Bars & Restaurants In Review

Last Updated: 25 Jun 2014
Renee Bergere

Renee Bergere reviews her pick of the season’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.

This Northbridge restaurant has harnessed Perth's love of market food, by bringing street food indoors. Genius.

Quick – someone create a restaurant-sized time capsule marked "Perth dining scene, circa 2014" and chuck in Clint Nolan's new venue, Pleased to Meet You.

The Northbridge eatery sports all the trends: exposed brick, pendant lights, upcycled wooden pallets, a vertical garden, and even the indomitable trend of stripy paper straws. Hipsters sit on paint-dipped stools around communal tables spread with share plates and growlers of beer. The sense of dining deja vu is so strong, it's a wonder the restaurant's not called We've Met Before.

So on-trend is it that you might write it off as a touch try-hard. But don't judge till you taste the food. It's sensational.

Pleased to Meet You serves hawker-style food with a focus on North American classics (corn bread, sliders and s'mores), alongside Asian favourites (banh mi, pork crackers and ramen). It's the kind of fun, flavour-packed food that's best shared with friends and washed down with beer.

I make sure I've got both on hand before tucking into the first dish of the night, Salt and Pepper Squid Banh Mi, a take on the classic sandwich sold by street vendors throughout Vietnam. Inside a chewy French baguette are chunks of hot and crunchy deep-fried squid, and pork pate with pickled carrot and cucumber. Coriander and mint give it a fresh kick. Just awesome.

Next we try the tacos – soft corn tortillas filled with shredded duck, crunchy slivers of cabbage and sweetcorn, slathered with a tangy, ginger-shiitake dressing. We share one between two, but they're so good we wish we had ordered one for everyone in our group.

The watermelon salad throws my husband for a loop. "This is the weirdest thing I've tasted in a long time," he says, frowning. That doesn't stop him from polishing it off in seconds. I venture in and I've got fireworks in my mouth. Bitey sheep's cheese. Bang! Peppery rocket. Boom! Sweet watermelon and crispy, deep-fried shallots. Kerpow! So weird, yet so good.

At Pleased to Meet You, it's nearly impossible not to order the Roast Pork – it's spinning on the rotisserie behind the bar, filling the dining room with its incredible aroma. It comes served on a mini-pedestal, but doesn't quite live up to its promise: the pork itself is tender, but the chimichurri dipping sauce is
all wrong, tasting instead like a peppercorn and bay leaf paste.

It's curiosity and not hunger that compels us to order the bizarre-sounding Ice-Cream Nachos. When they arrive at our table in a large paper cup, we all stare. And look back at our server. And stare some more. How can this be dessert?

I dive in first, breaking off a piece of what looks to be a plain tortilla chip... And find that's exactly what it is. It's even salty. The yellow strips are mango, not cheddar. It's diced strawberry and not tomato. And under it all is a generous scoop of an incredible cinnamon and maple ice-cream. Again, somehow the strangeness works. In fact, it reminds me of the amazingly bizarre cornflake-flavoured cereal-milk ice-cream from Manhattan's Momofuku Milk Bar.

Adventurous and unpredictable, Pleased to Meet You's version of street food is a trend I hope catches on.

38 Roe Street, Northbridge. Open for lunch Saturday and Sunday, and daily for dinner. Find out more here.

Authentic Greek meze, quirky decor and a rocking collection of ouzo – Brika has become Perth's most buzz-worthy restaurant, and for good reason.

Why are there so few good Greek restaurants in Perth? Aside from Estia Cafe in Inglewood and Boucla in Subi, the pickings in Perth are ridiculously slim. No wonder people are flocking to Brika in droves. I join said flock for a weekday lunch and realise straight away it will be a good meal.

First, the 120-seat venue is packed. That's saying a lot, considering Brika's less-than-ideal location opposite a notoriously seedy park in Perth, just off Stirling Street.

The decor speaks volumes for the restaurant's dedication to its theme. Nearly all of the material, I'm told, was shipped to Perth from Greece. There are paint-chipped 70-year-old shutters, Naxos marble tables handmade in Athens, and ancient Drachma coins set within the quatrefoil stencilled floor. Any restaurant that pays this much attention to its fitout would surely give the same level of care to its menu.

