If life, pleasure and sublime culinary experiences is all about the journey, then Valerio Fantinelli has just the trip for you.
But this chef’s extraordinary Italian secret dining experiences begin with… let’s be honest… a somewhat unremarkable journey through winding Hamilton Hill streets. Of course, it all adds to the surprise when diners stumble down Fantinelli’s side path to discover he has created a delightful little piece of Abruzzo in the heart of suburbia.
It’s there, among geraniums, wine barrels, stucco walls, a wood fired oven, a volcanic rock floor, recycled timber and rusty memorabilia from his childhood that Fantinelli works his magic over eight or 12 courses. The feast includes cured meats, handmade cheeses and breads, seasonal dishes made from local ingredients – some plucked from his own vegie garden – all channelling the recipes passed down from his Nona when he was growing up in Pescara, Abruzzo.
Fantinelli and Anna Tamburri – his partner who is front of house in their catering business – are used to the audible gasps as diners enter the al fresco dining area and think they have landed in Tuscany or Sicily or, indeed, Pescara, which sits on the Adriatic Sea and where Fantinelli started work as a pizza chef at the age of 15.
After moving to Australia, he started up Flour & Fire, in 2015, catering for private functions, and in his spare time slaved over the backyard doing all the heavy lifting to remodel it all by hand, brick by brick, stone by stone.
“In 2018 I finished building and started putting on occasional dinners,” he says. “Now we have completely sold-out seasons and there is a 10-month wait for a table.”
There’s good news for those who haven’t been able to score a table yet and are thinking it might be quicker to just actually go to Italy for a holiday. Fantinelli can help out there too. After a couple of false starts during Covid he has now launched, with his Italian based cousin, Luca Rocconi, the Italy Tour Co. This is designed to take travellers to their favourite Italian spots and soak up the shared passion for their homeland.
Their one, two and eight-day tours offer unique experiences in Abruzzo, Tuscany, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast – with Rocconi guiding tours on Italian history and culture and Fantinelli cooking up authentic dishes using recipes from each region.
“It’s not a just a taste of Italy, it’s the full banquet,” he says.
“Thanks to Luca’s connections and years of guiding experience our groups can go where other travellers can’t. Think meeting princesses in their castle, the Pope’s summer holiday hideaway, Marlon Brando’s Roman apartment, and an underground medieval basilica next to the Colosseum.”
Part of the experience is shopping with Fantinelli at local markets, fishing on a boat off Capri and dining at his favourite restaurants, as well as cooking classes.
The tours start in May but, if the interest is anything like that in his cooking places will sell out fast.
Qantas now fly direct from Perth to Rome so the culinary and historic delights of Italy are only a day away.
For more info go to www.italytour.com.au/.