Testun opened in Mount Lawley amid a flurry of interest. We caught up with two of the key players to talk wine-in-a-box, non-traditional Italian and their vision.
Mount Lawley restaurant and bar Testun is the newest venue from the Trequattrini family, owners of nearby Threecoins Italian Trattoria, but to call it a family affair is something of an understatement. Joining as co-owner and co-head chef is Chris Caravella, former head chef at 2021 WA Good Food Guide Best Bar Dining winner La Madonna Nera. Caravella’s partner Martina Ciotti swaps between pasta making and working front-of-house. Testun’s other head chef is Frank Trequattrini, with Frank’s wife Katia Taschetti serving as restaurant manager and family patriarch Fabio Trequattrini overseeing the operation. Friend and sommelier Antonio di Senzo, meanwhile, is the wine guy.
A few months into opening, Testun has gained a reputation for being fun and quirky, serving fine Italian-ish plates from a playful menu, and natural wine from the box. Caravella and Taschetti take us through the story so far.
Testun is a unique venue, with a lot of energy behind it. How did the vision come about?
Caravella: It was a late-night, wine-fuelled conversation between Frank, Katia, myself and Martina. We wanted a place where we could eat and cook the things we liked to eat and cook, drink the wine we liked to drink, and enjoy the space in the way that we want to.
Taschetti: We were operating the space as a café before; my sister and my brother-in-law used to work here but they moved to different jobs because of their kids. We wanted to do something different because we didn’t like the breakfast-type of hospitality.
How would you describe the food? The menu is very non-traditional.
C: If we can draw some sort of connection back to Italian then anything is fair game. I grew up in an Italian restaurant and when we ate out as a family we went to Southeast Asian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants, so a large part of my background is based on those flavour profiles.
It’s cool working with Frank in the kitchen because we bounce ideas back and forth. It’s a collaborative experience and I think that comes through in the menu. You can see the different influences in every dish.
We want people to be able to come here and share things, or if you feel like just having a plate, a pasta or something larger, you can as well.
The menu changes regularly. How does the creative process work there?
C: We work with local suppliers and producers as closely as we can. Essentially, we try and mix stuff we like with stuff we know. One day we might try pasta with a certain sauce, or use a protein in a way that’s not typically Italian. We can have fun with it and do whatever we want. That’s a huge part of who we are as people and what we want to do in this business. This is a no-bullshit place and we’re unapologetic about that.
We’ve done a whole stack of stuff that’s yet to reach the menu. The fun really starts now that we can say okay, what do we do? We want a place that’s rewarding every single day, where we push and challenge ourselves.
Of the dishes that have made it onto the menu, what’s been the most popular?
C: The mushroom pasta. It’s fulfilling enough for you to be happy if you’re not vegetarian, but it is also our primary vegetarian main. We looked at how many we’ve sold since we opened and it’s stupid. Unless we can come up with something that ticks all the same boxes and we’re a hundred per cent happy with, it has to stay.
Another huge seller is our salumi platter. Frank and Katia come from Umbria where they make many types of different salumi, so it felt stupid not to have our own salumi program. But it’s getting to the point where we need to invest in some more fridges to keep up with demand!
T: And then there’s the truffle, Vegemite butter and stracciatella crostino. It’s really representative of who we are and what we do; it’s very tongue in cheek.
Your drinks list covers all bases, but it’s definitely got a personality. How has that developed?
T: Our main focus is low-intervention wines. We’re trying to find wines that are honest and true to themselves. There’s a lot of Italian varieties that are completely unheard of. That’s a movement that is quite big now in Italy, discovering grapes that were forgotten and trying and make them shine, making wines that are an expression of the winemaker, the winemaking process and the terroir – the list is representative of that. Some are a bit more funky, some a bit more safe, so it’s not too crazy or on-edge as a list.
Behind the bar we’re doing a lot of infusions. I used to make a lot of limoncello. Neither me or Antonio are bartenders, so we thought let’s keep it simple and do something we already know how to do, but is a bit different. So we’ve infused basic spirits with some interesting flavours and a dash of soda so that the flavours are just there. It’s a fun way of offering something different.
Our cocktails also use infusions. Our Cynar Negroni is going to rotate with cocoa-infused Campari; our Pisco Sour is rotating with an Aperol Sour infused with rosemary. We’ll keep the list short but focus on having something nice for all flavour profiles.
No-alcohol and low-alcohol offerings are a trend at the moment and it’s fun to have something that goes beyond Sprite, Coke and soft drinks. We really want to expand our selection, but that will come with time.
On opening, there was much talk about you serving “goon”. Was that taken out of context?
C: It was frustrating to get all the coverage on that. It’s a colloquial term for wine in a box, literally a good way of storing wine and nothing else. It’s a good entry point for people that might not otherwise have a glass of an expensive natural wine.
T: People thought we were selling Fruity Lexia. When in fact that type of packaging makes sensitive wines last longer.
You’ve both been involved with restaurants either side of COVID. How has your experience been?
C: I was at La Madonna Nera before this, and my family owns Capri restaurant in Fremantle that’s been there for 65 years plus. Things didn’t change too much for us during COVID. We were fortunate to have a supportive customer base that wanted to see us come out the other end.
T: At Threecoins, I apologise and say, look, we’re very short-staffed tonight. We’re trying our best. People usually appreciate that and sometimes even leave a big tip because they see we’re under the pump. I think it’s just a matter of communicating with customers and explaining what’s going on.
A few months in, have things turned out how you wanted?
T: I’m happy with the result and it’s still evolving. We always thought we would cultivate our vision down the track and share it with people who appreciate what we do.
C: We’re in an industry where you have to roll with the punches. From the get-go we said that the customer will decide what this place is. We’re prepared to evolve and change as we need to, but we always want to be fulfilling our own desires and ticking boxes for ourselves. We don’t want this to become just a job.
How would you describe the clientele who are filling the space night after night?
C: It runs the gamut. We have kids that have just started going out, experiencing natural wine and the weird food we make here. There’s a lot of locals too. We want this place to be inclusive and for people to enjoy it in whatever way they see fit.
We try not to treat them as a “customer base” but just as people we want to serve. You want them to come in and leave happy and full, saying “you know what, that’s real hospitality.”
T: The local community is amazing. Threecoins has been open for eight years now. It’s been fun having people that came one week and then a week later came back to find the food and wine had changed. I think that’s something that can keep people coming back, to see what’s next.
You obviously poured a lot of love into this place, why should people come along?
T: They should come for a dining experience that’s a lot of fun. It’s not just great food and wine, but also the atmosphere and the vibe. Try something different and enjoy a chat with one of us. We want people to feel comfortable, heard and included like if they came to our nonna’s house.
C: Testun should be a fun place where you can come and hang out. We want to break down the wall between the people that work here and the customer. Don’t treat them like customers, treat them like family members.
Interview: Martin Eade