My Perth Italian Food Bender
If you had to eat just one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mexican immediately jumps to my mind. So does Asian, specifically Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and dumplings. Does Indian count as Asian? And I couldn't live without hummus! What cuisine does avocado on toast come under?
Needless to say, Italian is a little further down the list. Excuse the sweeping stereotype, but pasta doesn't woo me. It's just so... heavy. I'd fall asleep if I had spaghetti at lunch and risotto to me is just nutritionally unappealing. I know many of you are finding this blasphemous but I didn't grow up with an Italian nonna and a basil-scented kitchen (rather, my Polish grandmother cooked cabbage and meatballs). I did have a life-changing moment at Unravelled in Perth's western suburbs, when a simple tomato and basil spaghetti took my breath away. But the venue closed a few years ago so my love for Italian was once again sidelined.
Given this background, it was with some surprise I realised I've been on an Italian food bender lately. Not one, not two, but four restaurants across Perth in rapid succession. And you know what? I'd return to to all of them! From creative plates to classic dishes, put on your best white shirt and check out these inner-city Italian eats:
1. Solo Pasta, Mt Lawley
Confession: one of my all-time favourite Instagram searches is #noodlelift. If you go to Solo Pasta on Beaufort St, you can compete in the noodle lift Olympics! This venue opened a few months ago and has a simple but delicious concept: choose your pasta flavour (classic/spinach/beetroot), choose your length (3 metres is standard) and pick from one of the 19 sauces, neatly divided into tomato, cream and olive oil bases.
I ordered the tomato and eggplant sauce with spinach pasta ($18) and sipped my BYO chardonnay ($5 corkage per person). The wide tagliatelle-style noodles were like diving headfirst into a basket of ribbons. The sauce to pasta ratio was perfect: every bite had a rich, glorious coating with a few bonus spoonfuls at the bottom. The chicken coconut curry ($21) and WA beef fillet with mushrooms ($22) ordered by my friends were also met with applause.
In a rare move, I went back a week later with my sister and ordered the same dish except this time with beetroot pasta. I thought the spinach was a better match, but it was still tasty. We also had bread, butter and olive oil ($6), which we agreed was wholesome and delicious. Will there be a third visit? Absolutely!
- Food: creative takes on classic noodles.
- Price: entrees & sides $6-14, standard size pasta $18-$23. Quite the bargain.
- Atmosphere: casual, light and airy.
- Perfect for: relaxed catch ups, carb loading, creativity, fussy eaters.
Allergies? Any of the sauces can have ingredients omitted, except the seafood. Solo's is vegetarian heaven, although the pasta by the metre contains eggs. They offer gluten-free pasta which is also vegan, and GF and nut dishes are clearly marked on the menu. Buon appetito!
Address: 628 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley | http://solopasta.com.au
2. No Mafia, Northbridge
The word "sharing" makes some people shudder. Not me! Tapas is like creating a personalised buffet at your table, having precise control over dishes, portions and price. It also lasts longer than your typical one-course affair. When I saw No Mafia had a Chef's Selection Menu ($45 a head), I was keen to check it out. We booked a table for five on a Thursday night and were seated in a cosy booth at the rear. With no need to choose our dishes, we could get straight into the wine (No Mafia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $42). The chef was happy to accommodate for a vegan in our group.
An array of dishes were brought to us over an hour or so. A bowl of Bread in Common sourdough was the first to arrive, followed by Sicilian olives, gnocchi, several meat dishes, salads and some banging crispy, triple baked potatoes. Our table was covered in plates! I'll be honest, we ordered a second bottle of wine... and a third... and there was beer too. I can't remember if we had dessert. I do remember struggling at my 6am gym class the next day.
The food was absolutely delicious, although I couldn't try the gnocchi as it contained dairy. My carnivore comrades were grinning with their options. When the plates stopped arriving and we'd cleared their contents, we agreed we could've eaten a little more. However, I suspect a few hearty dishes were replaced with vegetable dishes to cater for the vegan. Definitely give the Chef's Selection option a go!
- Food: modern, stylish and beautifully presented.
- Price: antipasti, cheese & salads/sides $3-25, seafood & meat $24-39, desserts $12-13.
- Atmosphere: casual but classy, mostly thanks to the high quality of dishes.
