Bars & Restaurants In Review

Last Updated: 06 Oct 2014
Renee Bergere

Renee Bergere reviews her pick of Spring 2014's best restaurants. Warning: do not read on an empty stomach.

In the tradition of independent reviewing, Renee dines anonymously and pays for her meal. More than 20 restaurants are visited each season, with only the best profiled in Scoop magazine.

Photography by Ross Wallace.


This new Leederville eatery is serving up the best Asian dishes, with a healthy side of cheekiness.

Just one look at the menu of Low Key Chow House and it's clear: the owners certainly have a sense of humour. The fold-up menu includes cameos from the likes of Mr Chow of The Hangover fame, a cleaver-wielding Bruce Lee, and a ninja from the classic Sega game Shinobi. He's riding a duck.

My friend and I spend so much time laughing at the menu and inhaling the complementary peanuts (they're flash-fried with salt, sugar, chilli and dried anchovies – hence the moreishness) that our server is obliged to return three times before we're ready. But instead of an order, we have questions. Lots of them.

An affable and sharply dressed man by the name of Owen swoops in to explain the restaurant is a family affair. He owns it with brother Terry and business partner Chris. Owen's wife, whose family is from Vietnam, has contributed the Vietnamese dishes on the menu, while Owen and Terry have given the menu a Malaysian touch. Their family background is Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya, the ethnic Chinese who settled on the Malacca straits.

But don't expect another fusion restaurant. The menu is a smattering of authentic Asian crowd-pleasers: street food like pork belly buns and satay sticks, shareable wok-fried goodness, and protein barbecued over the coals (whole grilled fish in a banana leaf, anyone?). There's also an ace cocktail menu organised by flavour – sweet, salty, sour, spicy – which I reckon is genius.

I only find myself wishing the menu was shorter – I want to taste everything (OK, maybe not the gizzard or pickled celery).

I'm a sucker for gyoza, so that's up first. The four pan-fried dumplings are stuffed with pork, ginger, coriander and cabbage, and topped with chilli and microherbs, and they're divine – soft in parts and crispy in others. But the dipping sauce steals the show. It's a mix of soy, mirin and sesame oil topped with toasted sesame seeds. I covet the recipe.

The Kingfish Sashimi (dubbed Citrus Cure) doesn't blow us away, unfortunately. The grapefruit sauce is all sour and no balance. It could have done with some sweetness, saltiness or even a chilli kick. Luckily we've kept the dipping sauce from the gyoza – it saves the day.

We take a chance by diverging from the menu and ordering the curry special. We're repaid with a stellar dish. Owen explains versions of the Kari Ayam can be found throughout Southeast Asia and India but this is a traditional Nyonya-style recipe originating from his family's hometown. It's a rich, complex curry made with coriander seeds, cumin, star anise, fresh turmeric, shallots and shrimp paste, and large chunks of chicken on the bone. It's so good we tell Owen he ought to put it on the menu permanently. You can thank us later if he does.

We finish with deep-fried ice-cream doused with a generous helping of salted caramel, and the ridiculously good Ca Phe Da Martini cocktail made with rum, Vietnamese coffee and vanilla caramel syrup. We're not laughing anymore – we've just found our new favourite Leederville restaurant.

140 Oxford Street, Leederville (08) 9443 9305. Open for lunch Friday to Sunday, and dinner Wednesday to Sunday.

Photography by Ross Wallace.


This new casual eatery on Beaufort Street more than fills the big shoes left behind by Jackson's. But to call it 'relaxed dining' is an overstatement.

When Jackson's ended its 15-year reign on Beaufort Street, it felt like the death knell of degustation dining in Perth. Just further proof that diners were over the pretension – and stomach stretching – that can come from multi-course meals. They want casual digs. They want share plates. And what they don't want are food comas and empty wallets.

Enter St Michael, and its nod to the archangel patron of grocers. Few restaurateurs would have the guts to take over Neal Jackson's iconic venue, but Scott and Hazel O'Sullivan (owners of Red Cabbage), along with Petit Mort's Todd Stuart, were up to the task. While the renovations were underway, Perth diners were promised cheaper food and a casual, edgy interior.

But let's get real. With an envelope-pushing head chef like Adam Sayles, ex-sous chef of Red Cabbage, 'casual' was never going to happen. Even my visit for a relaxed Friday lunch becomes a fine dining affair. Then again, that might be my fault. Instead of share plates, I opt for the seven-course lunch degustation. There's just something about this place that encourages indulgence.

