(That’s PJ Harvey wearing the Opera House, right? Back me up here.)
How lazy have I been? Took forever to get these photos to TBC because I’m just too lazy! Anyway, had a great night and I’m in love with the decor of the Five Bar. I mean an opening roof for summer? Can you imagine? Sometimes I wish I could just rip off the tin in our house so I could lounge on my day bed lounge in the warmth and light of summer. – TBP
A few weeks back I was stuck in a mid-afternoon day-dream about pork belly. This is not uncommon. As I was discovered the hard way soon after when I was asked to prepare a poster on homosociality on the spot I, should have been keeping my eye on the prize – instead I was busy on twitter talking TBP into coming to Five Bar’s Spring Into Cider tasting. TBP was sure she could get home, dressed, and find her camera in under an hour so we snapped up two tickets. As it turned out traffic conspired against us, but we weren’t the last ones there. And only the last one there counts as late, right?
The event was tucked up the back of the venue under the opening (but sadly closed that night) roof while the rest continued on normal service. I hadn’t expected it to be standing and since we got there too late to stake out a spot on the platform-sorta-business we ended up awkwardly perching on the end of a handsome sideboard doing a self-conscious side-shuffle every time the staff needed to get at the cutlery. They were very kind about it though and reassured us with a pithy anecdote about a more difficult customer and a beef tartar.
My initial anxiety on realising that it was a standing event and my dream of soothing my woes in a comfy chair with some pork belly needed some adjusting started to calm down when I was handed an icey pint of James Squire Orchard Crush. Drink responsibly friends. It was a full-strength (4.8%) scrumpy, a little cloudy from the yeasts and had a distinctly apple-juice scent. It was neither too dry not too sweet and was a refreshing way to kick the evening off. Being a James Squire it’s pretty easy to find reasonably priced in your local bottleshop too. Since we arrived so late there was only one piece of the chorizo sauteed in cider left in the building and TBP boldly stole it from under the descending hand of a stranger. We’re sorry about that. She made me have it because she says she can’t talk about food but in the end all I can tell you about it is that was indeed a piece of chorizo and it did have a slightly sweet note. The guy we stole it from sure seemed to be enjoying it and one piece wasn’t really enough to get a good idea of how it worked together with the cider.
Macca, the night’s booze expert, did a great job of explaining what we had to eat and drink – he gave us just the right amount of information and in just the right way that we felt we were learning but not being condescended to. He welcomed feedback and seemed genuinely concerned that everyone enjoy the experience. The contrast between Macca and the beer degustation at Elmar’s couldn’t have been more stark and we really appreciated it.
The second cider, the Napoleone Methode Traditionelle Pear Cider, was a really interesting one. It’s made in the same style as Champagne, the methode champenoise or methode traditionelle, with two fermentations and a spell aging on lees. The ciderhouse was aiming for an Australian twist on a classic European style and used 60% Packham and 40% Beurre Bosc pears. The finished product is dry for a pear cider with small tight bubbles, a toasty feel and vegetable notes. It was paired with crumbed and fried artichoke hearts on a goats smooth goats cheese base with a little slivered red onion. I love artichoke but I’m essentially a lazy person and the work involved in preparing and eating fresh ones is usually beyond me. I appreciated the amount of effort that went into the preparation as they were tender and delicious, a great seasonal nod. All together the dish was savoury with a bit of tang provided by the goats cheese but the cider complemented the dish by adding a note that seemed missing in the food and taken together it was a great combination.