- Perfect for: date night, double dates, light bites, sharing and pre-theatre.
Address: 189 William St, Northbridge | http://www.nomafia.com.au
3. julio's, west perth
Julio's is no newcomer to West Perth but it had a serious makeover in 2016 with the arrival of Sage Hotel. I walk past this Hay St venue almost daily on my way to the gym and I've been keen to check it out for months. My sister craving Italian and we hadn't caught up in ages, so I booked a table for 7pm on a Friday.
The restored heritage building has a stunning interior. Think wooden floorboards, exposed brick and several connected but open rooms that make you feel like you're at a friend's home. Our waitress was patient as we were too busy talking to actually look at our menus! I eventually ordered the hand rolled vegan gnocchi ($25) while my sister chose the cocoa tagliatelle with venison ragu ($26). I was envious when her meal arrived - wide, chocolate coloured noodles topped with crumbled hazelnut and asparagus. Mine arrived without any garnish. The tomato sauce was very light, too light for my tastebuds, but the gnocchi was firm and satisfying. Neither of us finished our meals, possibly because we had homemade focaccia ($8) too. It was an elegant two hours of wining and dining. I immediately told my boyfriend we had to go there!
- Food: generous plates, minus the cliches.
- Price: entrees $8-19, cheese/dessert boards $21-41, mains & pasta $25-39, desserts $15.
- Atmosphere: warm and romantic, with a hint of history.
- Perfect for: date night, after work drinks, wine and cheese platters.
Allergies? They do vegan gnocchi! Gluten-free and vegetarian options are marked on menu.
Address: 1309 Hay St, West Perth | http://www.juliosrestaurant.com.au
4. Pappagallo, Leederville
This venue isn't in the heart of Leederville but that's a good thing, otherwise it would have people lining up at its doors! Pappagallo is a sizable restaurant a little further up Oxford St with indoor and outdoor seating. I went here for a dinner with colleagues on a cold, windy weeknight but our al fresco table was sheltered by large, clear blinds and gas heaters. The menu was extensive in addition to the day's specials of osso bucco, truffled beef ravioli and mushroom risotto. The smoky scent of woodfired pizzas was tormenting me, but I chose gnocchi ($19) because it was dairy-free. The wine list was dominated by Italian varieties, and I went with a Pecorino ($8) as my first choice had sold out. Others had brought BYO, $8 for corkage.
The pasta arrived first. The truffled ravioli looked and smelt sensational - three flat but giant pillows covered in cheese. My dish was a bowl of rich red, but I instantly regretted my choice when I saw the pizzas. Enormous plates were placed in front of the lucky individuals, creating a halo of woodfired aromas above our table. Pizza is clearly where Pappagallo shines! I put my food envy aside and got stuck into my pasta. The tomato sauce was luscious and rich, exactly as I like it, but the gnocchi was in a dead zone of neither firm or fluffy. I'd asked for my dish without parmesan, and suspect it played a vital role in breaking the dish up.
I still ate most of my meal, which was another amateur move. No room for dessert! The Italian donuts had sold out but the affogatos, tiramisu and even the biscotti my colleagues ordered looked incredible. I'll be returning for Pappagallo's pizza very soon and will be sampling more of that wine list too!
- Food: the menu has something for everyone! Italian classics of every kind.
- Price: antipasti $4-18, pizza $14-26, pasta $19-24, mains $26 - market price.
- Atmosphere: a vibrant Italian eatery, family-friendly.
- Perfect for: groups and crowd pleasing.
Allergies? The gnocchi is dairy-free if you ask for no cheese, likewise with the pizza! Gluten-free pasta is available too, with all mains available gluten-free too.
Address: 1/250 Oxford St, Leederville | http://www.pappagallo.com.au
While I did declare my indifference to Italian food earlier, I should state Il Lido in Cottesloe is one exception. I didn't visit this beachside venue on my current Italian bender but it's consistently outstanding. Jamie's Italian is also worthy of mention for its excellent CBD location and good value for money. I'm yet to visit Lulu La Delizia, but this small Subiaco eatery was just named one of Australia's Top 100 Restaurants (read more here). Also on my list are Lalla Rookh in the CBD and Mt Lawley's ThreeCoins. It looks like my Italian bender is going to have a sequel!
QUESTION: Where's the best Italian you've had in Perth?