It's a Thursday night in Wembley and Monsterella is packed full of families, friends and young couples. Next door, their sister wine bar Mummucc is pumping with a similarly diverse crowd. We're speaking to Tania, who owns and operates both venues with her husband Ryan. "We do kind of pinch ourselves regularly," she says. In a city obsessed with high profile openings and surprise closures, Monsterella is celebrating the approach of its third birthday with the same bustle it has steadily maintained since opening.
Back to Basics
"We wanted to just keep it really simple and fresh. It's not always easy to do simple, you kind of have to nail it."
Monsterella and Mummucc specialise in traditional Italian pizza, pasta and insalata. Their food is transparent, often containing each ingredient on the menu listing. For Tania, the quality and freshness of the ingredients themselves is what sets them apart.
"Little things make the difference." she said, "If the produce isn't good, we don't use it. I get as much of the salad ingredients as I can from the farmer's market each week, and Ryan makes the dough himself every day."
"It's not secrecy, or that he's trying to be a dough master, he just likes doing it and knows what he wants in it. It's all pretty special. The owner is making the dough every day. Putting genuine love into it. My mum makes the pasta every day too."
For three years Monsterella has been a family effort, and for Tania a reflection of the incredible food her family has been making for generations. "I've been around good food for forever." she said. "I remember having friends come over when I was in highschool, they would eat Mum's food and just be blown away. For us it was nothing, you don't realise what you've got until much later. In the restaurant I just wanted to share that."
"It's not until you're older that you realise how special it all is. Our family's produce all ends up in the kitchen. The sauce days, the sausages, it's all to keep the old traditions alive."
Monsterella and Mummucc
At age 2, Tania and Ryan's daughter would call all cheese 'monsterella'. Ryan was involved in another restaurant at the time, and Tania was working in the fashion industry. The ideas of homemade pasta and back to basics cooking was in their minds, but it would take several years and the severing of their current ties to become Monsterella.
"After a while everything sort of fell into place, and then the bar kind of came to us."
Tania mentions that when their landlord mentioned the space which would become Mummucc was available they realised that if they didn't go for it, somebody else would. A small bar had always been on Tania and Ryan's radar, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.
"My mum now makes pasta for two venues every day, I guess she didn't bargain for that." said Tania. The bar follows many of the same cues toward freshness and simplicity as Monsterella, but with more chances to be ambitious in specials and menu changes. A lineup of small bath local and Italian wines further reflect the care towards providence Ryan and Tania have dedicated their venues toward.
"It's a very good time to be Italian. I think it's all kicking back, and what's doing well out there is back to basics European food." said Tania.
Monsterella are open 7 days a week from 4.30 - 9pm. Book through their website.
Tucked into the back courtyard of Fremantle’s Kakula’s Sister is one of Perth’s few bonafide hidden gems. Leake Street Cafeteria is at once a hideaway right in the middle of Freo’s busy city centre, a standout cafe in a place where people can afford to be choosy, and one of Perth’s most interesting hospitality venues.
We spoke to Leake Street’s owner, operator and chef Wade Drummond about hospitality in Fremantle, the logistics of operating a tiny cafe, and what inspires him.
Creating a Space
"I've always had a fascination with food. It's always felt quite instinctive.” said Wade, “I don’t have cheffing qualifications or anything, I learned everything from helping mum cook, making mistakes myself or watching tv and reading cookbooks.”
Wade competed in Masterchef in 2012 had spent the intervening years selling crumpets at the Subiaco Farmer’s Markets when he stumbled upon the beautiful courtyard outside Kaklula’s Sister. "I always saw so much potential in it. I'd wanted to do my own space and to do something different, so I wrote a letter to Kakulas, we had a chat, and suddenly I had to find money for it.” he said.
In early 2015 Wade took to Kickstarter with a fun one-shot promo video and a range of rewards from a bag of coffee beans up to office catering and dinner parties for backers. By the end of the year the Kickstarter had reached its target and the cafe was underway.
A Shoebox Cafe
"I've had a few chefs walk in and just say 'nope, you can't do what you do here.' It's true, a lot of the time it's just so small it shouldn't work."
Within the beautiful courtyard where customers eat and drink, the cafe space and indeed the kitchen in which Wade creates his salads, soups, pickles and sandwiches is smaller than most food trucks. Bench space is at a premium, and the oven is large enough to cook just a single loaf of bread at a time. While he agrees that it’s challenging, Wade admits that necessity finds a way when using his tiny kitchen to fuel the cafe. This includes turning to pickling, which the cafe has become famous for.
"I started doing pickles here because I had to. There's not a lot of cooking facilities, no space to fry or sautee. It came about from necessity and I've just looked at how to do them best in different combinations through experimentation.”
"Preparation is key when working as a one person operation, you have to plan. I was a 'we'll just wing it' sort of person, but when you're working by yourself you quickly realise that you start running out of everything, and it costs a lot of money to keep running out to the shops.” said Wade, "If we run out of an ingredient, pickling takes three days, sometimes even three weeks. If we run out of sauerkraut, it's three weeks until a new batch is ready, theres a lot of planning in that respect."
Wade chases his curiosity to keep his menu and outlook fresh. "I get a bit obsessive.” he said, "I have moments where I'll read something or see an ingredient and just have to try it. It'll sit in the back of my mind until I can actually do it, whether that takes two days, a month, or a year. It'll be there until I scratch that itch."
“Recently, I went through Kakulas and they had some black barley, I thought I'd make a chicken and black barley soup, and then kept going through iterations until I was happy with it. Black barley is a two day process, you have to soak it, you have to germinate it a bit, but I knew I’d have to keep going until I had something I was happy with.”
"I have moments where I'll read something or see an ingredient and just have to try it. It'll sit in the back of my mind until I can actually do it, whether that takes two days, a month, or a year. It'll be there until I scratch that itch."
No Such Thing as Perfection
"I can change things just enough that I see an improvement, and the customer either likes it more, or doesn't notice. Some people have asked why I bother, and I can only tell them that it's infinitely better to try something new.”
With no street frontage and a space like nowhere else in Perth, Wade relies on the strength of his product and hospitality to keep people coming back. He mentions he tries to make every person’s visit as good as it can be, and reflects the same desire for continual improvement in his food.
"People who come in are very loyal. I get customers who come in on holiday or for an event and stumble upon us. People find us on a whim or a chance and often they come back, even if it's the next time they're in Perth.” said Wade.
Leake Street Cafeteria is open weekdays from 7:30 - 2:30, inside Kakulas Sister, Fremantle. Check our their website for more from Wade.