The Kelly Brothers Sparkling Apple Cider is a classic Australian style cider. We thought it smelled a bit funky, but it tasted nice – a sort of hint of apple sweetness with a crisp dry finish. We were given a whole stubby each, which at 7% alcohol was pretty generous. The Linley Valley pork belly served with it was good, if a bit tricky to eat while standing up and chatting. The applejack sauce had a bitter note which stood out and confused us, until we learned what that actually was and everything made sense. I’m well known in the family for my love of potato bake and so my cravings were perfectly satisfied by this dish. By the time we had plates, stubbies, glasses and cutlery we’d pretty much commandeered that sideboard. Sorry guys…
Our palate cleanser was a deconstructed ‘Stonefence’ cocktail, a glass of Domaine Dupont Cidre Reserve served with a glass of Laird’s Applejack. Drinking the spirit first allowed the cider to serve as a palate cleanser for both the pork belly, and the applejack. And when I say palate cleanser, we’re talking a scorched earth policy. Applejack is made from 30% apples and 70% grains, described by Macca as being like those that make up whiskey. So despite being warned this was basically whiskey I was still thinking about it as some sort of delicious sticky apple-based dessert liqueur. Obviously I was wrong and it hurt in the way being fed a spoon full of vegemite when you think you’re getting jam hurts and now you can all laugh at my folly. The cider, on the other hand, was lovely. It had been aged in Calvados barrels and was honeysuckle sweet with small bubbles, not as tight as the methode traditionelle, more foamy. I really enjoyed this cider, so inevitably it turned out to be a premium one which sells by the bottle (at $50) rather than the glass.
The cider I enjoyed against all my expectations was the Cidrerie D’Anneville Cider Doux Binet Rouge. It was a sweet cider (a cidre doux) made from binet rouge apples, which are traditionally used in the making of Calvados. I’ve had sweet (sickly sweet) ciders before, like Rikorderlig, and never enjoyed them. This was definitely sweet but it didn’t gang up on you, it had a red apple flavour with soft foamy bubbles and was very pleasant to drink. I don’t know if it was the way the tasting was structured and this was just what I was ready for but I really enjoyed it. Macca said he’d happily drink it all day, except at 2% the alcohol content is too low for that – given my track record with cider that actually makes it even more appealing. If I find one I really enjoy I don’t want to put it down. It looks as though this cider is occasionally available for retail in Perth so I look forward to hunting for it.
The dessert was cute, mini palmier pastries with fresh strawberries, a vanilla-flecked creme fraiche and a square of foamy strawberry gel. The gel was particularly interesting because it was clearly solid enough to be cut into squares, but destabilised while I was distracted with the cider so by the time I got to eating it made a foamy sauce. The sweetness in the dessert was well balanced and sat well with the cider. We weren’t really clear on how to go about eating the dessert, I picked it apart and TBP ate it like a tiny bruschetta. I hope that was the intended method because it was adorable.
So, Five Bar – definitely going back. I don’t know what did it for me – the service, the food, the drinks, the roof. I’ve managed to link that roof and cider in my head and now I just want to spend all summer there. It’s like outdoors…. but indoors.
On Monday we went to the Beaufort st Festival’s Roving Dinner! I was really excited about this for a number of reasons – I’d never been to a roving dinner before, I’d only been to one of the venues involved, and I’m trying to plan ahead around some financial stress so my ticket was a gift from L. He is the best.
PS I’m sorry there’s so much of my face in this. It was not my intention.
Must Winebar ~ Champagne Lounge
Must was a great place to start and we had fantastic service, both from the staff there and from the Beaufort st Festival staff. Everyone was friendly, especially because of TBP’s camera! Even the photographer was nice to her! Normally if the camera is a conversation starter it’s the kind where we apologise profusely. We’d forgotten to ask if cameras were okay and so we were both sort of worried about what we’d do if they weren’t. Maybe that was just me, I worry for us both. The Champagne Lounge (which lets be fair, I’m unlikely to see again) was beautifully appointed. I really love that late baroque/rococo style.
Never before have been so happy to be a photographer at a food event. I got a nod from the professional photog there and Laura Moseley commented on it, and then asked us both about it. Basically everyone was really nice (and not at all mad when I flashed the ceiling a few times, I swear I didn’t do it too much!). – TBP
Jamon, Organic Feta, Compressed Rockmelon & Mandarin Oil
These were really delicious. I avoid eating cured pork products in Australia so this was really special. The jamon was intensely savoury, the feta salty and smooth and the mandarin oil gave a soft citrus lift. I also never eat rockmelon so my main thought re: the rockmelon was ‘that wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be’ and didn’t really register anything else. TBP thought it could have been ‘more rockmelony’ though so you can’t please everyone. Sucking that off the spoon was the moment where I realised that bright red lipstick was a foolish choice.
