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Way down south

David Pike is pleasantly surprised by a new addition to the food scene in the South West ... and it’s not in Margaret River.

THERE is a host of great things about working outside your everyday environment –new adventures, new people and new opinions among them. Another is the chance of finding a new restaurant/bar/café, especially when you’re in my line of work.

Late last week I found a place that fits into the latter category … an absolute gem tucked away in the little community of Witchcliffe, just south of Margaret River. Unfortunately, unless you are passing through and in need of fuel or the morning paper then Witchy, as it is referred to, is not the liveliest of places. A few months ago, however, Romano Rorelli took up the lease on the restaurant site adjacent to Witchy Liquor Store. The restaurant had been vacant for more than two years before Romano decided to bite the bullet and bring his culinary skills to a local community craving well-prepared and presented food.

So, when I suggested to our vintage crew that we head out for dinner and sample some of the fruits of our labour over some decent tucker, without hesitation it was suggested that we visit Pensiero. With the knowledge that Roman was involved as a chef with another of Margaret River’s dining experiences, Flutes at Brookland Valley, it seemed a worthwhile option.

Pensiero seats about 35 people at any one time and Romano told me these space confinements meant he sometimes had to turn people away.

I believe that Pensiero has most of the ingredients to succeed. Word-of-mouth recommendations are a powerful tool and many of the people I have talked to over the past few days have enjoyed a meal or have heard good things about this Witchy alternative to the Margaret River eating strip.

One of the ingredients that will need to change, however, is the elevator music, which really starts to grate after an hour or so.

The menu ventures to tempt a range of diners. Our table tried the soup of the day $9.50 (pumpkin on the day we visited), the gnocchi with petit potato dumplings and a truffle salsa in a light cream sauce $13.50 (which you can have as an entrée or a main at $19.50). And while you often find gnocchi that has been prepared too far in advance comes to the table quite stodgy, and therefore often heavy, this dish was perfectly prepared and, although rich, was well seasoned and had plenty of flavour.

Pate of ostrich liver with bread wafers and honeyed apricots at $14.00 was my pick of the entrées listed. There was a slight gamy flavour running though the dish but it was not overplayed, but probably could do with just one more little wafer.

One of the great arrangements at Pensiero is the fact that it offers BYO wine. If you were really particular or overly passionate about the wine you were taking to dinner you could even set up you own wine glasses, but I haven’t got that bad yet. I would like to suggest that, over time, a couple of decanters will be added to the restaurant’s inventory. Slowly the days of great BYO restaurants are disappearing. With the Witchy Liquor store next door, don’t fret if you haven’t a ready supply.

For main course our table sampled the Harvey Beef fillet served with capsicum chutney on a creamy potato mash and braised parsnip. Those who partook in the beef were impressed with its melt-in-the-mouth succulence, and all the fillets were cooked as requested $25.00. The chicken breast carved on a caramelised butternut pumpkin with Kytren goat’s cheese and an almond pesto $23.50 was perfectly presented, with the goat’s cheese complementing rather than overpowering the dish.

Barramundi seems to be one of the flavours of the month and is making an appearance in more and more restaurants as fish of the day. There were no complaints from the two at our table who tucked in. They said it was one of the most enjoyable fish dishes they had eaten. Presented on a bed of herbed mash, delicate flavours entwined through the dish and complemented the freshness of the barramundi.

After thoroughly enjoying the venison ribs at Cullen a few weeks back, I couldn’t go past the venison cutlet. The Margaret River venison cutlet was presented simply, with a warm salad of beetroot and orange and a little cracked pepper jus $26.50. You would be hard pressed to find fault with this dish. The cut was tender and the accompanying citrus and sweetness of the beetroot was most welcome.

For those looking to venture out and enjoy very good food, Pensiero is well worth experiencing. I have no doubt I will be heading into this restaurant many times before I finish my vintage down here in Margaret River. It is a difficult location yet, with some imaginative decor and a few new CDs, I think that they have a recipe for success.

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