Price: $9.30 (The Works)
Verdict: The real deal. Value, flavour and a bit of culture all for less than $10.
Tip: Go early or late or be prepared to wait.
Location: Northbridge, near corner of Lake and Aberdeen.
After our interview on RTR FM's The Food Alternative a few weeks ago, I was admonished by none other than my own father, and his equally Italian mate, for neglecting to mention their favourite cheap lunch of the last few decades: a continental roll from The Re Store. So we took a trip with these paesanos across the tracks to visit the great bastion of European culture that is The Re Store.
The history of The Re Store is legend in the Italian community. Fremantle-born John Re pawns his wife Maria's engagement ring in the midst of the great depression to buy a property in Northbridge where they opened The Re Store, selling imported European food. The Re family were pioneers of European food in Perth, and had a profound influence on the acceptance of multicultural cuisine and culture. Where would we be today without Colavita olive oil, Barilla pasta and, dare I say it, Riccadonna sparkling wine? Does the Braziliano coffee label sound familiar? That was also the Re family, being one of the first in the state to roast their own coffee beans and kickstarting the coffee culture that now runs rampant in Perth. They also moved into the wholesale market, opening European Foods Wholesalers that is still just around the corner on Aberdeen Street. And to top it all off, a brief look at their website shows that John Re was partial to a well tailored, double breasted peak lapel suit. Bravissimo!
But back to the food! The deli section at The Re Store is always heaving at lunch time, so keep that in mind if you are preparing to make the trip. It is fairly well organised though, so why not grab a ticket as soon as you arrive and browse through the pastas, sauces and kitchenware while you wait for your number to be called. Or just stand back and wait with the slick-haired young gents in their shiny shoes and impatient nonnos with grumbling stomachs and work on your sprezzatura. A personal highlight was hearing an old Italian man gently scoff when someone asked for mayo on their roll (sacrilege, apparently).
You can pick your own fillings from a wide variety of meats (regular or spicy), schnitzels, pickled veggies, salads and cheeses or choose one of the suggested combinations. A plain mixed meat roll will only set you back $5.50, which is quite frankly ridiculous. You can also choose from soft white, crunchy white, wholemeal or grainy rolls. Or even upgrade to the deluxe crusty option for a further 80 cents if you are a high-roller. Personally, I went for The Works (mixed meat, provolone cheese, pickled capsicum and artichoke) which goes for $8.50 and upgraded to the deluxe roll, taking my lunch to a grand total of $9.30. The friendly banter with the Italian lady serving you ("You so skinny, why you no want tiramisu?") comes for free.
Having eaten Italian 'cold meats' my whole life, I sometimes take for granted how great they are. The roll is packed with salami, mortadella and coppa - the holy trinity of salumi. The bun itself is so crusty that you have to plan your eating strategy to ensure you save the roof of your mouth. The pickles and artichoke provide a nice acidic counterpoint to the richness of the meat and cheese. Sure, you could ask for some fresh salad, but for me this is the perfect Italian roll. Simple food that reminds me of Saturday lunches with my whole family where we made our own rolls from the variety of mixed meats my mum had just brought home from D'Orsogna.
If you ask my dad and his mate, it's about more than just the food. It's about the leisurely passeggiata to Northbridge. It's about the familiar sights and sounds of yesteryear. It's about sitting in the sun on one of the little tables out the front, watching the world go by for half an hour or so, bumping into old friends and reminiscing about the good times. With it's old world charm, lunch at The Re Store is more than just a trip across the tracks, it's a trip back in time.