Top chefs bring new flavour to dining
The Subiaco Hotel Cafe
The Subiaco Hotel cafe hit the ground running when it opened 18 years ago with chef Ivan Mather at the helm.
We had heard of gastropub food but we had never seen it in Perth. It was a revelation, a casual style of food that delivered with brilliant technique and ingredients.
The Subi’s dishes crossed international borders and cuisines: bangers and mash beside a zingy, spicy green mango salad.
The Subiaco Hotel has spawned scores of imitators but curiously — with the exception of Jeff Hayward’s Boulevard and Brisbane hotels — not one venue in WA has stepped up to the posh pub food plate quite like the Subi.
When Altos opened in Hay Street, Subiaco, in 1996, it was as if Melbourne had come for a visit. Its walls were adorned with precise ranks of Campari and San Pellegrino bottles, tables were sophisticatedly close, the dark timbered booths and walls were a memory of a Milanese trattoria and the pasta cookery of owner Steve Scaffidi’s mum Ada was to die for.
The now ubiquitous angel hair pasta with crab and chilli was born here in the late 1990s.
It was Italian like we had never had in Perth: pasta was properly al dente; flavours were precise; the wine list was a model of food-friendly Italian and Australian Italian titles.
For many Scaffidi fans, Altos remains the best restaurant project he has created. Even now, 10 years after Scaffidi sold it, the passing of Altos is lamented and eulogised.
Rockpool Bar & Grill
No single restaurant has been as influential as Rockpool Bar & Grill at Crown Perth.
When it swung open its doors in an orgy of PR hoopla in 2011, it was an immediate game changer; a massive $10 million steakhouse in the grand American tradition of posh steak joints where a good piece of beef is just not good enough.
It has to be aged for a long time, it must come from a cow that feeds on the best grass or grain and it has to be perfectly butchered (by Rockpool’s in-house butcher).
Its influence has spread far and wide as the Neil Perry-trained chefs, managers and waiters have fanned out through the local hospitality industry bringing their extraordinary training and standards to venues the length and breadth of the State.
When David Coomer and his young wife Kareen opened their dream restaurant in Shenton Park in 1998, they had burning ambition and every-thing they owned on the line.
Luckily, the bloke could cook.
Star Anise is the only restaurant in WA to be awarded 18 points (out of 20). Coomer’s mastery of ingredients and willingness to try the (then) new techniques and tools brought a fresh interpretation to his modern, sublimely balanced Asian-inspired dishes.
When others were cooking steaks, he was searing pigeon breasts or putting fish in a sous vide bath. There will never be another like it.
44 King Street
When a fresh-faced Russell Blaikie bought half of the King Street cafe from his boss Phil Sexton in 1994, this groundbreaking bistro was at the top of its game.
Eating at 44 King Street was an adventure. It was the first cafe/bistro to make its own sourdough breads and pastries, beating the trend for such things by 20 years.
44 King Street was the product of Sexton at the top of his powers. No one individual has influenced the food we eat today in Perth quite like Sexton.
And his legacy is alive today.
Sexton’s alumni, young hopefuls who did their time and training at his venues, is a Who’s Who of Perth hospitality: Russell Blaikie, Nic Trimbole, Kate Lamont, David Coomer, Steve Scaffidi, Ivan Mather, Justin Bell . . . the list goes on.
Varnish on King
Andy King is an overnight success 20 years in the making.
Everyone these days is talking about Freeman and his on-trend bars and speakeasies, of which Varnish On King is the zeitgeist-setting flagship.
The former Australian Barman of the Year and proprietor of Luxe Bar in Highgate is no Johnny-come-lately.
Two decades of hard work has paid off with a flurry of new openings in the past two years: Varnish, The Flour Factory and Darlings Supper Club have all put food front-and-centre in the small bar space. Freeman has driven the creation of this subset of the small bar sector — edgy bars plating up bold, rock star food cooked by top chefs.
Hadleigh Troy’s subtle, clever food has been an inspiration to a generation of chefs — as much for its virtuosity as for Troy’s unswerving courage in sticking to his guns when all around him food fashions came and went.
With the passing of the years, his star has not faded. Fans have to wait months for a table on Saturday night (thankfully, it’s a little easier to secure a booking during the week) and his dishes continue to evolve but to the beat of his own drum.
Troy’s cooking could best be described as a unique amalgam of the chemists of Spain’s molecular movement, Scandinavia’s trilby-wearing foragers and the grand hotel dining rooms of Britain.
The entire nation was galvanized when artist, designer and restaurant owner Joost Bakker, hospitality pro Paul Aron and young tyro chef Matt Stone opened a restaurant on St Georges Terrace called Greenhouse. It was 2009. Greenhouse had hay bale walls, recycled bits and pieces for furniture and light fittings, and an all-encompassing green and sustainability agenda Al Gore would have been proud of.
But would the right-on politics of Greenhouse subsume its cooking? It didn’t. Stone plated up some of the most interesting and comely share plate/small plate dishes in Perth at the time.
He was among the first to use seeds and nuts — now very on-trend — in his simple dishes. Influential? You bet.
Earlier this year, Greenhouse was sold to a Melbourne-based catering company and although it’s singular environmental approach has been scrapped, the legacy of the 2009-2012 years lives on.
A shy, young Englishman comes to Australia and establishes a restaurant in Bunbury called Eliza’s.
Neal Jackson had set himself on the path to culinary greatness. By 1998, he had outgrown the city and with the help of a backer moved to Highgate and bet it all on Jackson’s — a temple to modern(ish) fine dining with a British bent.
His classical roots were never far away and his neat, composed dishes won a generation of fans. Jackson’s became Perth’s “special night out” restaurant and its low-key brilliance saw chefs far and wide borrow from the Jackson’s playbook.
But it was we, the punters, who were the real winners, exposed as we were to white-glove fine dining without ostentation or pretence.
Lamont’s East Perth
Kate Lamont made a name for herself at the family’s vineyard restaurant in Millendon in the Swan Valley where she cooked “simple” at a time when many Perth kitchens were drowning meat in sauces and “turning” carrots.
But it was her foray into casual fine dining on the water at East Perth where she consolidated her primacy as Perth’s No.1 restaurant entrepreneur.
Other restaurants and food outlets followed but East Perth was where the great and the good came to eat their luncheon, entertain their business guests or celebrate their children’s graduations.
Lamont’s influenced and trained some of the best chefs in WA.
© The West Australian
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