Carnarvon Prawn & Parsley Croquetas
Also delicious with a few chunks of prawn tucked inside and a gentle prawn flavour throughout. They were cheesey and soft and I really, really love fried food so they were sort of the edible equivalent of a warm hug. Even TBP liked these and she doesn’t like prawns!
The more I think about these, the more unfair it is that they are comparatively tricky to make because it’d be totally neat if you could just get these from a chippy. I’ll have a small chips and half a dozen croquetas, thanks. This obviously does not help with my perception of Europe as paradise because you can do and I have done exactly that in Rome except I grant you it is somewhat less classy because you are standing on the side of the road and not in an elegantly appointed lounge.
Olive & Gruyere Toasties
As you’d expect these were savoury and salty, and the gruyere flavour was subtle. They were warm, and not too greasy despite being stuffed full of some potentially pretty greasy ingredients. TBP also liked these! This stage of the progressive dinner threw a lot of taste challenges her way. They were a bit messy to eat – even with a napkin it was a bit of a challenge. This was the point where I considered just ditching the lipstick entirely as half of it was smeared all over my hand but I persevered.
Pork Meatballs & Romesco sauce
These were my least favourite, the pork flavour was pronounced and delicious but they seemed to be with dill which I found an unusual combination. Not by any means bad just not as exciting as the rest. R pointed out that the last nibbly should always come on a toothpick – very wise.
Mas Pere Cava ‘Brut Selección’ Penedes, Spain, NV
We each had about 2 small glasses each before the amount allocated to our sitting ran out. It was certainly a nice drop and I would drink it again, but I would have appreciated a bit of direction about it’s characteristics as I know nothing about Spanish sparkling.
R was offered one of these which we initially put down to his wearing a checkered shirt and having a beard, but then it turned out the sparkling was gone and we were offered ours in due course. Official word on the taste: “it is a beer.”
Santa Vittoria Mineral Water
Russel Blaikie came around and introduced himself to everyone and had a little chat about how excited he was to be involved in updating an admittedly retro concept into a display of Beaufort st’s finest. This is the third Beaufort st roving dinner he’s been involved in, I gather the only restaurant that has been in them all, and will also be part of next week’s line up. The most exciting part of this encounter was managing to have a completely normal conversation with a chef whose work I admire and whose book I own (thanks Mum!) without making a twit of myself. It seems I was at the optimum point of the champagne curve or I am finally developing adult social skills. Either way, hallelujah!
Salmon aquachile lime jalepeno coriander GF
This dish converted me to eating salmon. It’s flavours are fresh and clean, and you get the occasional hit of jalapeno to keep you on your toes. Ceviche (okay aquachile, fine) strikes me as such a wonderful summer food for those days when you really can’t bear to turn on the stove and I’m keen to have a try at recreating this at home when it starts to get hot again.
Housemade green chorizo sope queso onion GF
None of my notes on this dish made any sort of sense, so you’ll have to take my word on how good it is. I really like the flavour of masa, and pork, and herbs, and so… there is nothing about this I do not like.
Vegetarian options available
Our vegetarian dish was a carrot salad with both pickled and roasted carrots and a salsa di pan (bread sauce). The two different preparations of carrot were a great way of working within the theme of one vegetable while maintaining textural contrast.
We thoroughly confused our waitress by ordering chickpeas (and paying separately), because we aren’t capable of walking past El Publico and not having the chickpeas. To be honest, they weren’t as crunchy as normal, but we still vacuumed them up. I’m still waiting for Sam Ward to send me that frequent chickpea-r card… Probably for the best, financially speaking, for everyone involved.
Paloma ~ blanco pink grapefruit soda lime salt
I’ve never been huge on grapefruit, with its connotations of diets and it’s weird side effects. But I trust El Publico, they do nice things to my taste buds so I gave it a shot and really enjoyed it! It looked like one shot of espolon blanco over ice and a wedge of lime in a tall glass rimmed with salt, topped up with grapefruit juice and a dash of soda water. Mmm, summery. It seems I have a weak spot for tequila with a sweet/sour/citrus/bubble thing because their Captain Fanta Pants’ also rocks.
el Presidente white or red
The red sounded fine (possibly a Cab Sav) but the white was a Chardonnay? I was confused, all the food was so zesty I felt like I’d missed something if the house white was a Chardonnay. So much still to learn. I had been all set to have the white but then I was too skeptical and went for the Palomas instead and did not regret a thing.
