Nunzio’s – Fremantle – Sunday 3 January 2016 – Dinner

Tagliatelle, porcini mushrooms, sundried tomatoes

Tagliatelle, porcini mushrooms, sundried tomatoes

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.

Skewed grilled prawns and squid

Skewered grilled prawns and squid

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.

Spaghettoni, lamb ragu

Spaghettoni, lamb ragu

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).

Honey cake

Honey cake

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.

Apricot jam tart

Apricot jam tart

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.

Nunzio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Little Creatures – Geelong – Saturday 29 November 2014 – Dinner

Spiced lamb, zucchini, goat's cheese

Spiced lamb, zucchini, goat’s cheese

Trust is an incredibly important commodity when it comes to hospitality in general. Patronage is built on experience, reputation and trust. Of the three, the only element that is blind is trust.

I trust in Little Creatures. I am not sure which element appeals the most. But I can tell you that the reason I am here tonight is the knowledge that Little Creatures delivers on food. Each and every experience I have had in Fremantle and Fitzroy have been great. Fuss free, quality ingredients, with unusual precision for what in the end is a restaurant singing an ode to the beer it is marketing. Maybe that is the veil that separates expectation from reality and leads to such an over-delivery.

While I realise I’m gushing about Little Creatures I cannot help it. The brewery and restaurant in Fremantle was an absolute revelation when it opened in what was previously the Crocodile Farm. It was huge, full of people enjoying some of the best new beer to be released in some time (I could say from a WA perspective the beginning of the craft brewery movement), and the instant favourite of most Perthites. I was always impressed that the Fitzroy venue (a German beer hall) kept the same ingredients for success.

The Geelong edition is well signposted, which is good, since without the signs it would have been difficult to find! In a working brewery, the “canteen” is past the car gate security check, down the lane, to the right, past the waiting room looking shipping container, and then to the right again. For a well hidden room, the restaurant is a big space. The red brick building is beautiful and old, but I have no doubt a lot of care and effort was taken to renovate it into the venue it is today. There’s table service for diners and a large bar for those seeking relief from only their thirst.

Prawn, jalapeño, gremolata, mozzarella

Prawn, jalapeño, gremolata, mozzarella

After hearing Alice Waters’ speech about slow food culture, and uniformity not always being the great attribute it often is held out to be (referring to the MacDonald’s lack of creativity and more adverse consequences of uniformity), I am loath to use the words. However, the style of pizza offered at the Geelong brewery is uniform to that offered at the other Little Creatures outposts. Catherine and I share the spiced lamb with zucchini and goat’s cheese pizza, and also the prawn, jalapeño, gremolata and mozzarella version. Both pizza bases are nice and thin, with the right amount of crispiness for my taste. The prawns are generously spread around the base and the jalapeños are hot. The gremolata, which I find is a mix of lemon zest, parsley and garlic, adds a distinct punch, but isn’t quite as generous as the prawns. The spiced, minced lamb on the other pizza is thickly spread, and works well with the zucchini and goat’s cheese. There is some sort of reduction, like a sweet balsamic, drizzled over sparingly which also adds further interest, cutting through some of the richness of the lamb. Both pizzas are terrific.

Needless to say, the beer (and cider) is fresh and true to recipe. The Rogers I am drinking is a darker ale that has less alcohol than most of the other offerings. Given we are driving back to Melbourne tonight after watching Violent Soho at the Barwon Club, there is a need to keep a lid on it (figuratively and literally). But the Rogers is one of the best mid-strength beers I’ve tried anywhere in the world, so I’m happy. The cider has a mild sweetness but is on the drier side – a style which is unfortunately becoming more the minority as more and more sweet ciders seem to be hitting the market.

In and out relatively quickly on this Saturday night I have been reminded again of how important trust is when selecting a venue to dine at. The Little Creatures stable of restaurants have the ingredients to attract a diverse and significant following, and every single time I’m there those ingredients are delicious!

