The south-eastern Perth hills area is severely lacking in good restaurant options, so I was quite excited to learn that Zia’s Ristorante (the Italian translation for Auntie’s Restaurant), a family owned and operated Italian restaurant, had just opened. Deep down I was desperately hoping that it would be one of the best Italian restaurants that I’ve eaten at, both for the benefit of the local community and for the family operating the new eatery. Although a generally warm atmosphere, I unfortunately can’t say that it blew me away. There were a few things that I found disappointing, however I hope that they were merely teething problems and will be addressed with time.
The first frustration that I encountered was the lack of an online menu. In this digital age, I am of the opinion that any good restaurant should make available the menu, or at least a sample menu, through its website or Facebook page. This is something that requires minimal effort, so I hope that it isn’t too far away. The menu that we were given at the restaurant had a small note attached, saying that it is still being developed and refined; I suspect that this is the reason we could not obtain it prior to the night (even though a request was made directly to the restaurant a couple of days before).
The night began with a complementary serving of bread with two ramekins – one filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the other with butter. Although I do very much enjoy good bread served with simple condiments, it was somewhat lacking in the “yeasty” flavour that good breads have. The texture was not completely appealing, either. I think that level of this appetiser could be greatly enhanced with a better choice of bread.
We ordered two entrée dishes – arancini with calamari, and fried olives with roasted capsicum and cheese wrapped in a cured meat. The arancini were quite tasty and the rice within was well cooked. I think they could be more enjoyable with a crisper outside, as the ones we were served were quite soft. Served with the mayonnaise-like sauce, these would be great as an entrée on their own. Next to the arancini was a pile of bread soaked in olive oil, which felt more like a space-filler than something that added value to the dish. After being served bread in the complementary appetiser, I think this dish would be well served by leaving the toasted bread in the kitchen and focusing on the other elements.
The common use of the word arancini in restaurants is peculiar, and is a topic of debate amongst grammarians in Sicily and the rest of Italy. In Italian, the orange is l’arancia, and the tree from which an orange comes is l’arancio. Their diminutive plurals are gli arancini and le arancine (i.e. the small orange trees, the small oranges). Many linguistic purists will argue that arancine is the correct term for these golden Sicilian delights (so called because they resemble small oranges), however variations in Sicilian dialects have led to the corruption of the word and it’s usage, hence the modern day proliferation of the term arancini. Just some etymological food for thought for the next time that you are munching on one of Sicily’s greatest exports.
The second entrée also was both pleasing and disappointing. The wrapped cheese and capsicum was great and packed full of flavour, however that is probably where my love for this dish ends. Although I love the concept of deep-fried olives with a crispy shell, they were let down by poor execution. The capsicum-stuffed olives tasted like they came straight from an Always Fresh jar and were overly salty and lacking in flavour. A better choice of olive would improve this dish for me. Again, an absurd amount of toasted bread (flatbread this time) came with this dish.
The mains for the night consisted of pasta with a tomato sauce and meatballs, and the Amelia Park lamb with roasted vegetables. I was quite impressed when the pasta dish came to the table; it looked very appetising and modern. Unfortunately my excitement for dish was subdued upon tasting it, however the meatballs were quite tasty. I do like my pasta cooked al dente, however this pasta just didn’t have the silky texture that I have grown to love.
I asked for the lamb to be cooked to medium rare, and although it had a really great flavour, it was probably just cooked a bit too much. I was hesitant about the roasted vegetables at first, because all too often they come to the table tasting bland and over or under cooked. I was pleasantly surprised, though, because these ones tasted great. Unfortunately about half of the vegetable pieces (the half not sitting directly under the lamb) were cold by the time the dish reached the table. This was my favourite dish of the night and was enjoyable to eat, but could be bettered with some minor improvements in execution.
Next, dessert. There is no written menu, just a display sitting at the front. I was quite disappointed to find out that none of the desserts are prepared on the premises, and the provision of desserts was completely outsourced to another company. When it comes to cakes, sometimes this makes sense, however I would have loved to have seen a selection Italian desserts made in-house, even just a few simple ones such as tiramisu, zabaglione or panna cotta, each of which could easily be prepared in advance and served on demand, and would certainly be a nice touch to a local Italian restaurant.
Not a terrible dinner, however certainly tainted by a few flaws. I will always support family owned and operated restaurants, and I sincerely hope that Zia’s Ristorante is a success for them, however there needs to be some change if it is to become my regular locale for good homely Italian food. The waitstaff were all very friendly and helpful, so I am very willing to revisit Zia’s in the future and give it a second chance.