Italian cuisine is a safe choice, and an enticing one at that. When dining with friends there is usually someone who does not like sushi or who can’t handle the heat of a something a little picante, but it’s almost a certainty that everyone will agree on Italian.
A standout favourite of mine on the west coast of Australia is a long way from Italy but its old-world charm and amazing handmade pasta always keep me coming back.
Ciao Italia is located on Mill Point Road in Perth, on the corner of a quiet suburban street south of the Swan River and across from Perth’s central business district. Once upon a time it was a well-kept secret, seating no more than 30. It has since expanded to double that capacity but somehow manages to still feel small and intimate. I am not the only one who loves Ciao Italia – there is usually a line of people snaking around the corner waiting to be seated. I was glad I chose to tackle the crowds on a Tuesday evening as Ciao Italia doesn’t take reservations.
Ciao’s location makes for a great date night as it’s across the road from Mill Point, a beautiful park on the southern shore of the Swan River. It offers terrific views of Perth’s central business district, especially at night. It’s a good location to catch the Australia Day fireworks on January 26th, or to enjoy the abundant Aussie sunshine without heading 30 minutes west to the clear blue waters and white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean. On a typical summer night you might see locals up to their waists in the river, dipping their hand nets, and scouring for a feed of fresh prawn to throw on the barbeque.
Inside Ciao Italia the tables are squeezed tightly together, so close that you can catch snippets of conversation from those seated near you. It’s part of an already vibrant atmosphere created by the owner greeting guests at the door, friendly wait staff buzzing between tables, and the view into a bustling kitchen featuring a wood-fire pizza oven and several nonnas making pasta by hand.
The menu is fairly extensive, but we settled on gnocchi Bolognese, ravioli Napoletana, and a bottle of red wine. Like many Australian restaurants Ciao Italia doesn’t serve alcohol but are licensed for BYO (Bring Your Own). It’s completely normal Down Under to see couples with a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer waiting in line to be seated for dinner. Restaurants often charge a nominal “corkage” fee and provides wine glasses. In our case it was three Australian Dollars (AUD). With a “bottle shop” just up the street it makes for an affordable option at an already affordable venue.
Service is quick at Ciao Italia and our plates were soon on the red-checked tablecloth in front of us. The plump spinach and ricotta ravioli in herb and tomato Napoletana sauce was sensational, melt in your mouth soft, and tasted like it came straight from nonna’s kitchen. My gnocchi with meaty Bolognese sauce didn’t quite reach my high expectations but I’ll make up for it next time with rigatoni Buongustaia – rigatoni with fresh mushrooms, onions, authentic Italian sausage, and peas tossed in a creamy tomato sauce.
Our plan was to share a dessert – my heart was set on a silky tiramisu – but the portions at Ciao Italia were more generous than I remembered and we simply couldn’t make it. Instead we finished up with espressos, stepped out into a warm Perth evening, and said “ciao” to a great dining choice.
Address: 273 Mill Point Road, South Perth, Australia
Telephone: +61 (0)8 9368 5500
Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm to 10pm (closed Sundays and Mondays)