It was an outstanding winter’s day and I had fortuitously arranged a ladies lunch in Fremantle at Tabella. Dimmi had extended another generous offer of 50% off the price of food, so what better excuse was needed than to try a place a bit further afield? This eatery has an open feel and an inviting atmosphere, and we had a perfect sunny spot near the window.
Tabella vies for customers with a myriad of other eateries on South Terrace. When the competition is this fierce, you’d better have something significant going for you.
We decided to skip entrees and order mains, along with a glass of bubbles or wine each.
We thought it appropriate to order fish; Fremantle seems the sort of place where you do that. On the coast, access to fresh fish and all that. Two of us ordered the pan fried salmon, two others the Barramundi, and another the steak sandwich, cooked medium. The waiter appeared again after five minutes to inform us that they’d run out of salmon. A bit odd at midday on a Wednesday unless there was a rush on before we arrived. Two other tables occupied; nope, not a rush on. Was there any fresh fish available? No, they don’t serve fresh fish; and that includes the Barramundi. OK then, a re-think on the orders. I ordered the local prawns – Gamberi All’ Aglio at $29.50 – can’t go wrong with fresh WA prawns, right?
The prawns look enticing in the photo, but looks can be deceiving. The only thing fresh on this plate was the bread. Normally garlic prawns come out sizzling in good quality olive oil, but in this case they came out fizzling in a pond of yellow butter that I daresay had been mixed with oil. I could have forgiven Tabella for this had the prawns been fresh, but they were stale and chalky. None of that crunchy, salty, sweet sensation you get from fresh prawns.
JS didn’t fare much better with her plate of Linguine ai Frutti di Mare at $28.50. As you can see from this plate, there was a generous serve of seafood, but the huge serving of pasta was dry and with just olive oil as the sauce and little seasoning, the dish was insipid and unappetising. Sometimes with a dish, the fresh flavours speak for themselves, but the prawns and fish weren’t fresh and the calamari was rubbery, so the only speaking they were doing doesn’t bear repeating. Sadly JS didn’t make much of a dent in this dish apart from picking off the seafood pieces, and left almost a full plate of dry, inedible pasta.
Rena faired better with her Whitebait at $16. The tiny fish were crunchy and fresh, and it was a huge serving that came with aioli and a side of leafy salad.
Then there was the Pesce al Forno at $33, or Barramundi fillets with Mediterranean sauce. The colours of the sauce look brilliant; all those bright greens and reds. The verdict was that the strongly-flavoured sauce overpowered the dish. Sometimes simple is best, and this is especially applicable to fish. Perhaps the sauce was designed to disguise the taste of frozen fish? Barramundi is being served in almost every restaurant in Perth at the moment. It’s not the best fish by a long shot if it’s been frozen and then it’s really not worth eating, especially at the price of $33. I know we had the benefit of a discount, but other diners may not have.
I don’t have a photo of the final dish ordered by Kim. The steak sandwich at $16.50 was spoiled by an overcooked, tough piece of steak. She didn’t get the benefit of the 50% off the price of her food, as our surly waiter informed us that the lunch specials were not part of the deal.
It’s difficult coming up with a few positives to say about Tabella. Much as I don’t relish giving a place an absolute drubbing, this was not an enjoyable dining experience. Four out of five meals were below par. Our waiter looked and sounded like he really didn’t want to be there, and it wasn’t long before we felt like that too. It took 15 minutes before we were given a carafe of water. No excuse for that with only two other tables occupied. The music was loud and intrusive – Eminem and Nirvana playing at lunchtime – fine for a pub but not an Italian cafe. The corkage for BYO wine is a whopping $8.50 per bottle. I know that many people have had positive experiences at Tabella and enjoyed their food, so maybe we picked the wrong day and ours was an isolated experience. In saying that though, when you are located on a cafe strip surrounded by reliable competition, you need to be consistently good. Mediocrity won’t get you far, and it certainly won’t get you return customers. On a positive note the bread was delicious, but that credit is due to Tabella’s supplier, Lawley’s Bakery.