Author: Rob Broadfield
Publisher: The West Australian
A reader sent a letter last week. The essence of his inquiry was “Who are you and what have you done with our restaurant reviewer?”
He was dismayed that our reviews of late have been overwhelmingly positive. “What happened to the plain-speaking tough guy,” he lamented.
He was right. We have had a string of pleasing restaurant experiences in recent months, so the more incendiary reviews, which readers seem to enjoy greatly, have been thin on the ground.
My response? “Keep the faith brother, there are still loads of rubbish restaurants out there and many more reviews to come.” Which is little solace to him because this week’s review is good, too — surprisingly so.
Funtastico in Subiaco has been ordinary for the best part of a decade. Founder Albasio la Pegna created a fun, quality pizza and pasta joint which everyone, it seemed, wanted to go to. That was the 1990s. He sold it in 2002 and, for a range of reasons which aren’t all that clear, it fell into steady decline.
In May 2015 it was bought back by the family who owned it for a few years in the early Noughties. We had heard that it was good again and were sceptical. Was our scepticism rewarded? Not quite.
There’ll be no fancy schmancy culinary awards for Funtastico. The mavens who write for glossy magazines — the sort of people who call a spade a delving implement — will ignore it. But it is pleasant, fun, welcoming and enjoyable.
On our Friday lunch it was loud and buzzing and full of Subi business people, mums and dads, groups of girlfriends and clusters of mates all getting their Italian on. The staff, led by owner Nicky Tangney, were on the ball, almost running from table to pass to table to bar to pass. High energy.
Funtastico has an unfashionably big menu: 10 “share” dishes, 11 pizzas, nine pasta dishes, nine main (protein) courses, five sides, seven desserts and a cheese selection.
A pizza — a basic Margherita with sausage, $24.50 — delivered. The dough was good: puffy and blackened around the edges and thin on the bottom. It held its shape when folded. It was nicely “wet” but the toppings didn’t slide off and trickle greasily down one’s forearm. The sugo base was sweet and not over-reduced, making it fresh and spritzy. A few scattered basil leaves gave the pie a pungent punch. All in all, a cracker of a wood-fired pizza.
They’re making a good profit on their field mushroom entree — $18 gets you a mushroom and a half (what happened to the other half?), but then we didn’t mind because this simplest of dishes was elevated by the basic act of great produce cooked carefully and without fuss. The mushrooms were anointed with good oil before being pushed into the wood-fired inferno for a few minutes to slump and caramelise, and allow the skin to tighten like an ageing actor after a facelift. A few shavings of a mild pecorino and a scatter of peppery rocket leaves, and there you have it. Marvellous. My lunch guest, chef Don Hancey, kept poking at it and mumbling through a mouthful of mushroom that it “wasth the bessth dith of tha daythss”. Don’t talk with your mouth full, Don.
Fritto misto was a lightly dusted, gently fried platter of calamari, whiting, scallops and prawns. Yes, at $38 it was a bit of an ask but, again, the level of produce was above and beyond. Scallops were brilliant, the tiny slivers of whiting were soft and the kitchen-cut calamari was soft and buttery. Given this precision, it was a surprise to have prawns overcooked. Seasoning was on point.
Bucatini is one of our favourite pasta shapes. It’s like spaghetti but thicker, and dense. It teamed superbly with a light, fruity amatriciana sauce, $28. Without asking, a waiter brought a bowl of chopped fresh chilli in oil to the table with the pasta. Perfect.
And if you’re looking for a side dish of some magnitude, try the piselli pancetta, a pea dish bound with scrambled egg and pimped with fried pancetta. Lovely.
First impressions are everything. In fact the first 30 seconds of your restaurant experience are the most critical and yet, across this city every day, you can walk into a restaurant and be ignored. It’s not malice, it’s just dumb-a.... restauranting. So how delighted were we to be met with a cheery “hello” and meaningful eye contact as we crossed the threshold (as was every customer who walked in after us). Within seconds we were told: “If you wait a minute, we’ll sort out a table for you,” and the experience just got better and better from there. That’s how it’s done.