PASTA is one of those styles of cuisine which truly tests a restaurateur’s ability to offer value for money – mainly because everyone thinks it is a simple dish to throw together.

New outlet Monza is the latest to have a crack at this market, with a reasonable attempt at blending the best of Italian food in a funky setting, which fits its Leederville location.

Monza is the creation of Geoff Hayward and Marie Hewson of ‘Cino to go’ fame, who sold their five outlets to the Dome Group last year. Monza aims to provide fast, fresh and fantastic Italian food with a menu based around signature dishes of antipasto, pasta and risotto.

The interior is an integral part of a restaurant, cafe or bar and Monza, designed by David Hartree, has a modern, lively feel and the funkiest lighting I have seen for a while.

Chef Justin Bell, previously head chef at 44 King Street Cafe, has put together a delicious menu. We started with an antipasto plate, which changes daily, and were treated to: Tuscan tomato salad with a slight chilli spice that was refreshing and full of flavour; salt cod; caramelised onions with Italian sausage (which I would have preferred with some spice); a slice of perfectly cooked frittata; a salad of fig and gorgonzola; and arincini filled with hazelnuts, pumpkin and goats cheese, which had plenty of flavour, even if the pumpkin was a little hard to find. The medium sized plate is $19.50 (large $28.00).

The main dishes are a choice of pasta, gnocchi and risotto and come in medium or main sizes. The medium serve was ample for me (relatively small eater), while the main will certainly fill those with a bigger appetite.

The rabbit pappardelle with rosemary, pine nuts and pecorino mushrooms was my pick of the dishes. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the combination of the seasoned stock with tenderly cooked rabbit and pecorino was a true delight. And I’d certainly head back for another medium serve at $18.50.

Another of the dishes with flair was the beetroot risotto with venison and horseradish mascapone.

The risotto was expertly prepared and topped with venison medallions that were tender enough to melt in your mouth. The large serving comes in at $22.50. One of my dining companions ordered the gorgonzola gnocchetti, which was presented with figs, charred whitlof and pinenuts.

While I would struggle to get through a large serve of this wonderful, rich combination, there are no complaints about the quality and presentation, with a medium serve at $17.50. In fact, all the produce we sampled from the menu had plenty of flavour and authenticity.

The wine list is a welcome relief for those with a more discerning palate. Many of the wines on the list offer not only good value but also match with many of the dishes on the menu. If you’re adventurous enough to get out of your comfort zone you will be rewarded with gems such as the Mt Langi Pinot Grigio and Cantine Pra Soave Classico. On the red side of things, the Prunotto Barbera D’Albo and the Bethany Grenache are worth exploring. The prices range from $29.00 through to $44.50.

While the standard of food more than lived up to Monza’s mission statement, I am not sure the same can be said of everything.

Monza’s own press material claims its service is ‘friendly and perhaps a little cheeky’. It did not live up to that. On two visits within a week I was a little disappointed by an apparent lack of attention to the sort of detail you come to expect from a restaurant in this price range.

Perhaps the service is just undergoing teething problems at the moment or, as management suggested, maybe I was just unlucky. I must admit, the experience was better the second time I visited, in mid week rather than a frenetic Saturday.

At the end of the day, very few people can create pasta dishes like those I discovered at Monza.

In the end, it will be up to the punters to determine whether or not they like the Monza experience.

Restaurant meals for review are paid for by Business News.

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