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Italian made simple

The worst restaurants and the best restaurants are equally

welcomed by food writers. They make writing easy. It says a lot about contemporary restaurant criticism that a writer only really hits his straps when he has something marvellous to say or, on the other hand, something excoriating to impart.

The heroic or the truly awful are what every critic likes to write about. Most would agree that the worst restaurants (to write about) are those which are plain, anodyne, unremarkable and ordinary.

In fact, this food writer loathes restaurants which are neither good nor bad but just, well, OK. There is so little to write about. No snappy bons mots leap to mind, no ascerbic observations spring forth, no wicked quips are forthcoming. Ordinariness is the enemy of sparkling writing.

This week’s reviewed restaurant was ordinary. This is not to say it’s bad. In fact, the majority of restaurants fall into the ‘ordinary’ category and are happy to do so.

Despite some of the food being cooked more with resignation than love; despite service which was casual, ad hoc and at times bordering on virtual; despite one pasta dish being so undercooked one can only conclude the kitchen believes al dente is a mafia hit man; despite all these disappointments, there’s something shambolic-ly, comfortably, nice about Gavino at Subiaco.

And despite a logo which proclaims “Gavino, Italian At Its Best”, it is anything but. (That soubriquet belongs to Altos, Pronto, Villa D’Este, etc). It does, however, have a bustling cheerfulness about it.

It’s the kind of restaurant favoured by level four public servants or suburban real estate agents for Christmas staff lunches. It’s an Italian local; a place to pop in for a quick, uncomplicated bite with family.

The garlic bread at $4.50 was fine (although with food costs for the four slices of garlic buttered baguette probably hovering around the fifty cents mark, something of an ask). The complimentary slices of grilled Italian sausage were welcome.

After lots of hand waving and wrist flapping, we eventually bagged and tagged a waiter and placed a drinks order which was promptly delivered. The wine list had one wine, a Moss Brothers white, available by the glass. One!? Curious, I asked if there were other wines available by the glass, and it seemed there might have been, but the waiter wasn’t sure and said she would have to ask the boss.

Another waiter arrived and explained that there were in fact three wines available by the glass. I am still unsure what these wines were – so loud was the room and thick the accent – but I recognised one word, SHIRAZ, and asked for that.

An entrée of chicken livers in a sort of creamy, cheesy sauce ($11.50) was quite OK. The three large uncleaned livers were picture perfect pink on the inside but the fibrous

connective tissue which joins the liver to the blood stream was not cut away. The sauce was accompanied by a dice of undercooked bacon and the dish was accompanied by a fine julienne of raw vegetables including carrot and beetroot.

Another entrée of penne with a mushroom, parsley and oil sauce ($11.00) was too salty but the mushroom sauce was terrific: dank, rich flavours with lots of depth. The pasta took the notion of al dente to new heights. It was very chewy.

A main course of linguini with garlic, oil and chilli ($11.00) was superb. Perfectly seasoned, it was simplicity itself. The balance of chilli, garlic, oil and salt was a lesson in pasta cookery. It was the hit of the evening.

The second main, roasted quail ($18.50) was generous and mostly well cooked. Quail is notoriously difficult to keep from drying out during cooking, and this specimen was a little dry. Otherwise it was fine.

The flavours were good. The cooking was OK.

Desserts; baked ricotta cheesecake, cream (sic) caramel and zuppa inglese were dull. The crème caramel may or may not have come from a commercial catering mix but it tasted as if it had. The zuppa was unlike any zuppa inglese I had eaten. Beneath its carapace of elastic meringue lay a chocolaty mass of unspecified origins. I left most of it.

Gavinos is cheerful, bustling and unpretentious. It promises nothing more than what it is: a cheap and cheerful producer of Italian favourites. The menu has six cold entrées, three soups, five hot entrées, five fish dishes, ten meat dishes and eight pastas; all straightforward, no-nonsense food.

It’s very popular with Subiaco locals.

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