2014 was the year of the Americans. Obama came in November. Soul food and southern barbecue arrived about January. And the Deep South arrived in May, when a cafeteria-style southern barbecue restaurant called Old Faithful opened in King Street and started slapping pulled pork and smoked brisket on gastro trays.

The dudes running Old Faithful, a homage to white-bread-chompin’-hot-sauce-slurpin’-18-hour-smokin’ US barbecue shacks, were so authentic they even made whiskey cocktails sweet and watery, just like Americans.


It was Hail To The Beef on King Street in 2014, because just up the road, Varnish On King wowed us with its slow-cooked beef ribs, its taxidermied mascot — Justin Beaver — and the biggest selection of rye and bourbons this side of Tennessee.


The American invasion didn’t end there. Merrywell at Crown Perth went even more Yankee Doodle dandy with the introduction of a sweet-glazed, slow-cooked giant turkey leg. Bib & Tucker joined the band, er, chuck-wagon with sublime pulled-pork sliders, rotisserie pig and loooong-smoked brisket, while out of left field, Elba in Cottesloe banged out some near-perfect pulled pork tacos as part of a revamped menu. Happy days.


On the small-bar scene, Lot 20 opened in Northbridge to justifiably great reviews. The food ticked all the small-bar gastronomy boxes: simple, bombastic flavours, good prices, secondary cuts, innovative cookery and fun with a capital F. Two blocks away, Melbourne expat John Parker opened a bright, breezy bar for grown-ups called The Standard. The Roe Street bar has an outside terrace for lingering in, a solid drinks program and excellent food. Around the corner, in Lake Street, Andy Freeman gave us dumplings to die for at Darlings Supper Club, a noisy, fun, low-lit, late-night bar with hissing dumpling steamers, the clatter of woks and the frenetic chatter of its hip customers — Blade Runner meets dim sum den.


In town, Freeman took over the vast tenancy previously the home of Venn (gallery, artspace, cafe, gift shop) and transformed it into The Flour Factory with on-trend dogs, house-made charcuterie, fabulous drinks and a soon-to-open hidden secret — a small upstairs bar specialising in sherry and sherry-based cocktails called, you guessed it, The Sherry. It will open this year.


Restaurateur/bar guy Clint Nolan was true to form in October when he opened a bar so achingly hip, so just-for-the-cool-kids, that it came with secret passwords, no signage, a hidden entrance and men who peer at you through a slot in the door before, maybe, letting you in to the brilliant seediness that is Sneaky Tony’s. It’s a rum bar. There’s no food. You’re here to drink. Get over it.


Leederville and Mt Lawley/Highgate — the other two hot hospo destinations — gave birth to some top spots last year. In Leederville, burger supremo Justin Bell opened Pinchos. He gets it. It’s authentic, fabulously inexpensive and at lunchtime on Fridays he has a plough-disc-sized paella pan bubbling away on the sidewalk, its wafting aromas luring in punters like moths to a Primus lamp. Just around the corner Low Key Chow House opened to crowds of punters craving cheap ’n’ cheerful Asian, cooked well.


At the other end of the Northbridge tunnel, Mt Lawley was graced with the joint talents of Red Cabbage boss Scott O’Sullivan and Petite Mort owner/chef Todd Stuart, who teamed up to open St Michael at the former Jackson’s restaurant site. Early days, but they’re gaining a loyal audience as the word gets out. Over the road, the pop-up that won’t die, Enrique’s School For To Bullfighting, continues to serve up some of the smartest cocktails in WA and a roster of awesome bar snacks.


At North Fremantle, Habitue opened to immediate popularity with good drinks, great staff and small-plate sharing dishes positively bursting with flavour and great produce. On the beachfront, The Shipping Lane opened with smart decor, a “Raw Bar” seafood offering and terrific coffee.


The Cottesloe Hotel opened Cott & Co Fish Bar and it was a surprise hit (we didn’t have high hopes). Along with Il Lido, just down Marine Parade, Cott & Co is one of the loveliest casual dining spaces in Perth. The food is righteous and the staff on the ball.


Other memorable openings last year: Juniper & Bay in Como and Pete Evans’ smart paleo restaurant Heirloom in East Perth. Both are delightful and well worth trying, despite a lack of social media buzz or glossy magazine love.


On a slightly depressing note: we’ve had scores of conversations with confused and desperate bar owners and restaurateurs who can’t understand why WA’s liquor licensing minefield has worsened in recent times. The small-bar laws, now almost a decade old, were supposed to do the opposite — lighten the compliance burden, take expensive lawyers out of the mix, reduce red tape. And yet, the labyrinthine application and approvals processes have worsened, no one dares move without a lawyer beside them and senseless decisions are made daily.

We will be taking this issue up with great vigour this year as we campaign for root-and-branch reform to licensing laws and the anti-small business approach of the State’s licensing authorities.


© The West Australian

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