Cafes, Restaurants and Dining in Perth, Western Australia.

Zafferano Restaurant

173 Mounts Bay Rd, Perth
Phone: (08) 9321 2588

www.zafferano.com.au

The Prime of Perth

Albasio La Pegna, owner of Zafferano, has been a driving force in Perth’s restaurant scene since he arrived in 1981 from Naples, Italy. After years of working in our top restaurants he broke away and opened Bellissimo in Claremont , then Pronto (also in Claremont ) and Funtastico in Subiaco.

The current apple of Albasio’s eye is Zafferano, the Italian word for ‘saffron’ – the world’s most valuable spice.

Zafferano oozes opulence with its Seafood bar display, white linen, checkered tiled floor, and of course the best view in Perth. Zafferano takes full advantage of its location; most tables offer views , the large sliding windows open the dining area up to a petite alfresco area, mere metres from the river.

It’s worthwhile mentioning the awards that this establishment achieved over the last eight years.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase ‘Gold Plate Awards’ bandied about but what exactly are they? Run by The Catering Institute of Australia, they acknowledge the epitome of culinary talent and service, and are our longest independent awards (it’ll be 41 years in 2008).

Gold Plate judging is anonymous and professional, making it one of the Industry’s most comprehensive and esteemed awards. It’s quite a feat to win even one of the 32 categories yet Zafferano has won numerous awards since its 2002 opening.

Zafferano has dominated the seafood stakes, winning the seafood Gold Plate in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and the extremely prestigious Prix d’Honneur for seafood in 2005. Not to mention the Gold Plates for fine dining, which Zafferano has taken out in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Plus Best Restaurant of 2007, the Prix d’Honneur for fine dining in 2008… the list goes on. Needless to say, Albasio is running one top restaurant.

Albasio is quite a guy; he is Zafferano. He started it for the location and the opportunity to master Italian cuisine in a classic, high quality environment. Although he isn’t a qualified chef, he constantly involves himself in the food side of things.

He knows what food he likes, and – like many Italians I’ve known – he isn’t afraid to voice it. He’s a true creative director, overseeing the whole restaurant from conception through to operation. He’s passionate and serious; nothing is overlooked, or taken for granted, or out of his reach. You quickly sense that he’s got his fingers in the pasta, and loving it.

OK, so food, yes… it’s fine-dining, so the meals are classy but robust and hearty and all are made very simply. As Albasio’s right-hand-man Enrico Carnevali says, ‘In Italy, it’s not so much for the look of the food but the taste.’ Could have fooled me – the dishes were beautiful. But I know what he meant – that Albasio searches for the simple but vivid, uber-tasty flavours within Zafferano; something prevalent among the dishes we sampled.

To start, the Zafferano Seafood Plate, a chilled collection of fresh WA produce: poached crab, lemon pepper mussels, octopus with chilli and garlic, smoked salmon, steamed prawns (unshelled) and lobster, and to top it off, oysters from Streaky Bay. Great for fishy aficionados or to share, or for those who want to experiment with seafood under optimal conditions.

Next up, the lightly-spiced Calamari, quickly fried and accompanied by straw chips and served with a salsa tartara (tartare sauce). Not chewy, a perfect amount of spice and just so simple. I loved the crispy contrast of the match-like chips and the tartare’s tangy bite.

The Paella con Gamberi – large char grilled prawns on rice with mussels and sausage – was a perfectly presented Mediterranean affair, pretty close to ‘paella’. The rice was turgid (love that), and the spice played ‘good cop, bad cop’ with my tongue – it let me know it was there but faded away at the right times.

Margaret River’s Minot Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, with its stretching appeal to both dishes and palates, was indeed a great match for the complex meat-meets-seafood medley of the dish. A nice take, with the fresh produce once again the ubiquitous star of the show.

Zafferano’s signature dish, the Papardelle Zafferano, is ‘wide fettuccini’ pasta with blue manna crab meat tossed through it, and – saffron. They use dried ‘Artisan’ pasta from Italy, the best in Albasio’s eyes.

Crab stock, saffron, own-dried tomato, pear and a touch of chilli dominate the dish but it’s the parsley – chopped on a garlic-rubbed board so it gets just the right hint to keep it light and give it a different depth to the rest of the dish. A versatile dish that’d be great for summer or winter, lunch or dinner.

I loved the ‘Fungo’- large field mushrooms with garlic, oregano, and topped with large local scallops and a vegetable caponata, finely diced roasted vegies mixed with herbs. A large juicy scallop sat atop the delicate mushroom. Albasio said he will not serve this dish unless he has very large WA scallops. The entire mix of elements made for a combinazione deliziosa!

Our final treat for the afternoon was the Arista d’Agnello, a char-grilled, juicy rack of lamb cooked to perfection at medium-rare, and surrounded by petite stacks of eggplant parmigiana. The eggplant was a great backdrop to stage the lamb and I loved dragging the forkfuls through the uplifting salsa verde drizzled around the plate.

Zafferano certainly is one of Perth’s top restaurants but what it is not, is inaccessible. Sure, it’ll cost you a few clams more than your average restaurant – but who wants mediocrity these days? So go that extra mile, make a reservation and get down to the river’s edge to see just how Perth’s best fine-dining venue for four years running operates. Why would you need a special occasion?

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