What springs to mind when you think of Perth's food scene? Margaret River wines? Dinky small bars and tapas? Seafood in rustic, white-bricked restaurants lined with Norfolk pines and ocean views? Whatever it means to you, you don't need to empty your wallet to enjoy the thriving Western Australian food culture in the capital. For $20 or less you can get your mitts on delights such as caramelised kangaroo, pimped up Shark Bay clams, or even alpaca. And when it comes to the bill, you can pay with confidence, knowing the venue takes American Express.
20 under $20
Whether you know it as Beaufort Local or the Merchant of old, one thing’s certain: this is still the place for no-nonsense comfort on Beaufort Street. A steak sanger, classic and reliable, is one for a big day ahead. Turkish bread, charred, loaded with strips of tender steak and onions reduced in balsamic vinegar, sates the biggest hunger. Hand-cut chips complete the deal with a never unwelcome hit of carbs.
If ever an example of modern Australian leaning towards Asia was needed, look no further than chef Chase Weber. This is one for the Instagram crowd, with plating that demands a picture. But it’s not just social fodder: the use of kangaroo with pineapple, chilli and peanuts all play into a vortex of hot, sweet and salty deliciousness. It’s a ripper of a Thai dish.
The newest incarnation of the Print Hall’s ground floor diner is taking a simple osteria route, in line with the new wave of Italian dining sweeping our capital cities. Fresh and light, a generous serve of raw kingfish is ably balanced by lightly pickled cucumber and orange. A faint Campari bitterness adds a memorable Italian undertone.
Chef Alia Glorie likes to put her spin on dishes at Claremont’s laidback wine bar/restaurant. Smoked salmon whip, inspired by old school taramasalata, uses cultured cream and brings the tarama, or roe, out front, spooned onto the smoky, moreish whip. Thick, crisp lavosh with a good whack of salt is fuel for diving into one of Perth’s best wine lists.
Shadow Wine Bar, despite the name, gives off a distinct restaurant vibe. Your best bet is to pull up a stool and work the bar menu – small plates are the go here. Salty housemade halloumi, fried, has a crisp outer layer, a soft centre and a hint of rosemary. It all plays perfectly with the sweetness of urban honey from Perth’s 'burbs, and black sesame. It's simple and delicious; you’ll find the plates stacking up. Time for more wine perhaps?
Rightly touted as one of Australia’s best new wave Italian chefs, Joel Valvasori-Pereza mines down into his Friulian heritage. The northern Italian staple of soft polenta, pliable and porridge like, cradles the now famous meatballs from his nonna's recipe and a rich traditional sugo. A good grate of parmigiano crowns a dish best enjoyed with a glass of Friulian orange wine and Lulu’s 1950s soundtrack.
Southern fried chicken, Aleppo pepper, maple butter, cornbread crumble, kale 'slaw and 65° poached egg at Odyssea, $20
Ocean views haven’t jacked the prices up at Odyssea, with this cracking dish that draws on the Southern states for inspiration. Subtly sweet fried chicken, marinated in yoghurt and milk, forms the core of a dish that almost looks like it could pass as health food, a kale ’slaw adding weight and virtue. A dusting of Aleppo pepper adds lasting heat, whilst the money shot is a golden yolk, using pasture-raised eggs from WA’s Southern Forest region. Come for the view, stay for the food.
A dish of the ocean, by the ocean. Wine, garlic and a salty air hit you as you breathe this dish in. Getting hands-on works best, scooping out the Shark Bay clams, loading up the chopped prosciutto, garlic and parsley onto bread from Freo’s Bread in Common. As you consider whether coffee, wine or a walk down Cottesloe’s promenade is in order, don’t forget to mop the bowl.
The Shorehouse is a mix of inspirations. Its Indian Ocean view is unmistakably West Australian, the design cues are from the Hamptons and the menu is in part looking to French classics. Generous chicken rillettes are moist with a good balance of fat, cut by a plum chutney and given a zesty lift by dehydrated orange powder. Billed as 'smallhouse' on the menu, it’s more than ample with a side of not-so-Gallic ciabatta.