Small aesthetic changes have made the venue more relaxed. Gone are the white tablecloths and multiple pieces of buffed cutlery. A giant mural adorns the exterior wall, a barbed-wire pendant light hangs from the ceiling, and behind our table is a faux stained glass window of St Michael himself.

But we have more than just a saint looking after us – our servers are a French couple with thick accents and a knack for friendly banter and impeccable service. Who cares that I understand only a quarter of what they say?

But to the food. Oh my, the food. Each dainty, exquisite course, artfully displayed on beautiful crockery, celebrates WA produce: marron from Margaret River, Swan Valley honey and mandarins, lamb from Boddington, and veggies from the Mt Claremont Farmers Market. The flavours are balanced, delicate and refreshingly different.

One dish comprises sweet marron flesh in an umami-packed shiitake dashi broth with fermented baby turnips. Another is slow-cooked lamb belly with mandarin puree and pickled yabbies, the citrusy sweet punch of the fruit cutting straight through the richness of the meat. But it's the last few dishes that wow us. First, the most bizarre yet stunning cheese course I have ever tasted. It's a smear of white chocolate ganache topped with a quenelle of sweet tomato sorbet, crumbles of blue cheese and cheddar biscuit with a sprinkling of olive bits and radicchio leaves. It's sweet, savoury, tart, cold, warm, smooth and crunchy. Instead of a cacophony of flavours and textures, it's a symphony.

It's followed by a sensational dessert that also walks a fine line between savoury and sweet with its parsnip ice-cream, parsnip sponge, caramelised cornflake crumples and honey. It's extraordinary.

This adventure of a meal has my tastebuds singing. Whether it's a blessed kitchen to thank or Neal Jackson's lingering presence, one thing's for certain – chef Adam has been praying to the right culinary powers. Could it be Saint Lawrence, patron saint of cooking? Let's hope Michael doesn't find out.

483 Beaufort Street, Highgate (08) 9328 1177. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday, and lunch on Friday.

Photography by Ross Wallace.


Did Freo need another cafe? Nope. Could this one be its best yet? You betcha.

In the wee small hours of August 1, three thieves broke into a then three-week-old Fremantle cafe by the name of Lenny the Ox. Before they had time to do anything more than make a bit of noise, a bare-bottomed neighbour came to the rescue, chasing them down the street. It was Santo Galati, owner of the beloved Galati & Sons, a greengrocer just a couple of doors down. Something tells me the villains may have wished the vigilante was wearing a cape. Lycra, even. That'll teach 'em.

Only in Fremantle, right? And cafes don't get more Freo than this one. Lenny the Ox is owned by the family behind one of the Port City's most popular cafes, the quirky Ootong & Lincoln. Co-owner Leanne is the design guru behind both projects. But don't expect stringed lights or tricycles on the ceiling. Lenny the Ox's style is a lot more subdued – think bistro-style wicker chairs, stark white walls, a bright red door and a mural of Lenny presiding over the alfresco tables outside.

So why the unusual moniker? Co-owners and brothers Chris and Nick share a middle name of Lennox, their grandmother's maiden name. How's that for cute?
My breakfast buddy and I visit Lenny the Ox on one of those rare foggy mornings. From our table we can just make out the shopfronts across the road. Cars pass at a snail's pace. This is coffee weather. So our first order of business is the procurement of two lattes. They're made with a roast from local business Crema, and they do the trick: we've warmed up and we're suddenly starving.

My friend orders the Mushrooms on Toast, which comprises a thick slice of grilled Loafer sourdough topped with ricotta, sautéed field and button mushrooms and a very sweet capsicum jam. Too sweet, if you ask her. The toast is also too dry, but easily remedied with some borrowed olive oil. She's married to an Italian, if that's not obvious enough.

The Salmon Omelette is my brekkie, and it's faultless. It's an open crepe-like disk of just-cooked eggs topped with strips of medium-rare grilled salmon, house-smoked goats curd, radish medallions, chives and coriander. It's truly the best breakfast I've tasted in ages. I polish it off and consider licking the plate.
I wash it down with Lenny the Ox's most popular drink, the green smoothie, which is chock full of apples, banana, lemon, baby spinach and their secret ingredient: kiwi fruit. Shhh… don't dob me in for telling.

Could breakfast be what the thieves were after? That would be my bet.

20 Wray Avenue, Fremantle (08) 9433 3851. Open daily for breakfast and lunch.

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