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Take me back to Sorrento

FEW would debate my theory that the Sorrento Restaurant is one of the most pleasing refurbishments of the many in the Northbridge precinct.

Sorrento has been a part of this area for so long the place is a key element in the soul of the dining district.

Sorrento is in a delightful section of downtown James Street. A strip west of Lake Street where leafy trees and al fresco dining on both sides of the street almost transfer you mystically to Europe.

The now defunct Botticelli was a stablemate of Sorrento, both restaurants under the ownership of Alfonso di Lanzo and his family. Tuscan cuisine was the speciality here and during its day it served some of the best food in Northbridge. But, during this time, I always thought Sorrento suffered from a lack of attention resulting in inconsistencies in service and cuisine, while Botticelli had the consistency but not the clients.

The demise of Botticelli has been good for Sorrento and now this family cash cow is once again receiving the full focus from the proprietors. So, now is the time to return to Sorrento?

Once a tailor but always an entrepreneur, Alfonso di Lanzo is one of the great hosts of Perth’s dining scene. He is also a deft hand in a kitchen and tends to prove it when the mood captures him. This is a good place to listen to the daily specials and consider them.

Until you get to seafood dishes, Sorrento prices are very affordable but in the restaurant’s defence, seafood is an expensive commodity so you will see market price alongside some dishes. At the time of writing, dhufish is generally difficult to obtain throughout the industry and prices are sky high.

I have had some excellent risotto here and the menu boasts two - a fungi version with mushrooms, sweet basil and tomato ($15 and $20). The other is del giorno (of the day).

Good food is all about fine ingredients and this is the key to this restaurant. While di Lanzo’s opposition eateries across the street appear to be offering a 20 per cent off sale, the Sorrento continues to serve at menu prices and maintain a large following. The average entrée at this trattoria costs $12.80 and the principal dishes $21.40. Still affordable after you add side serve dishes such as pasta $5, garden salad or vegetables $6. Bread in a basket is $3 extra and I must say that in any restaurant, but especially a continental dining room, I consider bread as an essential part of the meal and should be inclusive.

Scaloppine alla campagnola ($21) is a dish to try. Pan-fried medallions of veal capped with spinach and the cheese that took the world by storm. Mozzarella hails from Southern Italy, initially made from rich buffalo milk; cows milk has taken over with buffalo breeding becoming a diminishing practice. This is the pizza cheese and that is how it is used over the veal. Add to this a white wine and tomato sauce and the result is very clever.

Again, a dish called cotoletta pollo alla parmigiana ($20) is fine for chicken lovers who enjoy flavour. Crumbed chicken is capped with a meaty bolognese sauce and two cheeses, mozzarella and the world’s most popular cheese, parmesan.

The latter is a condiment for so many dishes and soups and is an institution in Italy and around the globe. I can’t imagine the Italian cuisine without it.

It’s hard to fathom an Italian restaurant without the normally compulsory spaghetti bolognese but the closest you will find here is spaghetti marinara, this seafood pasta is $15 as an entrée and $22.

I enjoy the farfalle al salmone ($15 and $20). This is the butterfly pasta with salmon, spinach and vodka sauce. It’s a dish that seems lighter than many pasta dishes and one to have a vodka chaser with.

Ostiche doesn’t refer to those large, long-legged birds that have forgotten to fly. It is, of course, Italian for oyster and here six of the shellfish cost $13 naturale - and add a dollar for Kilpatrick.

Sorrento has a balanced menu but not a large document. This food list is accompanied by a practical, reasonably priced wine list. This is one of the few places I see Moss Brothers verdelho ($29.) or by the glass ($8). I certainly recommend this delightful little white wine. Actually, I think the place had a better wine selection before it was licensed.

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