The night had begun with much gnashing of teeth – where to take my interstate friend for dinner in the Stirling area? I didn't want to drive too far, I didn't want to eat at a fast food joint, and I didn't want to be embarrassed with either high prices, bad food or dodgy service. Perth already has a reputation for incredibly high prices without the corresponding quality. I simply wanted a nice meal at a decent price. In Stirling.
What about Amaretto?' suggested her mum. Of course. Located on the corner of Main Street and Hutton Street making it highly accessible to the freeway, Caffe Amaretto has been around for more than 15 years. Dishing up breakfast, lunch and dinner, Amaretto prides itself up serving traditional Italian meals at a reasonable price.
I had been to Amaretto before for breakfast and lunch and always been satisfied, but this was the first time I had been able to sample one of their wood-fired pizzas. I was glad I did. There is a choice of 11 pizzas plus a child's mini pizza, with the prices ranging from $16.50 for a Margherita (fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato, olive oil) to $23.50 for a Frutti di Mare (tomato, mozzarella and fresh mixed seafood). We had already seen the ladies on the next table pack half a pizza up each to take home, such was the size, so we decided to share a pizza (and an entrée and a dessert).
We chose the Capricciosa ($21.90) with tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushroom, ham and egg. Apart from embarrassing myself with the pronunciation, it was a winner. The dough was not too thick or thick, soft and slightly chewy, blackened slightly around the crust, in other words - perfectly cooked. The egg cracked in the centre somehow belonged on that pizza; it added a texture not often found. It was inevitable that we fought over who had the last piece.
We had also chosen an entrée to start the night. Six decently sized prawns came out in a sizzling bowl full of garlic and oil ($24.50). We soaked up the excess garlicky oily goodness with our complimentary bread. Other entrées include chilli mussels and spicy squid. There is a selection of salads together with the multitude of pasta, seafood and meat mains. It is an extensive menu yet highly typical, and very considerate in that it offers all its pasta dishes in medium ($14.90 to $21.90) and large sizes ($17.50-$24.50), which is just one of the small gestures Amaretto makes, which says to me that they actually care about their customers. Astonishing, isn't it.
Another one of those gestures is offering all of the pasta dishes for children at half price, as well as providing other 'small meals' on request. How rare that children aren't restricted to a boring menu of chicken nuggets or sausages and chips.
The restaurant was really quite full by the time we showed up, without a booking, at 8pm on a Tuesday. The number of tables with pizzas spoke volumes of their popularity. Less popular was their dessert options, limited to a large parfait of fresh fruit salad, and a (half empty) glass cabinet of cakes. The range was heavily skewed towards cheese cakes and mousse cakes and I am pretty sure they are not made on premises. They also offered those curious and – let's be honest – pretty vile sounding imitation-main-meal ice-creams: lasagne, bacon and eggs, spaghetti, steak tartare.
When I saw a fellow customer digging into the bacon and eggs ice-cream, I couldn't help but wander over to her table and ask her about it. The bacon, she said was strawberry ice-cream and really quite delicious. The fried eggs were mango (sorbet?) on a scoop of cream. She was laughing as she ate, but she finished it. We passed on the fake meat ice-cream and shared a rather average cannelloni.
The last surprise of the night was when the hostess, upon seeing one of us fumble with a credit card and the other with some cash, offered to split the bill in two and let us each pay separately with our preferred method. 'But people don't do that,' I told her incredulously. 'I do,' she said.
Small things, but they all add up. The speed of our bread basket arriving on being told there was a starving pregnant woman at the table. Checking whether we were ready for our pizza or if we wanted to wait a bit longer. Walking us to the cake cabinet and explaining each cake in detail. These are the gestures of genuine service, something I regret is often missing in many Perth restaurants.