My friend and I agonise over a collection of meze – rustic share plates created by Brika's Karpathian/Canadian chef Stavros Protopapas – before our apologetic and attentive server advises us that all three of the dishes we were eyeing, including an amazing-sounding slow-cooked charcoal lamb, aren't available. Devastated, we opt for our second choices with crossed fingers.

Nothing consoles quite like cheese, so first up is the Spanakopita. Instead of the typical triangle or square shape, Brika's comes in crispy pastry shell resembling a spring roll containing a gooey combination of spinach, leek and three Greek cheeses: a haloumi-like cheese called kefalograviera, feta and cottage. A little on the greasy side, but delicious.

So, too, was cheese dish number two, Saganaki: the haloumi-style kefalograviera again, served bubblingly hot in a fry pan. A liberal squeeze of lemon wedge cuts through the intense saltiness. A piece of bread or extra lemons wouldn't have gone unappreciated, but for cheese lovers, this is pure heaven.

We moved on to the more virtuous Beetroot Salad, a generous helping of red and white beetroot chunks on a bed of skordalia (a greek garlic purée), topped with haloumi, shredded mint and sweet pomegranate seeds. I could eat this all day.

I pry myself away to taste the Octopus before my dining companion takes my share. Good thing I do – this is the standout dish of the night. Little pieces of tender, charcoaly octopus sit on a swirl of sweet balsamic vinegar and an incredibly creamy octopus reduction that has me, again, wishing for bread to mop all the goodness up with.

We're stuffed, but nothing can stop us from tasting the baklava. A wise choice: the golden, honey-covered layers of pastry make a crispity crack under my fork, and, eaten with a dip of the homemade halva ice-cream, it's bliss.

Move aside, Mexican and tapas, something tells me your days are numbered.

3/177 Stirling Street, Perth (08) 9328 6665. Open Wednesday to Sunday, noon til late. Find out more here.

Scarborough's newest cafe is serving brilliant coffee and modern brekkie fare in a venue that pays homage to its tradie past.

You've gotta love a cafe whose social media pages are filled photos of their customers' dogs, instead of the ordinary poached eggs and muffins. There's Rosco the boxer, lounging under a wire spool table; Steven the Labrador, panting at the front door. The hashtag #hardwarehounds hasn't gone viral yet, but that could all change as soon as puppycinos appear on the menu.

In a nod to the building's previous life as a hardware store, the Scarborough cafe has gone for a rough, unpolished look. Rusted tools hang on bare brick walls, water is poured from metal watering cans, and utensils are stored in
red toolboxes near repurposed oil drums and tables made with wooden pallets.

But while the fitout might be dog- and tradie-friendly, the menu is upmarket and modern. Think mushroom bruschetta with truffle oil, gravlax, and a feta and egg-white omelette. There's no Vegemite or flavoured milk in sight.

My breakfast buddy (not of the canine variety, sadly) and I visit The Hardware Store Cafe and Eatery on a Saturday morning. We order at the counter and nab the last free table. The restaurant is heaving with breakfasting Perth people. Yep, this certainly is the city's favourite meal.

As we wait for our food we sip Campos coffee (my favourite) and the reason for the queue at the register becomes clear: about half of the customers want takeaway coffees. I don't blame them.

Our food arrives. My breakfast is the Granola Buttermilk Pancakes, three pikelet-sized pancakes dotted with fat blueberries and dusted with icing sugar. At first I'm disappointed by the size of the dish – it's child-sized. But as I dig in, each bite dunked in the tart-sweet pomegranate coulis and clotted cream, I only just manage to finish. These are the best pancakes I've had in a while – fluffy, yet full of texture, thanks to the oaty granola addition. The fresh fruit is a nice touch.

My friend has gone the savoury route with the Herbed Crumbed Poached Eggs. His meal is definitely adult-sized. The two gooey poached eggs are slathered in a rich hollandaise sauce and topped with a crunchy combination of panko crumbs with mint, parsley, thyme, dill and lemon zest. Under it all, sits a bed of chive and potato rosti, pickled enoki mushrooms, Serrano ham and rocket. Just before my friend gobbles it up, I steal a bite. It's a refreshingly unique – and tasty – breakfast dish.

Rumour has it the venue will be opening for dinner soon. Get your cameras ready. There's a Lady and the Tramp scene waiting to happen.

117a Brighton Road, Scarborough 0438 355 422. Open daily for breakfast and lunch daily. Find out more here.

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