La Fettucina

The Italian In Cairns

Even to this day, in Queensland's most northern city, when you speak of the ‘old country’, Italy is the first one that comes to mind.  The cane farmers, banana growers and tobacco barons of yesteryear have all carried with them names, habits and cuisines that would be equally at home on the rolling hills of Abruzzo or on the sharply marbled streets of Messina.

It is with that same self-evident style that locals and visitors alike are drawn to one of the oldest Italian eateries in town, La Fettuccina.

If there is a testament to longevity, especially in a business as unforgiving as hospitality, La Fett (as it is colloquially known) is it.  Founded nearly four decades ago, it has become an icon of culinary consistency and service excellence.  Despite its large reputation, La Fett is a shotgun style of restaurant.  Carrying all the hallmarks of an old school trattoria, from whitewashed walls with scalloped render to dark wrought iron and hardwood tables.  The menu captivates, ballasted with traditional ‘working-mans’ Italian pastas pepped with the best of locally sourced ingredients.  Pastas are made daily on site, and range from the usual suspects of ragu spaghetti to hand-rolled gnocchi and such regular specials as delicate cappelletti stuffed with fresh local seafood.

The restaurant has only had two owners in its history; the second and current are chef John Japp and host Andrea Pinciarova, partners both at work and at home.  The restaurant has been at the centre of their life for over twenty years together, having originally met each other whilst working there for the previous owner.  Acceding to positions of responsibility, they ultimately managed the restaurant before buying it in 2006 when the opportunity to purchase came about.

Managing the place, says John, gave them all the insight they needed to see a takeover as an opportunity.  The decision was easy, and the takeover was deliberately seamless, with many clients unaware that the change in ownership had occurred.

“We have some customers eating since it first opened in the eighties, consistency balanced with quality has always been at the heart of what we do. It wasn’t a secret, but it was business as usual so it never really came up,” says John.

Clearly they are a good team, John runs the kitchen, with the slight swagger of one comfortable under pressure, and Andrea’s ‘just so’ attitude ensures even the most demanding customer expectations are exceeded.

John also says he feels it is his responsibility to focus on what is available locally and seasonally and incorporate it into the heritage of their a-la-carte offering.  He is conscious of making local produce the centrepiece of their ingredients, wherever possible. 

John is an opportunist chef and is as happy browsing at Rusty's Market as he is stopping at a roadside stand on the Tablelands, selecting perhaps a garden grower’s figs that may find their way onto his menu later that day.

"We have achieved a standard, which our specials and seasonal offerings are also expected to uphold. So we are easily able to reward our regulars and tempt new diners with our specials board.”

Any visit to the restaurant will illustrate that the continued success of La Fettuccina is not only to do with the food.  Andrea is the ever elegant and efficient front-of-house and she ensures that the consistency from the kitchen is repeated in the standard of service.  With her European origin, she believes service can cement good customer relationships and underwrite long-term patronage.  Her view is detail oriented, in that the less you notice about your service experience, the better it has been.

"We work well together, John and I,” Andrea says. “The decisions for the restaurant overall are always made together.  John is popular with our diners and often cameos in front-of-house.  Although we do divide responsibilities, we are most definitely a good team.”

It is not common to find a couple that can successfully work together, let alone in the high pressure environment of hospitality.  The longevity of the restaurant is a credit to the pair of them, their passion, their business sense, and their support for each other.

The ‘La Fett’ experience is one that is highly regarded - John estimates that over 80 percent of their custom is both repeat and local.

Like all good Italian stories, this is a family business, with deep roots in the community.  And like all good restaurants it provides a quality that is both delightful and appreciated.  The story is, as always, the people and the food. After four decades they have earned their place as the Italian in Cairns.

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