14/10/2010 - 00:00

Il Padrino takes it up a notch

14/10/2010 - 00:00


Save articles for future reference.

Nunzio Nici’s back to doing what he knows best at the new Il Padrino Caffe in Northbridge. Mark Pownall reports.

Il Padrino takes it up a notch

NUNZIO Nici took 18 years to build up the detritus of celebrity and service that wallpapered his former premises in William Street, Northbridge.

Prompted to move to much larger digs due to the refurbishment of the old buildings bordering the official cultural district, it’s hard to believe that Mr Nici hasn’t been in his new James Street restaurant for equally as long.

The only real telltale sign Il Padrino Caffe hasn’t been there forever are the quaint remnants of the former business – a gated doorway, a marbled entry and red pillars.

A sushi train in the middle of the room points to a recent occupation by a Japanese establishment.

But Mr Nici doesn’t seem fazed by these odd cultural mismatches; it’s all part of the Il Padrino story, which is crammed on the walls, shelves and tables. There are hundreds of photographs of customers, mementos of famous guests and even email messages from grateful diners.

Nothing, it seems, ever goes to waste. He has even built his pizza oven in the middle of the sushi train, using the little conveyor belt to serve customers.

The character of the venue is matched only by the personality of its owner, who clearly lives for nothing else than making people happy via his food and conversation.

“I make people feel part of it,” Mr Nici tells Gusto. “You have to work out if people want the attention.

“Some want it and others don’t, they are doing business.

“You have to use discretion.”

Mr Nici, or Nunzio as his regular patrons know him, came to prominence a decade ago when he won the crown for the world’s best pizza at a contest in Palermo, Italy.

Soon after he was invited to make pizza for Pope John Paul II. A letter of gratitude from the pope’s adviser is stuck to a pillar near the door.

It was something of a homecoming for Mr Nici, who left Capo d’Orlando in Sicily 25 years ago on a holiday.

At that stage he was considering moving to the US, having been told he’d make a fortune there.

But things didn’t happen immediately in Perth, where he arrived with his wife and two young sons.

He was a chef at Le Mirage and the Merlin Hotel before deciding to improve his English at night school, working on building sites to pay the bills.

A year or so after arriving he built his own mobile pizza oven and went into business. He recalls debuting at a Northbridge festival, backing his trailer and Holden Kingswood into the crowd near the Brass Monkey, a spot that sits between his old premises and the new restaurant.

“I gave everyone a slice of pizza, I gave it to the policemen and all the people to try the product, that is how I started,” he says.

Things have certainly changed, though for nearly two decades he was in a comfort zone in William Street where he was lucky if he could seat 70 people.

The new establishment is of a different scale. Mr Nici says he can fit up to 250 patrons, including a separate private dining area at the back of the business and a licensed bar at the front of the venue.

He also offers classes.

“People come and see me cook and I can do demonstrations,” he says, pointing to the oven in the middle of the room.

“I have the pizza academy so I can get the students around me and teach them about the old way of doing pizza, gourmet pizza, it’s a recipe from my grandmother.”



Subscription Options