Monday was also their first 7 day trading day! Congrats guys. They have a $20 Tecate (beer), 3 taco and street corn dinner deal thing on mondays and I can pretty much guarantee you will be finding me there.
The service was the next best after Must, the chef (whose name I didn’t grab, the usual head chef Sam Ward is on holidays) came out to explain the dishes. Luckily we were sitting quite close to him as he was a touch on the quiet side even after the nudge in the kidneys he was given by front of house. Table service was good although the guy didn’t stick around long enough to take our answers after asking if anyone else wanted another drink, so only R got two (are you sensing a theme? R has no trouble getting drinks) and we spent the next 15 minutes trying to get his attention only to be told we were about to leave and we ended up being the last ones in the restaurant trying to finish them at the bar. Sorry chaperones.
200g West Australian Wet-Aged Rump on Mash Potato, with a side of char-grilled vegetables and black pepper Sauce
or Baked Garlic and Feta Mushrooms, Char-grilled Vegetable Casserole V
Guigal Cotes du Rhone Syrah Grenache Mouvedre – France
Corte Giara Pinot Grigio – Italy (Venezia)
Okay so we weren’t full but we were well along by this point and steak and mashed potato was an ambitious choice for such a menu. 200g isn’t a lot, but it’s a lot when you’ve come from el publico because I have no self restraint. I gather Bos Taurus is pretty new (like a month or two new) and the decor was great, we liked the industrial vibe with the warm leather, L is a huge fan of Chesterfields and I liked the porthole style mirrors on the walls.
The wine, too, was good – I am like a pig in mud with an Italian Pinot Grigio and would quite literally drink it all day. I had a sip of the Syrah (which was referred to as ‘The Shiraz’ by the staff, fair call, my french sucks too) and it was smooth and far more drinkable to my palate than Australian Shiraz.
(Funny story in Italy I ordered a fillet steak at a posh restaurants that offered two reds by the glass, a Syrah and a something else I instantly forgot and can’t divine from their wine list since it changes monthly. I asked the waitress which would better suit the meal, expecting her to say the Syrah and she immediately responded the other wine, as it was more full bodied. When we reached that course the wine was aearated and poured with due ceremony into the biggest glass I’ve ever had set in front of me. Panicking the wine would be too big and I would make an arse of myself in front of my parents / the restaurant / the sommelier I was pretty shocked to discover something with the body of an Australian Pinot Nero. Moral of the story I live in the wrong country and Italian reds are right up my alley. This Cotes du Rhone seemed to be following along the same theme and would be quite acceptable to people who weren’t big red drinkers.)
When we were walking in I overheard one of the waitresses asking ‘no vegetarians in this lot?’ to one of our chaperones. The event page had asked us to let the organisers know in advance if we were vegetarian or had any special requirements, and the Beaufort st Festival’s food organiser, the incredibly organised Laura Moseley, had checked this again on the door. Now, we’re in a steak house. This isn’t going to be a place falling over itself to cater to vegetarians or acknowledge that vegetarians are perhaps not the only people who eat vegetables. But I had been taken in somewhat by the menu offering a choice of dishes – I hadn’t realised that if you wanted the mushroom dish you’d have to order it in advance. Logically I did know the food was probably almost ready to go when we got there and with only 45 minutes per sitting they didn’t anywhere near have time to wander around asking each person what they wanted or how they wanted it cooked, but obviously it didn’t really register. I like my steak, when I have it, a fair bit rarer than it came out so next time at an event of that size I’ll know to book in the mushroom. The only people who had a say in how their steak was cooked were the pregnant women – a waitress came around to check if there were any in the group so theirs could be cooked for longer. Given how well our requirements had already been vetted I thought this could have been handled a bit more discretely, but the waitress looked as uncomfortable as I felt so at least we were all uncomfortable together. Bos Taurus says they only use that policy at events like the Roving Dinner and not during usual service.
