, with silky results akin to traditional whole-egg pasta, minus the sliminess typical of gluten-free versions, while still being malleable enough for filled pasta.

But he’s not about to rest on his laurels. There are plans to add ground malted rice – a by-product from a beer-brewing company – to help replicate the sweetness of wheat flour, and he wants to improve the structure of the dough so it’s sturdy enough for southern Italian shapes. “I haven’t been able to do orecchiette just yet – I might need to decrease the egg and add more water.”

Lupa at the entrance to Pasta Pi-Ci.

(Photo: Lachlan Peachey)

Kitchens and gluten-free customers have a complicated relationship. Depending on their size, scale and advance notice, chefs are mostly able to accommodate food allergies. Peachey has been on both sides of the pass. “Working [with chefs] in kitchens, dietaries give them the shits a lot of the time, and it’s understandable – you have recipes and systems all worked out,” he says.

But he says gluten-free sufferers can feel “side-lined” in food venues, and the strong gluten-free online community means even small wins are wildly celebrated. “When Tip Top came out with gluten-free bread – a shitty white bread – people went crazy for it.”

And just as he’s done his due diligence with his pasta recipe, so too has he with his research. After reading a PhD thesis on the demographics of gluten-avoidant eaters, he realised Pi-Ci’s target market was mainly educated women, aged 18 to 45, who live in the inner-city. Ergo, Brunswick. And despite being open for just three weeks, word has spread. “It’s been so busy. I haven’t had the chance to experiment [in the kitchen],” he says. “Or spend much time with my girlfriend.”

Pasta Pi-Ci

10 Breese St, Brunswick, Vic

Open Wed to Sat, 10am to 6pm


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