While Balthazar’s fine dining pedigree is established fact, its more casual bar is one of Perth CBD’s best kept secrets. Drop in, take advantage of Dan Morris and Emma Ferguson’s impeccable wine list, and hit the menu. Smooth, rich chicken liver parfait is pitch perfect – you get a hefty serve, simply presented with a blackberry paste, sweet onion jam and chargrilled bread.
Ku De Ta, the Bali institution, now with its outpost on the Swan River, has serious talent in its kitchen. While Ku Dining is fine dining, you’re free to dip a toe in the menu and take in the view as an extra side. Alpaca b’stilla wins on the curiosity front: it’s not a meat you see all too often, let alone in a pie. It works beautifully, with subtle meat flavours, good pastry and the “you’ll never guess what I had for lunch” factor.
Breakfast at Bib & Tucker is life in Perth distilled: with a tap at the door to wash the sand off your feet, dog bowls out front, and an Indian Ocean view. Standard smashed avo on the balcony would suffice, but Scott Bridger has other ideas, with edamame beans added to the classic mix of salt, pepper and lemon, and a little quinoa for texture. Add a heap of the avo and housemade ricotta on two longboards of toast and you’ve got a postcard in the making.
Strange Company in the backstreets of Freo draws serious wine lovers. There’s much to commend on their menu, but Olives Ascalone are difficult to go past. A simple bar food from the Marche region of central Italy, it involves briny olives wrapped in minced pork, crumbed and fried. Hot, crisp, meaty and with a whack of salt, it’s the perfect drinking food.
The rehabilitation of cauliflower’s image continues. Large chunks are fired at over 500° in the wood oven that takes pride of place in New Normal’s open kitchen. Sumac and nigella seeds lend tartness and bitterness to the smoky char of the cauliflower. Caramelised onion and cauliflower purée and a crisp curry leaf add further depth to this standout veggie dish.
This French comfort classic comes courtesy of one of Perth’s most distinguished chefs of the Gallic persuasion. Gwenael Lesle’s croque monsieur at Budburst holds no cheffy trickery. It’s solidly old school with ham, a plentiful oozy Gruyère and good bread. Pair alongside a suggestion from sommelier-owner Rachael Niall or her crack team, and you’re onto a winner.
With its Southern Italian simplicity, No Mafia offers up small plates that hit the spot on price and flavour, such as this veggie-driven dish relying upon a smoky charred zucchini and baby squash. Studded with blocks of goats cheese and scattered with hazelnuts, it’s great for meat-free days or an aside to the meatier offerings of the menu.
Chef Alexandra Haynes brings the heat. Fremantle octopus is at the heart of this dish, but there’s a porky influence and warming heat from all sides with ’nduja aioli, the white beans benefiting from ’nduja (spreadable Italian salumi) too. A marinade of Aleppo pepper gives a medium hit of heat, with confit garlic, lemon oil and thyme making sure that the mollusc is at its best.
Best known for his longtime relationship with all things French, Russell Blaikie takes a Japanese detour with chicken wings; crisp on the outside, sticky underneath. So often a pub dish is something you devour between rounds, but there’s a slower pace at Must. Miso tomato ketchup an added touch that puts this in anyone’s chook must-tries list.
Guillaume Brahimi is a name familiar to food lovers in Sydney and Melbourne: the French-born chef ran the restaurant at the Sydney Opera House for years before opening the first Bistro Guillaume in Melbourne. The Perth outpost offers classic Paris bistro food as well as spectacular views. The French onion soup is an exemplar of the famous soup, super tasty and a steal at just $18.
Scoop up the betel leaves loaded with tofu, grapefruit and peanut and wait for the taste explosion. Sour, sweet, hot and nutty, there’s a lot going on here; it’s so very typical of the pan-Asian menu at the Apple Daily. Tucked away on the balcony above newly opened Gazette, it’s a consistent performer in the CBD dining scene.