27/02/2008 - 22:00

Monterrubio’s back in the house

27/02/2008 - 22:00


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Veteran of Perth’s culinary scene, and the man who claims to have introduced garlic prawns to Perth, Jose Monterrubio, is back in business after a short-lived break.

Monterrubio’s back in the house

Veteran of Perth’s culinary scene, and the man who claims to have introduced garlic prawns to Perth, Jose Monterrubio, is back in business after a short-lived break.

Mr Monterrubio says the tedium of retirement led him and his wife, Tani, to end their four-year retirement with the opening of a new restaurant, Casa Pepe.

“I’m only 68, I’m still young,” he says.

“I have a lot of fun running the business; the clients make my day. We have a laugh and in return they give you a few dollars.”

Although Mr Monterrubio says he could continue to run restaurants for a further 30 years, he thinks Casa Pepe will be his last venture.

A passion for food helped the Spanish-born restaurateur to cultivate a strong entrepreneurial attitude – Casa Pepe, located at 94 Aberdeen Street in Northbridge, is Mr Monterrubio’s 10th restaurant.

He says that, when he came to Perth in 1970, there was very little that could be called a “culinary scene”, and he was appalled at a coffee culture that seemed to be no more than instant coffee and cold milk.

He claims he brought the garlic prawns recipe, originally a Spanish dish, to the Perth scene, which was garlic-free in the 1970s.

“We are the first ones who brought the garlic prawns to Perth. In those days, garlic was a no-no,” Mr Monterrubio says.

It was the ladies of Peppermint Grove who, keen to try  garlic prawns, spread the word, he says, with  the dish growing in popularity after that.

“They promoted the garlic prawns like mad,” Mr Monterrubio told Gusto.

Garlic prawns, which then became one of Perth’s top selling dishes in places such as the Witches’ Cauldron among others, have featured on Mr Monterrubio’s menus since.

Mr Monterrubio also had a battle on the coffee front when he joined the Perth restaurant scene.

“No-one would drink my espresso coffee. I bought a coffee machine from European Foods that cost me $1,800, which was a lot of money at the time, and customers would spit out my espressos in disgust,” he told Gusto.

Mr Monterrubio has opened venues all around the Perth metro area during his 38-year career; his first restaurant was Franco’s, which opened in 1970 in East Perth.

He then opened the first Casa Pepe in 1972 near the then metropolitan markets on Wellington Street. It was there that he met Tani, who performed flamenco dance in the venue at the time.

In 1973, Mr Monterrubio opened Casa Latina in Northbridge, and followed with James Bistro on Hay Street in 1974. In 1977, he opened his first restaurant in Fremantle, Jose’s, and the first Hay Bistro on Hay Street opposite the Melbourne Hotel.

The Hay Bistro 2, next to his Majesty’s Theatre, was opened in 1982.

After two years Mr Monterrubio moved his operations to the coast, where he settled for a while with the Brighton Beach Restaurant in 1984, which he kept for 12 years, and La Traviatta, which he ran for eight years until he decided to retire in 2004.

Now, back in the game, Mr Monterrubio wants to replicate the concept of his first venture, Franco’s, which was labelled as “the home of garlic prawns, magnificent steaks and fresh seafood”.

He says Casa Pepe offers simple, easy-to-digest food that customers can come back to eat every day.

In fact, when Casa Pepe opened earlier this month, Mr Monterrubio was surprised at the number of familiar faces that turned up for lunch – customers of his previous businesses who he hadn’t seen for up to 12 years.

The menu features seafood and steak with a selection of entrees, and one or two specials every day. Each dish is served with Boulangere potatoes – sliced baked potatoes cooked with stock and onion – and green salad.

“We’re not here to make a fortune, but to have some fun,” Mr Monterrubio says

Casa Pepe is open for lunch Tuesday to Friday and dinner Tuesday to Saturday.


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