Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Francoforte Spaghetti Bar, Northbridge, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Alissa and I hardly ever go out for Italian food. Not because we don't like it - on the contrary - but it was one of the first cuisines I learnt to cook and understand, and with Jamie's Italy, the exceptionally good The Art of Pasta and a plethora of other cookbooks at home to scour for ideas, we tend to eat Italian at home instead. Combine that with the fact it's generally seen as acceptable to charge $20-30 for a bowl of pasta and yet under $10 can get you a bowl of ramen, dining out for Italian ends up being saved for an 'event' meal rather than casually popping in somewhere the way Alissa and I do for Japanese and Vietnamese food. So when I heard there was a fairly new pasta joint in the (recently) hip arcade at 189 William St with prices in the under $20 price bracket, we had to try it out.

Hidden away down Arcade 189, the restaurant may not be the easiest to find if you don't know what you're looking for, so the chalkboard easel standing near the arcade entrance was a comforting sign that we were heading the right way.

In a move that must surely warm the hearts of Perth hipsters hoping to be ahead of the curve, the restaurant's signage is notable for the glaring omission of its own name, instead featuring an image of a fork next to three squiggly lines. In spite of this 'in the know' right of passage, the glyphs' representation of a fork and pasta was clear enough a signifier that this was indeed the place we were looking for - Francoforte Spaghetti Bar.

The interior featured a very contemporary bare bones design - wood panelling on the right wall, an exposed, intentionally crappy industrial feature wall on the left, a long communal table, a few smaller tables and bar seating by the window.

We were here for Alissa's birthday weekend as a catch up with her brother Ben (centre) and his partner Kelsey (left). With Alissa's parents having moved away from Perth, it was particularly good to see Ben and Kelsey and spend some time with her immediate family still in Perth. After perusing the menu, we decided to go with a plate of the Antipasto for Two to share between the four of us, and a large bowl of pasta each.

The Antipasto for Two was a fairly standard combination of cheese, bread, italian sausage, olives and capsicum, some fresh vegetables and a few slices of rockmelon. These kind of plates are fairly simple assembly jobs, so its really down to the quality of the produce on hand to impress. Everything was good but not exactly surprising, with the exception of the olives and the rockmelon. The olives presented here had a softer flavour than the usually super-salty variety most of us are used to, and as such was definitely above average. The slices of rockmelon were very sweet and refreshing, combining well with many of the other components on the plate. If going with the smaller bowl size of pasta, it would probably be advisable to go with a plate of this antipasto to share between two rather than the between four we attempted, but was probably right considering the size of the large bowl.

Ben and I ordered the same dish - the decidedly hipsterish Kale Pesto consisting of kale and lemon, pine nuts, almonds, pecorino cheese and cacciatore sausage,  with some added chilli as a side order. I've had all kinds of pestos over the years and it always exciting to try a new take on something I've repeatedly proclaimed as being the king of pasta sauces. The use of kale here instead of the more orthodox choice of basil was inspired, making a convincing case that this healthy vegetable is so much more than the ever predictable kale chip suggests. When I've eaten them as chips I've found this vegetable can be bit on the bitter side, yet in this context and cut by the lemon, it tasted very nice indeed. The slices of cacciatore sausage on top were unnecessary but a welcome bonus to what was ultimately the dish of the night.

In spite of these positives, the execution was not without its faults. There was a glaringly obvious issue with the dish as it tasted as if there was little to no salt added, or someone forgot the 'season to taste' step before serving the dishes to us. This was an easy enough fix as there was a salt shaker on the table, but generally speaking I'd expect a dish to come to the table with no reason to reach for the shakers. Also, Ben and I both thought that a few whole pine nuts on top would have been a nice garnish.

Alissa was tossing up between the Guanciale Carbonara (cured pigs cheek!) and the Cartdriver's Pasta. She eventually decided to go with the latter, a combination of porcini and portabello funghi, tuna and tomato. Alissa commented on how decent the serving sizes were, and thought their was a good balance of tuna, mushrooms and sauce, and that the spring onion was a welcome touch. As with the Kale Pesto, Alissa thought this dish needed more salt and possibly more garlic too - an assessment I would concur with. After adding some salt and chilli the dish markedly improved, becoming punchier and more robust in flavour though she ultimately admitted to have serious dish envy looking at the Kale Pesto.

Though not a vegan, Kelsey decided to go with the (Wish You Were) Vegan as she thought the limitation might result in a more interesting option. A combination of spinach, mushroom, cannellini beans and fresh tomatoes, Kelsey had originally not asked for extra chilli, however her initial impression of the dish was that it was a little on the bland side, needed more garlic and that she really had to dig to find the mushrooms. Kelsey half-jokingly suggested adding parmesan would probably have made it even better, though of course de-veganising it.  After adding salt and chilli to bolster the flavours, she felt it was really nice and in particular thought the cannellini beans were delicious. Having tried a forkful myself, I felt it was quite similar to Alissa's order and that the beans filled the role of a meat analogue admirably.

The Verdict: Very Good
I read someone on Urbanspoon refer to Francoforte as 'the best pasta in Perth', which I think is either unfairly hyperbolic or naive, and undermines the value of what these guys are about. We have much better pasta restaurants in Perth, but those restaurants are pitched at a much higher price point and thus fill a different niche. I think what Francoforte are offering is really commendable - a no frills, rustico pasta specialist offering very good pasta for a reasonable price in a central location. There certainly was a hole in the market and they have filled it commendably. They have some work to do in terms of getting their seasoning right, but overall Francoforte Spaghetti Bar was a satisfying meal. We'll definitely be back; I've gotta know what their Guanciale Carbonara tastes like...

Francoforte Spaghetti Bar on Urbanspoon

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