Lunch at Caffe Italia with Cellobella

On Tuesday last week I had the pleasure of lunching with Cellobella. We’d planned to eat at Mai’s Vietnamese restaurant, which is supposed to be open for lunch seven days a week – but when we got there we were baffled and dismayed to find the iron gates padlocked, with no note explaining why. Feeling slightly dejected, we walked along Hay Street considering our options.

A sign across the road at the front of Caffe Italia proclaimed “PIZZA”. I’d walked past Caffe Italia a few times before but had never eaten there; neither had Cellobella. I think she’d been really looking forward to Vietnamese fresh rice paper rolls but Italian wood-fired pizza sounded pretty good. Unless I have a specific craving I’m usually up for anything, so I was happy to have pizza. Besides, eating at a new place means new photos, and I always think of the blog when deciding where and what to eat for lunch.

As soon as you step through the doorway into the restaurant, you breathe in the warm and mouth-watering aromas of parmesan and garlic, which are extremely hungrifying. On one side is a takeaway section, with pizza on display, sold by the slice, looking positively delicious. On the other side is the restaurant, where we had lunch. Thumbs up for the cloth napkins. Italian music played in the background. Even the staff were Italian. :)

The menu was extensive – from fried calamari to polpetta (meatballs) served with fresh bread to arancini to garlic prawns to veal parmigiana and a wide range of pasta dishes with variations involving chicken and seafood, white wine, cream, napolitana sauce and garlic – it all sounded fantastic. In the end, we stuck with our original thoughts and decided to share a pizza (it really was a “you had me at ‘hello’* moment, except in this case, it was “you had me at ‘pizza'”). Although I’m proudly and voraciously carnivorous, the Vegetariana pizza (AU$18.00) sounded great, with roasted capsicum, zucchini, mushrooms, olives, marinated artichokes, garlic and tomatoes. It was pretty easy for us to agree that’s what we’d go for. I don’t like olives (which was lucky for Cellobella, she got to have them all!), but everything else was right up my alley. I love love love roasted vegetables. We were thrilled when this pizza, freshly cooked and piping hot, was brought to our table. Poor Cellobella waited patiently while I took a round of photos (thank you!).

Vegetariana pizza

The pizza crust was crisp on the edges and bottom, yet wonderfully chewy. It had the appearance of dough that’s been created and shaped by skilled human hands – an imperfect (which made it perfect!) circle, just a little bumpy and knobbly on the edges, so much more texturally and visually appealing than pizza chain pizza bases. The fresh tomato sauce did make the dough somewhat soggy towards the centre, but the rest of the pizza was so yummy I didn’t mind the sogginess.

Pizza close up

It was the size of a decent dinner plate, and we easily ate half each. A few people at tables nearby were eating a whole pizza each. I reckon if I hadn’t had breakfast, I could’ve eat a whole pizza, but I think I’d prefer to cut a deal with my dining companion, if he/she was up for eating a whole pizza too – we’d both order a pizza each, choosing pizzas that we’d both be happy to eat, and then each eat half of each pizza. But then again, I think while I could eat a whole one in one sitting, I think it’s wiser and healthier to just eat half (some would argue half is too much, anyway!). :)

Pizza close up

The mozzarella cheese was amazingly stretchy. When I pulled my first slice away from the pizza, the strings of mozzarella stretched on and on and on and I thought I’d have to stand up and back away from the table! OK, no, not really, but it really was extremely stretchy. You can see the stringy cheese all tangled up at the pointy end of the slice. Probably looks a little gross like that, but it was delicious. You can see under the zucchini there’s fresh tomato – that’s where the sogginess was. But other than that the pizza crust was crisp and tender and utterly utterly pleasurable to eat.

Such stringy cheese

I wasn’t going to mention this, but I thought this strange moment was kind of interesting. A man who appeared to be the manager/owner (he appeared to spend his time mostly walking around the restaurant schmoozing customers) asked me if my hair was real. Yep, really. He’d come swanning over to rescue my big woolly winter coat which had dropped to the floor; he draped it with a flourish over a chair, made some so-called charming comments about the beautiful coat and the beautiful woman who owned it (*snort* I just find such talk comes across laid on a little thick and kind of smarmy. It’s not that I am ungracious when paid a sincere compliment, but I doubt my looks are outstanding enough to elicit such compliments from random strangers – hence the icky smarmy shudder moment); he made some other comment about my hair and then asked, “Your hair, it is real, yes?” I wasn’t insulted exactly, but a little surprised! (If anyone is wondering, now that I’ve mentioned it, yes, my hair is real. It’s currently around waist-length and badly in need of a trim.) I would’ve thought that was a risky thing to ask a customer. Luckily the pizza was so good and I don’t have any insecurities about the “realness” of my hair, or he might have been in trouble! :) He may be pleased to know I haven’t been put off and I do plan to return at a later date to eat more of Caffe Italia’s food. The pizza was good, but I’d like to see what their other dishes are like. I’d like to just order a selection of starters for my meal: polpetta, arancini and calamari. And some garlic bread. Maybe that will be a dinner, rather than a lunch, so I can sit, relax and enjoy my gluttony slowly.

Oh yes, and the company was pretty good too ;-). All in all a most pleasant lunch. Such a shame we had to go back to work. :)

I forgot to ask Cellobella for her thoughts, so if you’re reading this Cellobella, do feel free to share!

Caffe Italia, Ristorante Pizzeria at 251 Hay Street, East Perth, is fully licensed as well as BYO.

*A quote from the movie Jerry Maguire. Here’s a YouTube video of that moment.

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