The service was quick and the pepper sauce was really excellent.
Almond and Honey Nougat
Chocolate Pot with toasted Marshmallow and Vanilla Ice Cream
Fusta Nova Muscatel
Alvear Solera Pedro Ximinez Sherry
I’d never been to Clarence’s before but it was another great looking venue and more refined than I’d expected from their website – Beaufort st really has some lovely hidden gems. I’d been keen to come back here for a relaxed Sunday session with friends and check out their nibbles and the outdoor area. The service was the most lacklustre of the roving dinner, in that we were handed our food and drink in complete silence. We weren’t told what we were drinking and neither of the dishes were explained to us. That made a bit of a stark contrast with the first two venues. With Bos Taurus, it was pretty self explanatory – if anyone had told me “here is your steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables and sauce” I would have thought they were taking the piss. I’m perfectly able to identify nougat, but if I hadn’t read in advance dessert involved marshmallows I would have been at a bit of a loss. Maybe they were going for an air of mystery? It would tie in with the sweet abstracted theme of the decor.
The nougat was nice, sweet and without any almond flavouring (outside the nuts) which I always consider a dodged bullet with this sort of thing. Since we weren’t given any information on the accompanying wine I admit I didn’t pay it a great deal of attention – it was light and sweet, sure. I can’t digest lactose without help (and cleverly left the stuff at home) so I will have to defer to TBP on the other dessert. The accompanying sherry was pretty much exactly what you expect from a PX ie it was dark and tasted like raisins. Normally a PX would be a big treat for me but I’d splashed out on a bottle for a dinner party the night before and so inadvertently spoiled myself for this one!
Since TBC has a weak body ^_^ I’ll have to remember this dessert for you. The chocolate pudding with marshmallows were both sweet, but not overly sweet that I often find marshmallow to be. The chocolate wasn’t bitter at all, but instead rather rich and creamy. The vanilla ice-cream was good, but I wasn’t overly impressed with it (ice-cream has to be something special for TBP to take note, I eat a lot of it!). Though the unsurprising nature of it was quite a good palate cleanser from the pudding and marshmallow. But the real star was the caramel & nut clusters hiding under the ice-cream which was really delicious! Would love to eat that again with a nip of sherry. – TBP
The Roving Dinner is an excellent way to showcase Beaufort st’s venues, from its well established to its up and coming, or barely opened. It gave me a great excuse to visit Must, which I had been a bit of a wuss so far about doing and luckily I was blown away and will absolutely be back. I have a known El Publico problem and I was not disappointed with their offerings. Bos Taurus’ mains did not blow me away, although I did enjoy their wine, but I look forward to seeing their menu online when their website is ready – hopefully with a few more options and more control over how my steak arrives I’ll be tempted back. Clarence’s is calling my name for a Sunday session, although, admittedly, not until I’m next cashed up. But such is life. While the ticket price is admittedly steep at $160, the restaurants only cover their costs and the profits are donated to the Beaufort st Festival. Think of it like charity, but with *lots* of food!
There is another one coming up on the 29th of October stopping off at Must Winebar, Raah, Bos Taurus and El Publico so if you missed out on the first I’d highly recommend you check it out. You can find the details on the Facebook Event.
Beaufort st Festival Roving Dinner
519 Beaufort st, Highgate
511 Beaufort st, Highgate
0418 187 708
550 Beaufort st, Highgate
http://www.bostaurus.com.au/ (placeholder page)
566 Beaufort st, Highgate
Sorry for the lack of photos, TBP had a previous engagement & we were being SPONTANEOUS.
You may have come across the Precinct in the news, as it’s been making a bit of a stir lately. They were the latest high-profile victim of the liquor licensing laws in WA since the Commission was not convinced of the public interest in their application even though there was significant support from the community and local government. Now, a reading between the lines with my half a law degree makes it look like it was mostly about what was admissible at what stage of the proceedings rather than a declaration that the support they had was insufficient, but props to them for hanging in there because they got hold of a Restaurant License at 2pm last Friday! Hooray. So we trotted down to support small business and thumb our noses at the fuddy duddies in Parliament.
