Kiwis. Sure they’re good at playing ruby and making us laugh when they say the number six, but what do they know about finding quality restaurants? After all, their national cuisine consists of burying food in the ground, right? These were the thoughts that were going through my head on Tuesday night on the way to check out Café Italia in East Perth on the recommendation of my brother’s New Zealander girlfriend. Well, turns out that behind all of the haka shouting and hilarious grappling with the English language there just might be a little bit of good taste as it turned out to be excellent.
I really wasn’t expecting much of a restaurant located on the eastern end of Hay St on a Tuesday night but it turned out to be a bustling little low-ceilinged joint absolutely brimming with people. Pleasantly surprised already things only got better when our shared starters of salsiccia sausage, bruschetta and garlic pizza bread arrived. The sausage was rich and spicy and the bruschetta very well done too, but the pizza bread took the prize hands down. With a perfect, crispy base, elegant tomato sauce and hair-thin slivers of garlic on top it was one of the best examples of the dish I’ve had outside of the mother country. Although we didn’t have any pizza as such we did spy a few go past and, seeing as they do takeaway, I think I’ll be having one much sooner rather than later.
For mains we ended up doubling up a bit, but for very good reason. Myself and Dad can never resist a good capretto al forno (slow roasted baby goat for you non-Italian speakers out there), my brother went for the lamb shanks while Mum and Sarah (the kiwi in question) opted for the linguini vongole (clams). Once again it was all sublime. Both the capretto and lamb simply fell off the bone and melted in the mouth. Both also had enough spices and seasoning to accentuate the meat yet still let its natural flavour shine through. Ditto with the vongole as it was delicious yet subtle and understated like proper seafood pasta should be. If I ever had to explain exactly what it is I love about Italian food then this meal was the perfect example of it; everything was just right, nothing was overdone and they let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Seeing as we were at an Italian restaurant and enjoying ourselves so much we thought that it would be rude not to partake of a little dessert, so my bro and Sarah shared a chocolate gelato while mother dearest and I split a tiramisu. Both were, yet again, lovely and so was the rocket fuel-esque limoncello that we rounded things off with.
Being pleasantly surprised by a new restaurant is a rare and wonderful experience in my book, and this was certainly that. The service from the all-Italian staff was impeccable, we had a good bit of banter with our waiter and the food was absolutely top notch, but more than that the place had a great sense of character. This is due in no small part to the fabulously grumpy proprietor. According to Sarah if you turn up without a booking you’ll be scowled at and made to wait even if the place is empty and on one occasion he ran across to room and loudly accosted people that had the nerve to come in and seat themselves. Brilliant! In fact the very first time she went in there he kicked them out because she was only sharing a pizza with a friend (not enough to warrant you taking up a whole table in his opinion) but the pizza, which he graciously let them take away, was so good that they ended up coming back and she’s now pretty much a regular. To top it all off the place even comes with its own mafia style notoriety (well kind of). Remember the head that washed up on Rotnest Island a while back? The body that it had previously been attached to was found in an apartment upstairs in the building. How’s that for authentic Italian?
So, if I had to sum up the morals of the story I guess they would be that a) it turns out you can get killer Italian food in Perth for pretty reasonable prices (it came to $60 a head), b) you never know when there’s an awesome surprise waiting just around the corner and c) it turns out that those that hail from the land of the long white cloud might not be as daft as they sound.