Little Creatures Geelong Brewery on Urbanspoon

Bread In Common – Fremantle – Monday 18 August 2014 – Dinner

cumin roasted carrots, almond, ginger, carrot tofu

cumin roasted carrots, almond, ginger, carrot tofu

Most times you go out for dinner the biggest ingredient, and one of the only ones you can control once you’ve sat down, is your company at the table. This should not be taken too literally as I know you have no choice when dining communal style!

Breaking bread. It is a warm concept. Sharing a meal with friends and/or family is one of the greatest pastimes of all civilisations. So I love the name Bread In Common for a restaurant. As you might now expect it is filled with communal tables and bread is a theme (for $2 per person which is a little strange in a way – I’ll get on to that later).

mushrooms, chickpeas, rocket, hummus, sorrel

mushrooms, chickpeas, rocket, hummus, sorrel

It is well documented that the team of owners who have BIC have many other restaurants in Perth. The one that BIC is most closely based is Il Lido in Cottesloe which is one of my favourite places to eat in Perth so no surprise the formula works for me and I’m in awe of the extensive warehouse stripped back fitout. It is popular on a Monday night so it’s not just me either.

One of my best mates rates this as their favourite with packs of energy and enthusiasm, and we have been planning to catch up here for ages. We have a good group for a catch up and before you know it we are digging in to several share dishes.

That is the thing to do here – share lots of reasonably priced dishes (think around $15 for veg and around $24 for meat and seafood dishes). The portions are not overly generous but there is, literally, a bite or two each of most between the seven of us. I am a numbers man so let’s say about $2 a bite for the more expensive dishes! Each dish sounds great. The menu is well written and when ordering the service is helpful.

beef rump, wood roasted pumpkin, capers, pepitas, fennel, hay ash

beef rump, wood roasted pumpkin, capers, pepitas, fennel, hay ash

Out of what we tried, the hits are the chargrilled chicken, the carrots, the duck fat roasted potatoes and the pork shoulder. The mushrooms are dominated by polenta (which is not mentioned on the menu?) but are okay and the rump is a miss as it is far too chewy. The cuttlefish was just okay but missed for most of us, especially given it had been talked up by our waitperson. They didn’t bring the beetroot and for some reason made an executive decision on the second chicken dish even though we would have gobbled it up.

cuttlefish, tonatto, beans, pickled apple

cuttlefish, tonatto, beans, pickled apple

The corn accompanying the chicken is divine. It is one of the best combinations I’ve tried recently. The duck fat potatoes live up to the promise and are indulgently served with roasted garlic, rosemary and ketchup (aka tomato sauce). The carrots are beautifully roasted and come with carrot tofu (aka surprise pumpkin) that is soft and tasty. The cuttlefish was strong but not with a rich decadent flavour so it was a little off-putting and strong smelling. The beef is just simply using the wrong cut for what they are trying.

We had been here for ages chatting and catching up and it is a great space to do just that over some nice food. The dessert was right for the concept – beautiful bread and butter pudding with a modern touch of burnt toast ice cream that was more playful than anything else. It did have a hint which is all you would want of burnt toast! The pudding was denser than my favourites but was delicious all the same.

The collection of owners in these restaurants are making a killing and they deserve to. Their places are always great spaces, well thought out, and normally not taking themselves too seriously.

I do need to touch on the $2 bread and $0.50 butter, $0.50 olive oil and $3.50 dukkah. Is there really a need to do this? We each had one piece of bread and I was just confused. They didn’t come back once over a 3.5 hour dinner and offer more so I’m guessing that’s it. It is just tacky for such a great place. Breaking bread doesn’t have a price on it!

BIC is a terrific venture, and honours the vibe of Fremantle and it’s local architecture. The feel and effort that are present mean it is going to be part of the dining scene for a long time to come but there are improvements to be made.

Bread In Common on Urbanspoon