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Found: Perth’s best risotto & gelati

Arborio rice – whether cooked in Italy or Australia – is the same. Good chicken stock is the same here as it is in Italy. The same can be said for fruit and veg.

And yet, eating a risotto in Italy is to experience the dish anew. The flavours are more distinct. The dish seems to talk more of the produce and less of the chef. An excellent Italian risotto is, honestly, simply good, whereas one could say an excellent Australian risotto is wow or fabulous.

There is a bloke in Perth – Fremantle actually – who cooks what I have long believed is the best risotto in town. To eat Guido’s risotto is to be transported via simple, rustic excellence to Italy. Guido also makes the most rigorously authentic gelati in town. More on that later.

Guido, his brother Bruno and their parents have owned and run the Primavera for thirteen years. Known to devotees – who come from all points of the compass – it attracts the rich, the poor, the tradesman and the broker: people motivated by fine food rather than what a gushing cuisine commando from a glossy mag has deemed ‘in’ or ‘out’. If you desire kumara chips with slow braised ling lips, chances are you won’t get this place.

Be under no illusions: this is plain, uncomplicated straightforward food, albeit cooked with great care and precision on premium produce. Those who regularly eat at more cutting-edge restaurants might find Primavera’s cuisine too simple to enjoy. For me, though, it exemplifies all that is good in Italian home cooking – terrific produce, cooked ‘la casa’.

Guido’s nine risottos are an elegant expression of where Primavera is at. They do not have a pretentious bone in their

considerably farinaceous bodies. All of them – and I’ve had a few over the years – are cooked to al dente perfection on Arborio rice.

Guido stoutly refuses to par cook, a concession most other chefs are willing to make in the interests of quick service. Consequently his risottos have a spring in their step and a tell-tale creamy finish that only comes from a risotto cooked to order from scratch.

In terms of flavour and ingredients, they are traditional and yet not conservative. A risotto made on blood oranges (when Guido can get them) and capers is simply one of the most exquisite and interesting dishes I have had in some time. Its ingredients are decidedly southern Italian and yet risottos are an ancient innovation of the north. It is a cross-cultural marvel.

Other variants are more traditional. The risotto Mare Chiaro ($16.50) is made on seafood and peas, finished with cheese. The highest compliment I can pay it is that it evokes in me memories of lunches in a small trattoria in the languid heat of a Tuscan summer: Cool and dark inside and with views across rolling hills to the distant, shimmering towers of Sienna’s main campo.

Primavera is more than good risotto. It has eighteen pasta dishes, eighteen fish dishes, a selection of salads and accompaniments and nearly twenty antipasti. The accent on seafood comes as a consequence of Guido’s brother Bruno being a Fremantle-based professional fisherman who provides fresh fish daily to the restaurant.

The gamberri fritti ($12.50) is simply what it says: deep fried prawns. No more. No less. It was so simple it came as something of a surprise. The prawns – about eight to ten of them – were arranged on a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce and accompanied with seafood sauce in a scallop shell. The prawns were only just cooked. Terrific.

The penne alla Norma ($12.50) was a robust dish made on a good tomato sauce and salted fried eggplant. As simple as it was, the tomato sauce was strong and flavoursome and the salted but unrinsed eggplant provided a briny, dynamic tang which lifted the sauce to great heights.

A main course of char-grilled swordfish ($21.50) was nothing more. An enormous slab of swordfish grilled and then plated up. The fish was magnificent: fresh, melt-in-the-mouth and slightly crusted from the ribbed griddle plate. It was moist – although not pink – in the centre.

The spaghetti alla vedova ($14.50) was also a corker. It was in a squid ink sauce, made the proper way with unflavoured pasta bathed in a rich, black squid ink coating. (as opposed to the non-authentic use of flavoured or coloured pastas).

The sauce is based on tomato pulp which gives it bulk and ‘stickability’, with the ink added at the last moment. After the first mouthful, and with his lips looking like he’d just wolfed a pack of black jelly beans, my dining companion commented that it was “just like eating the ocean”.

Primavera is a must-visit experience. Rarely does food so unaffected combine with refined traditional techniques and exquisite ingredients, to produce confident home cooking of this stature.

Primavera has a large wine list with mostly Western Australian listings and a small contingent of Italian producers. It has a disappointing by-the-glass choice of wines.

Puddings are mostly of the cake and pastry variety and selected from the cabinet. I can’t go past the tirimasu or the gelati.

Italian-made gelati is a puzzle. How is it that it is fluffy and creamy, yet low in milk solids and fats. The answer is that gelati is made on milk. It is rarely – if ever – made with cream or eggs, as are those from most other countries.

This presents a conundrum. To make a milk-based ice cream in a standard domestic or commercial ice cream maker is to produce a thin, watery and icicle-ridden product, and yet the Italians manage to create huge creamy qualities from their gelati.

The secret? Gelati is made in a machine designed specifically for the task. Its large stainless steel bowl spins much more rapidly than a standard ice cream maker inside a

sub-zero bath of meths and water. As the milk, sugar and flavourings set in the

spinning bowl, they are whipped and turned furiously by an auger. The mixture is

transformed into opaque majesty by sheer rpm, and with a richness that belies its milky provenance. One can only wonder at the forearms of the Sicilians who made gelati before electric mixers were invented.

Guido’s gelati is made on hi-lo milk, not out of any weight watching concerns, but because he says the low fat product makes a better ice cream. By my calculation, this means a bowl of three scoops of Primavera gelati probably has fewer calories than a skinny latte.

Having eaten gelati in Italy, I can say that Guido’s is the best I have tasted here. Well above local commercially-produced Italian brands, it can hold its head up when compared with that produced in Italy.

Primavera deserves its good reputation.

A meal at Primavera is the culinary equivalent of ‘stopping to smell the roses’. It is a celebration of the refined naturalness and honesty of good peasant style cuisine.

It is food made by nice people who care deeply about what they cook, and it shows. It is an experience rare outside Italy.

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