Despite not having a booking we didn’t have to wait long before we were seated by our charming waitress, who managed to be way cooler than me all night and yet not make me feel bad. Magic. Service continued to be excellent right through the meal from our various waitpersons, with just the right amount of information about what we were ordering right when we needed it and a nice sparkle of excitement about the new license. I remain impressed they managed to get the wine in and the menus printed in the three hours between hearing the news and end of business. A word of warning about the wine list – it’s tidy and international, and as a result there are only four bottles under $40 and two of those are the house wine. When you see that you can really feel for them – they were expecting 40-50% of their income to be from alcohol sales and this license must be a huge relief. Hopefully when things have settled a bit and they’ve gained some ground on the bank we’ll see a couple more options in the somewhat-more-affordable bracket.
Between three of us we ordered four small plates, a mains to share, a side, a dessert each, and a bottle of La Vendetta Sangiovese Toscana IGT. We didn’t test how well they’d briefed the staff on the wine, firstly because we knew what we wanted, and secondly because when I had a crack it turned out I was talking with one of the owners and she undoubtedly knew far more than I did. Outplayed, Precinct!
We started off with the pork scrunchions with pickled eggs. Niftily served in various sizes of poly pipe, these were a fun way to kick off. The eggs were tangy, the pork crackling was crisp, and it was an interesting combination. I’d love to try the same idea with hot crackling, since when cold they were more than a little reminiscent of those Mr Porky’s I used to have for long car trips – which to be fair I used to love so it’s not much of a criticism.
Next we had the whitebait with beer aioli. We were warned when we ordered them that they were ‘quite fishy’ – probably for the best, as I suppose there exist people who don’t realise whitebait are, you know, fish. I was relieved that they were the proper whole little ones about an inch long rather than the more-like-sardines I got one time at Clancy’s that I had to disembowel before anyone would go near them. These were crisp and delicious and honestly, not all that fishy. The beer aioli (served in a shot glass) was great too, we pinched it off the plate to dip odds and ends into.
The goats cheese and truffle souffle was really, really good. As soon as we hit truffle season and I get my hands on some of the goods I am making one of these. Pretty much licked the cheese off the sides. No regrets.
The charcuterie plate had a bit less charcuterie than expected, but was nevertheless good. Rillettes (I’m 90% sure the waitress said they were rabbit, but if anyone from the Precinct wants to correct me on that please feel free) are solidly in the charcuterie bracket, but sliced duck breast in liquorice sauce and sous-vide pork belly are in my opinion less so. However! We weren’t even planning to order it until we heard what was on it (as most cured meats are off limits for me at the moment) so it was all to the good. The pork belly cube was moist, tender and lovely, even if I was a bit snow-blind to pork belly by that point in the week since it was the fifth day in a row I’d eaten some. Now I know they have the hardware, I’ll be back to see what else they can do with it. The duck breast was tender, and the sauce was tasty, if not as strong in liquorice flavour as I’ve had elsewhere.
Our waitress warned us that the lamb only came with one chop and organised two more so we’d have one each. These came with slow cooked shredded lamb on a bed of toothsome walnut spatzle, which got B quite excited. The sauce on the lamb was particularly well done, a thick, savoury reduction with a hint of chocolate.
For dessert we tried each of the sweet options (they also have a cheese plate and chocolate truffles). I had the chocolate banana pie, which came deconstructed as a martini glass of thick chocolate mousse (or pudding, as B put it) with a banana foam, dried banana crisps and a tuile garnish. The citrus salad had thin sheets of tempered dark chocolate on a bed of citrus fruits, and the lemon curd in the meringue roll made a nice tangy, tangy contrast.
All in all, the food was thoughtful and well-executed, the wine was excellent, the service intelligent and friendly. Our waitress was happy to tell us about the origins of the meat (lamb from Amelia Park, chicken from Mt Barker, Pork from Linley Valley), which took the sting out of what can be at times an awkward conversation. We will be back, although maybe not until the menu has a bit of a shake up – we went through about half the current offerings, and it would be hard to go back in a party larger than a couple without doubling up. Having said that, I can imagine that goats cheese souffle making an excellent light lunch for one, and at $12 you could escape with that and a glass for wine for about $20 so it would be worth another trip for that alone.
