Testun Is Bringing Irreverent Nuovo-Italian To Mount Lawley
With just one look at Testun’s socials, the vibe is crystal clear. Nothing is taken too seriously at this Mount Lawley wine bar slash restaurant – except for flavour.
“The only prerequisite that we have is that it tastes f**king delicious.”
We’re chatting to chef Chris Caravella and restaurant manager Katia Taschetti in Testun’s almost-finished dining room. In spite of the patchwork of magazine pages taped over the windows, the afternoon light still manages to make its way onto the chartreuse joinery and the lace curtains hung over the bar.
“For us, the most important thing with everything, from top to bottom, is having fun with it.”
This approach is reflected in just about every aspect of the osteria – from the aforementioned lace-filled chartreuse fit out, complete with Facebook marketplace light fittings and retro floral door knobs, to the menu, which is, broadly speaking, Italian.
“We want to offer what our experience of growing up in Italian and Italo-Australian households was and kind of build upon that to leave something for the next generation to build upon as well.”
Chris’ background is not just in any Italo-Australian family, but as part of Fremantle’s iconic Capri Restaurant’s quote-unquote dynasty. Prior to Testun, he was in the kitchen at Mount Hawthorn’s much-lauded La Madonna Nera.
“We’re trying to have fun with things… We want it to be reflective of the way that we like to eat. We want to use flavours and draw inspiration from our geographic position within Oceania and South East Asia and smash it together with the Italian background we have.”
“We grew up in Italy and we moved here in our 20s,” Katia tells us, referring also to her husband and Testun’s other chef, Frank. “So it was completely different – in Italy, even just finding a Chinese restaurant or a Japanese restaurant, like… I didn’t see one until I was 18! But moving here, and travelling the world, there’s so many different flavours, so many different approaches to everything, so many things that you can still make fun.”
Pictured: Frank Trequattrini
“Like, the carbonara – Italians are so purist about it, but that’s what we want to move away from, being so purist about tradition… You know, traditions can be turned up on their head, and they can be reinvented, they can be enhanced somehow.”
So how will that actually come together at Testun?
“I get asked all the time, like ‘Is it going to be a wine bar or a restaurant?’,” Katia laughs. “It can be both! And it is both, it doesn’t have to have a strict label.”
Comparing it to the family’s other venue, Threecoins Trattoria, she adds: “Here we’re trying to do it more like an osteria, which is a place that is for food, but for drinking as well. That’s going to be one of the strengths, and hopefully it brings people in as well, the fact that you can have a drink sitting at the bar, chatting to the bartender and then shoot off to somewhere else.”
The menu will be determined by seasonality, utilising almost exclusively local suppliers. The team have been hard at work filling a repurposed wine fridge with stacks of homemade salumi, made mostly with local Berkshire hog – salsiccia, salami, nduja, guanciale, even a curry-cured lamb pancetta (which will potentially be used in a carbonara).
Fins will be providing the seafood, while produce will be courtesy of a farm in Toodyay: “Mark comes here with a couple of boxes but you never know what’s in there!” Katia tells us.
“He came here on Wednesday with a box of herbs,” Chris adds, excitedly. “Because he grows all his stuff in soil it tastes completely different than a lot of the hydroponic stuff that you get. He brought this chervil that… I’ve never tasted anything like it before. He brought us this stack of watercress and yarrow leaf and all this weird and wonderful stuff that that we’re like, fantastic! He’s got the stinging nettles that are a pain in the arse to process, but, we can use for a million different things…”
Katia nods along: “Even his rocket – it’s like, rocket from another world, it’s amazing, wild rocket.”
Chris continues, “It’s like the Barilla saying, ‘The inspiration comes from the shape’: it’s one thing to write a menu and come up with a dish, but it’s another thing to say ‘We have this fantastic produce that’s only available for a week, and we have to turn it into something that equals the raw produce itself.”
“That goes back to the Italian mentality of ‘You use what’s around you’. Why would I outsource to the eastern states when we have fantastic local produce? It’s the same thing for wines, yeah there’s some varietals that just don’t grow in Australia so we can’t get them if you don’t buy it from Italy, but we have so much fantastic stuff in Western Australia it would be stupid to look elsewhere.”
“It all leads back into supporting one another as a West Australian community, and that’s something that we really want to do, and we’re in a position to be able to support small producers and small suppliers – it’s good for everyone.”
Speaking of wine, we can expect a tidy range that flirts with skin contacts – as well as, pleasingly, carafes of goon. Just how goon are we talking, here?
“It’s nice goon,” the pair tell us. “Premium goon!” Katia elaborates: “It’s natural wine, in a box – really cool packaging, it looks really cool. We’ll have it by the glass, or a litre carafe. Sometimes a bottle is not enough!”
“It’s a nice, easy choice – it’s also very affordable for the customer, to have that offering of something a bit less pretentious, more affordable, a bit more inclusive for everyone – and still fun!”
As well as wine, a few simple cocktails will also be on offer, as well as home made infusions served with soda water – echoing the seasonal, produce-driven approach of the kitchen.
Throughout our chat, the emphasis has steadily remained on the overall philosophy of the venue, rather than specific dishes or plans. “For us, it’s about providing an experience. I think that’s probably the most important thing, we want people to come in and feel like they’re a member of the community, and a member of our weird, dysfunctional family. We’re starting here and we want it to be a continually evolving space, we want things to get better and better and better – this is just the start point and hopefully in a year’s time we’re like ‘Now we can really push the envelope’, or push things in a different direction.”
“Plus, we also want to make it hopefully a message,” Katia adds, “Especially in a time like this where a lot of people are moving away from hospitality, describing it as an unsustainable type of life that a lot of people don’t want to do… Hopefully, bring up that message that it’s actually fun, it’s sustainable, it takes a lot of effort but if you’ve got the passion it comes naturally. You can have your own place with your group of friends, make it work and make it fun. Hopefully that’s a message that will come through as well.”
“A group of friends sharing a vision, coming together.”
Testun is scheduled to open on June 1, and is located at 12/760 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley.