Italian dining in Fremantle. How Fremantle is not nicknamed Little Italy I’m not sure, but the “Cappuccino Strip” on South Terrace is testament to how closely this area is related to Italian dining and culture.
At times it has been more cheap and cheerful, than anything else, but across Australia diners tastes and preferences have been changing over the years, and this extends here. Think places like Little Creatures that took up the challenge and won by incorporating their ideas in a manner consistent with the breezy Freo culture. Bread In Common is another good example of the growth and I’m told The Mantle complex is another good addition.
One thing I have always been skeptical of is the Italian restaurants in Freo and whether they are resting on their laurels. When you naturally compare to my new home (of seven years) in Melbourne, you have no choice but to be skeptical because the pastas are homemade, and cheaper, and better quality pizzas are available in most suburbs. However, an excellent meal at Nunzio’s in the old Essex shows that things are changing.
Take the tagliatelle and spaghettoni that Catherine and I tried respectively. Both homemade, both served perfectly al dente (mine a bit firmer due to the thicker nature of my pasta), and both served with simple, but delicious accompanying sauces. On the spaghettoni I had a lamb ragu, cooked for a good amount of time and quite deep in flavour. Catherine had porcini mushrooms that were glorious, along with sundried tomatoes, which is a bit old school, but worked.
Before this we had shared a starter of skewered prawn and squid, which featured fresh lightly cooked and crumbed seafood. They were good, but the side salad on the plate was a little awkward (and yes, quite old fashioned).
Dessert is ordered from a selection on the trolley. While there is a theme to the traditional, quite old fashioned dining experience, there are aspects from that time that are charming and enticing. The dessert trolley epitomises the charming side. Knowing we are eating Catherine’s Mum’s tiramisu in a couple nights, we had liberty to order outside of the favourites and went with the honey cake, and the apricot jam tart. The honey cake is simply outstanding, and the tart was excellent though overshadowed by the cake.
Another aspect in this heritage restaurant, converted from a house that has stood for over a century, was the friendly and well organised floor staff. It would be easy for such a beautiful white walled, linen clad restaurant to fall into a certain stuffiness, but the staff were down to earth, eager, and importantly, well versed in the menu.
At one stage one of the waitstaff mentioned to a table that they were the third table from Yorkshire he had served that week. The tourist element must be one of the reasons for the wine list being tailored to no one in particular, yet very well priced, and with just enough by the glass to get by.
Reflecting on a great meal, walking away from Nunzio’s on a balmy Perth evening, there isn’t a great deal I would change about our experience. A place where you can dine slightly off the busy strip, and continue to go back to without hesitation.