May peaceful protest always taste this good.
834 Albany Highway
East Victoria Park
(08) 9355 2880
Mexican and fun times with friends are inextricably linked for me, so I was pretty excited to hear a fresh new Mexican joint had recently opened up on Beaufort st. They are, in fact, so new that when we went on the Thursday before Easter their website had only an address, mobile number and email. Being a bit hesitant to ring a mobile number I fired off an email enquiring about their opening hours, bookings and produce and had a response an impressive fifteen minutes later. Their opening hours are now available on their website, and they only take 4 bookings a night for tables of 6+ for their ‘Feed Me’ menu, which as we learned, means you’ll need to be on the ball. I was also pretty stoked with their responses to my questions about their ingredients – this is a thing I feel ridiculous and nosy asking, and often get poorly informed or rude responses so the staff at El Publico earned some serious points. They use organic where possible, and local always – if it’s not in season, they won’t have it on the menu (so don’t be surprised not to find avocadoes right now, for example). Their pork is Free-Range Linley Valley, their chicken is Organic Free-Range Inglewood Farms, and their beef is from Harvey. They’ve even got some local growers producing ingredients you can’t otherwise get in Perth. Learning they had ties to Cantina 663 was icing on the cake.
We rocked up around 7.30 to find El Publico absolutely cranking, tables filled, bar packed and a line up to the doorway. Not to be deterred R sallied forth to the counter, got our name on the list and received an estimate of 40 minutes. We ducked across the road to the Beaufort st Merchant for a drink to pass the time, as the line was by now out the door and it didn’t seem like we’d be able to make it to El Publico’s bar without losing an eye. A jug of Ultimate Pimms ($35) and a jug of Imperial Sangria ($35) later we were ready to go back and do battle again.
We were seated by 9 and warned there might be another long wait for the food so we knuckled down and ordered as quickly as we could, starting with a bottle of dos equis XXX for me ($9) and a bottle of el presidente private bin red ($39) for everyone else to share. On our waiter’s advice we ordered the fried chickpeas with burnt tortilla salt ($5) from the Botana (snack) section to tide us over. These arrived super fast and were amazing – soft and fluffy on the inside and crisp and salty on the outside. We ended up ordering three serves.
Salmon aquachile jalapeno coriander ($17) from Primeros (first course)
Unless you speak spanish, you might find the menu a bit intimidating at first glance but luckily on further investigation there is a quick guide on the back of the menu to help you decipher what you’re ordering. However, if you are rushing to get your order to the kitchen like we were you may find establishing the major ingredients and leaving the rest as a surprise is a fun way to go. Aquachile (or aguachile, depending on who you ask), is a very lightly cured kind of ceviche. I am a huge fan of cured, smoked or salted anything but usually not so keen on salmon. This was light, fresh and punchy with lime, coriander, chilli and radish, and no hint of that oily off-putting flavour.
Organic chicken sikil pak black bean pickled squash ($19) from Ensalada (salad)
We got this dish through a mix-up but once we made sure everything we wanted was still on it’s way we were happy to keep it. The chicken was very moist and tender, and the sikil pak (prehispanic pumpkin seed dip) gave it an interesting and unusual flavour. Even though there was no lettuce, it still gave us the distinct impression of A Salad, and in the end, we aren’t the sort of people to order a salad when there is pork belly on the menu and the aquachile was a pretty hard act to follow.
Huarache house green chorizo queso fresco ($16) from Antojitos (street snacks)
Again, we didn’t bother to read the translation until afterwards, but huarache means a toasted masa base in the shape of a sandal and once you know that this dish does look rather humorously like a delicious, savoury flip flop. The chorizo itself seemed mid-way between mince and pate in texture and had a charred and smoky flavour from the grill. Without the follow through paprika flavour from your standard chorizo the taste was fresh and interesting. And I love the taste of masa so I was pretty happy with this dish.
“WARNING: don’t fool around with Sam’s hot sauce… it’s hot! really hot!”
