Cafes, Restaurants and Dining in Perth, Western Australia.

Portorosa Cafe Restaurant

93 Market Street, Fremantle
Ph: (08) 9430 6126

A Charming Italian

WHAT is an Italian ristorante without an authentically Italian owner? Joe Napoli of Portorosa fits the bill perfectly, with his suave looks and romantic accent. Joe is actually from Portorosa (porto = port, rosa = pink or rose) in Sicily, a major port where seafood is a “must have”. Portorosa is a perfect name for this large, timber-floored space on the bend in the Cappuccino Strip in the Fremantle dining hub.

When I meet Joe, he is so warm and gentle, and I am delighted when he tells me his mother’s name is Rosa. The vital difference between Joe and other restaurateurs is that he was originally a hairdresser and is therefore a natural “people person”. I am instantly at ease with him. He feels like an old friend, and chatting is as important to him as it is to we consumers.

Joe arrived in Perth aged 14 with his parents, with just a suitcase and no English. Their only contact was his uncle. They lived in South Fremantle and Joe began working at Robbs Jetty in the abattoir, where many migrants could work without English. It was a hard slog.

One day a friend suggested he learn hairdressing, and after getting A1 for English prac. at Mt Lawley TAFE, Joe was ready for his apprenticeship.

Eleven years ago, with a string of four salons, Joe threw it all away to go into the restaurant business with a friend. Before long he had built up the business, and put in a new kitchen and new chefs. He ran Bella Napoli in Spearwood for seven years, and he hasn’t looked back.

Portorosa has been sailing along happily in Market St Fremantle for four years and Joe makes sure he mixes with his customers “a lot”, attempting to see everyone while he is working front of house.

Seafood is an important ingredient here. We had tiger prawns with our chicken, crab with our pasta and scallops with our pork belly. What a bonus.

Chilli Crab Linguini is a spectacular dish in both presentation and flavour. The crab in its shell looks and tastes bella. Such tender sweet meat – straight out of Cockburn Sound. The pasta is cooked perfectly by chef Dana D’Orazio; the sauce of fresh tomatoes, chilli, white wine and lovely buttery olive oil is simply delectable.

The 2012 Vasse Felix Chardonnay, Margaret River is fruity and cuts through the chilli really well. A great match.

Pollo Marino: char grilled chicken breast topped with tiger prawns in a creamy mushroom sauce arrives like a magnifico Vesuvius mountain, with creamy, garlicky mash, tender mushrooms, tasty chicken and sauce-drenched prawns. My partner finds this “moreish”.

Pork Belly on rocket with seared scallops was grande, with a crunchy top and smooth succulent, tender meat. The scallops and rocket complement each other and I enjoy the crunch of walnuts and the sweetness of apples. Joe’s favourite wine, 2011 Santa Cristina Sangiovese, Tuscany brings out the salty pork flavour perfectly.

The ultimate completion of a meal is dolce, and what could be better than Tiramisu? Served in a glass, showing layers of mascarpone, sponge fingers soaked in coffee and Tia Maria, with crunchy crumbs as a base, dusted with chocolate – I was in paradiso. What I enjoyed was the lightness of the dish, as I don’t fancy soggy desserts.

Portorosa serves hearty Italian meals, specialising in fresh, local seafood, pizzas and pastas. It is fully licenced, BYO wine only. A perfect place to dine, meet over a coffee and cake, or while the night away, and no doubt you will meet the charming Joe Napoli. It is open seven days for lunch and dinner.

By Frances Myshell

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