If you live in Perth, you will have heard of, or have dined at Ciao Italia at some point. You would have heard fantastic things about their food, the famous queues that start at 430pm for a table before the restaurant opens, or about the incredibly friendly Italians who run the place.
I have never dined at Ciao Italia itself - only ever ordered take away. This first time I dined in, it was with three other friends who were visiting from overseas, and we got lucky. We were there at 5pm, and at first thought the line for a table started outside and dumbly stood around waiting for a waitstaff to attend to us.
However, I saw that everyone around us were in large groups and there were no waitstaff outside to take information from waiting customers. After about ten minutes I was confused enough to go in and ask a waitstaff about a table for four. The man at the counter simply asked me if I had everyone present, and once I said I did he immediately ushered me and my friends to a table. Not too bad for someone who has never had a table at Ciao Italia.
I'm not going to lie, I thought I was in for a rough ride. Me and my friends were tired from being out all day at the Perth Royal Show, it was noisy and crowded in Ciao Italia, food being carried precariously from waiter to waiter, loud cutlery, shouting in the kitchen and people shuffling around all the time.
Yet once I sat down and adjusted myself into my surroundings, I was immediately and loudly greeted by our waiter with a big smile and some water. In his thick Italian accent he handed us our menus and swiftly wiped down our table again when he saw a missed spot. I saw the faces of the diners around me, all happy and chatting animatedly over the large quantities of food steaming at their tables, glasses clinking, waiters laughing with them as they opened wine bottles and set down eagerly anticipated plates, and the distinctly Italian music in the air.
I left the food ordering to my friends, one of whom had eaten at Ciao Italia more than I have, and another who was much more experienced with Italian food than I was, and the last who was very hungry:
When you see a wood fired oven in the middle of a restaurant, order a pizza.
In our pizza, it would be one where we are likely get a pizza that is deliciously fresh and piping hot, with the simplest ingredients of fresh tomato sauce, sausage and charred capsicum - dripping with cheese and sausage oil, with a crispy pizza base crumbling over your plate with every bite.
My friends have a soft spot for chilli mussels, or cozze. In Perth, this is not difficult to get - chilli mussels are sold almost in any and every seafood eatery, but it is difficult to get chilli mussels which actually aren't overcooked, not cleaned well, or even delicious.
These chilli mussels were delicious, not spicy enough for me even though we ordered them spicy, with small, sweet mussels which were very well cleaned of whiskers and sand, with a sauce that did not overpower or kill the natural taste of the shellfish. It was a very large serving of chilli mussels, very much enjoyed by everyone at the table, and we even found ourselves dipping bread into the sauce after we finished each and every mussel in the bowl.
This is my go-to when I am ordering food from Ciao Italia, something I fondly call 'The Pink Sauce'. We chose the classic spaghetti to go with the combination of peas, sausage and mushrooms, absolutely coated in the beautiful creation that is a mix between cream and tomato sauce. The sauce made me want to cry, and so did the perfection of their spaghetti, cooked so perfectly al dente.
Say what you will about Ciao Italia, but every time I have this dish it tasted exactly the same. No difference whatsoever. I always find myself impressed when chefs cook one dish and no matter how many times they recreate it, the dish turns out the same - perfect, flawless and delicious.
My friends also ordered a second pasta dish, a special that was not from the main menu, a tomato-based, white wine and garlic clam sauce, again served with spaghetti.
I enjoyed this tremendously, a clean sauce that rinses the palate, full of sweet clams, chunks of tomatoes and a dry, smooth aftertaste of white wine. So lovely and simple, again with the perfectly al dente spaghetti.
The main focus for me in any pasta dish is the actual pasta and the sauce. It doesn't matter to me what other ingredients are in there, whether it's truffle slices or salami slices. All I want to taste is the quality of the pasta, and the sauce that accompanies it. I really, really love pasta and even though pasta, whether handmade or boxed, is not difficult to cook - it is incredibly difficult to cook it right. In Ciao Italia, it is done perfectly.
The dessert of the night had to be their very famous Tiramisu, served absolutely soaked in cream, powdered cocoa, layers of sponge fingers soaked in coffee and liqueur with a very lovely, thick topping of mascarpone cream cheese.
You cannot go to Ciao Italia and not try their dessert. If you think you are too full, you aren't. Order yourself a cannoli, tiramisu, profiterole or even a strawberry tart. Trust me, you aren't full enough to skip dessert at Ciao Italia, they put their dessert shelf at the very front of the restaurant for a reason and if you skip their dessert you will never know what you've missed.
Or order a cannoli to take away, and enjoy it with a short walk at Millpoint, where the view of Perth city is amazing.
Italian food to me, is all about simplicity - it's about the simplest ingredients put together to blow your mind. Ciao Italia, despite their small space, has fully utilised their potential space and what ingredients are available to them in Australia to provide customers with authentic Italian fare with big smiles and hearty food.
Also, their serving portions are huge as well, so keep that in mind when you order your next meal at Ciao Italia. They also don't take reservations, so remember to get there early, especially if you are dining in a big group. (Also, let them know if it's a birthday, they'll give you a surprise!)
Ciao Italia can be located at:
273 Mill Point Road,
Cnr Douglas Road
Cnr Douglas Road
(Delivery and takeaway available.)