Pig tongue bitter orange pickled onions taco (2) ($14) from Antojitos
Each taco had three disks of (I’m thinking pressed?) tongue each. The flavour was piggy but not overwhelming, and the texture was still quite muscular so it wasn’t too unfamiliar – even L, who had previously declared he’d never eat tongue and was accidentally none the wiser at the time, said he would be happy to eat them again. The sweet pickled onions were quite juicy, but the tortillas were thick enough to keep everything together and made the masa flavour a component rather than an afterthought. The downside to the menu’s loose descriptions is that you’re never quite sure what form the ingredients are going to take – I couldn’t detect any bitter orange but it was equally possible that it was part of the cooking process as with carnitas and never meant to be a perceptible part of the final presentation.
Esquites ($9) from Antojitos
The mexican street corn with chilli mayonnaise lime and cheese was a real stand out. Served cut off the cob and piled in a bowl it was sweet, tangy and creamy with a hint of warmth from the chilli. I would happily eat two bowls of this for dinner any time. Coming back to it after something more savoury like the beans, I was surpised to notice how sweet it really was.
‘Cowboy beans’ ($8) from Antojitos
While the cowboy beans were perfectly cooked, tender and holding their shape, we couldn’t really taste the pork or tomato very strongly. R liked these when combined with the corn, but I think that was just an excuse to make the corn last longer.
Slow cooked pork belly piloncillo chilli oaxacan chocolate ($24) from Grande Placa (big plates)
All we knew about this dish was pork belly and chocolate, which we figured meant it had something for everyone. It was pretty delicious, but maybe not quite outstanding since we can already do a pretty good pork belly at home. The sauce was mild and well balanced, not as rich as you’d expect from the description (let’s face it, probably a good thing). On it’s own it was like a very sweet (as you’d expect, if you’d bothered to translate piloncillo into ‘refined mexican sugar’) but also very savoury hot chocolate, but when mopped up with the pork everything worked really well together. The pork was tender and soft all the way through, but still had the top layer of fat left intact which TBP wasn’t too keen on and didn’t have quite enough crunch in the crackle to get R and I really excited. We noticed that same intensely porky flavour from the tongue tacos here as well, so if you like your meat bland and deniable, you’re out of luck.
Grilled baby chicken adobo mezcal ($32) from Grande Placa
In case you were panicking that we’d been robbed, the ‘baby’ chicken was much closer to full-sized than a cornish hen. I had a breast piece and was a bit apprehensive since I don’t normally go for white meat but it was very moist. Everyone really enjoyed it but no one could put their finger on the flavour since few of us had tried either adobo or mezcal before. We gave up on the cutlery, finished the bones with our fingers and ordered a side of tortillas to mop up the juices.
Cajeta flan banana peanut butter ice cream ($14) from Postres (desserts)
While we did pass these around, these desserts were probably the one part of the menu that were better suited to just one person. The goat’s milk caramel and peanut butter ice cream were a great sweet and salty combination, but I wasn’t as huge on the custard. Despite the menu saying they don’t allow changes, the staff were happy to arrange one plate without the banana for TBP and really diligent when they brought them to the table to make sure the right people got the right plate. The menu didn’t really have any allergy information on it, but we found the waitstaff so accommodating and attentive that I was have the impression they will steer you right if you tell them what you need to avoid. The attitude of the wait staff was impressive – they were under a lot of pressure but stayed chipper throughout the night and even our ordering mix ups were handled with grace and good humour.
Despite us fearing the worst, the kitchen was so on the pace that at points it nearly overtook us. In hindsight, we really should have relaxed and taken things a bit more slowly – we were out the door in under an hour and a half. The only criticism I have of El Publico was the intense noise levels. We were seated by an open window, which was probably a good spot since the restaurant is mostly flat surfaces, and we could hear the music only rarely and the road noise not at all.
I really enjoyed my night out and would be happy to go back to el Publico again, especially since we didn’t tackle the cocktails and our waiter warned that the food menu will be changing frequently and the copy I took home will soon be out of date. I would recommend it for groups of friends, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to (for example) my parents or for a date – unless you’re not there for the conversation.
511 Beaufort st Highgate
0418 187 708
http://www.elpublico.com.au (view in Safari or Firefox for best results!)