7/10 (dinner), 8/10 (breakfast)
So, the Story Bridge lit up earlier this year to show us that it was Italian Week.
Early in 2010, Phuket snapped me like a dry twig. It took less than a week for me to go from healthy to totally debauched and almost crippled. I literally hobbled to the airport to get my flight out, having incurred an epic spinal injury on my last day – completing the trifecta alongside my throbbing hangover and mysterious food poisoning. In spite of numerous scams, aging European sex tourists and intense heckling from streetside hawkers, the horror that truly stayed with me from Phuket was the little Italian restaurant under our motel. The owner was as remarkable as the cluttered italo-kitsch he surrounded himself with; he might just have been the ultimate human manifestation of grease, rage and hairiness. I wish I’d taken a photo.
Every morning at about eight he sat glowering across his bistro over one of the ‘classic’ red-and-white checked tablecloths, hair slicked back and glistening, eating a thick roll of salami for breakfast. No cereal, no toast, just a shitload of cured meat on a cutting board, sometimes accompanied by a coffee made of what tasted like condensed milk and Nescafe. Dining there was quite the staredown contest, and we left with shiny skin, the result of equal measures of oily food and adrenalin.
Italian cuisine has the strange honour of being both cheap comfort food and the obsession of many gourmets. Our friend in Thailand clearly had one end of the spectrum down pat, and in a town of $1 beers he probably chose the right niche. Here in Brisvegas, the low end is pretty forgettable and until recently I’d never sampled anything beyond that. While I’ve yet to try the true high-end (expensive) stuff at places like Dell’Ugo, I believe I’ve finally found my happy medium in Italian dining.
Portofino is at the very edge of New Farm and after a wide range of visits (inspired by the statistical robustness of fellow bloggers) it has consistently delivered a classy hint of Italy without touching either of the polar extremes that I’ve come to expect in this genre. Prices are decent for breakfast and bearable for dinner. The service is charming – they seem to have a direct line to Switzerland or Belguim to source all their exchange-student waiters. The owner, on the other hand, seems to be a Kiwi and she reigns over the finest selection of pastries this side of Choquette. While the wine selection didn’t blow me away, the dinners are solid and the breakfasts put a number of local competitors to shame. Alibi Room, I’m looking at you.
I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:
If you’ve checked out the pizzas, do let me know in the comments. If you’ve never been, ignore the slightly offputting sign out front and give Portofino a try.