For us, the greatest culinary pleasures in the Western Australian capital of Perth are to be found in the simplest forms – fish and chips by the beach, a crispy Vietnamese banh mi, an authentic curry laksa, and a perfect cheese toastie.
Naturally, we kicked off our Perth visit with a meal and we punctuated our stay with lots of eating. As my sister and niece joined us at our Adina apartments for the first couple of days, our focus was on the family friendly.
Perth is one of Australia’s most expensive cities, so even after they left us we were on the lookout for ‘cheap and cheerful’. ‘Cheap’ is next to impossible to find, with a Vietnamese banh mi costing close to A$10. ‘Cheerful’ is fortunately still in abundance, with plenty of fun places to eat and no shortage of friendly waiting staff.
We really mixed things up this trip, sampling everything from the buzzy Jamie’s Italian (which we thought would be good for a family meal) to the quirky Leederville Food Safari (which we did on our own, but should have done with family).
This Where to Eat in Perth guide is by no means comprehensive. In fact, it’s extremely selective, covering everything from our old Asian favourites to some new discoveries. In keeping with our ‘local travel’ ethos, almost everything was in walking distance of both apartment rentals.
Where to eat in Perth
Melbourne’s mural-clad laneways may be more famous but Perth has been sprucing up its alleys with street art too and we could see the vibrant paintings on the brick walls opposite Toastface Grillah from our balcony (the entrance to the lane is right opposite Adina Apartment Hotel Barrack Plaza). The fact that the city’s colourful passages remain a secret to all but locals makes arriving at this pint-sized sandwich joint something of an adventure. Slip down the gritty lane and you’re in graffiti-art heaven, with bold art works enlivening the formerly dull backstreet. Look for the gun-toting gangsta-sandwich, above, by street artist Jess of Studio Robot, and you’ve arrived at tiny Toastface Grillah (a nod to Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah), tucked behind an old out-house wall. Toasties have been a hot café trend in Australia in recent years, but for Aussies the humble toasted sandwich or ‘sanga’ has long been a lunchtime staple. Here, the signature ‘Ham & Cheese’ with melted cheddar, generous slices of ham and Dijon mustard elevates it to an art form. Eight different sandwich fillings all involve cheese, the cheesiest being ‘3 Cheese’ with cheddar, gruyere and emmental. The minimalist approach extends to the décor: wooden benches, milk crates, and a pallet serving as a stage for the odd poet or ukelele player. The coffee is excellent too. Go in between meals as it gets super-busy.
Grand Lane, Rear 143 Barrack Street, Perth, www.toastfacegrillah.com
Strikingly located in a steel frame clad with recycled plastic and plywood insulated with straw, and boasting vertical gardens spilling greenery down its walls, and a rooftop bar doubling as a kitchen garden, the Joost Bakker-designed Greenhouse stands out on a boulevard of grand old Victorian-era buildings and soaring glass towers. However, it’s the suited business folks and office workers from the surrounding buildings who are calling into the café each day with their own cups (discounts are offered for takeaways to save on plastic cups) and helping themselves to free bags of compost for their gardens – the restaurant has a compost machine from which it produces 14-20 kilos day from kitchen scraps. Made with local, seasonal, and often organic produce, the hearty yet creative Aussie food reflects sustainable architect/designer Bakker’s eco-friendly ethos. We tried a squeaky wood-fired haloumi with basil, candied walnut and lemon; a melt-in-your-mouth beef cheek mogo mogo with banana batter, burnt salsa and pepita; and very moreish sweet potato tots with miso mayo. There are also plenty of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options on the concise menu – along with a decent range of drinks that includes Australian wines by the glass, local beers, and organic soft drinks. While the restaurant is open all day, the lightfilled space is a lovely spot for lunch.
100 St. Georges Terrace, Perth, greenhouseperth.com
Took Bae Kee II
Thanks to an influx of Korean immigrants, students and tourists over the last decade, Perth’s Barrack Street and Hay Street in the heart of the city have evolved into an informal little ‘Korea Town’, with a dozen or so Korean restaurants, cafés, takeaways, and grocery shops dotting the streets. Took Bae Kee II on Barrack Street, just minutes from our apartment, specialises in sizzling barbecues of marinated meats cooked at your table. While the prices look high these are premium quality meats, to be shared between two, and includes the usual array of tasty Korean sides. There are also a variety of spicy barbecue meats, such as pork ribs, that are grilled in the kitchen, along with Korean favourites like fried dumplings, potato noodles, and vegetable pancake, most of which come with rice and a side dish. Popular with couples and groups of friends, solo diners might feel more comfortable at petite Took Be Gi nearby (6/542 Hay Street), which is faster if you’re ordering take-away. Browse the Korean grocery store next door while you wait.
127 Barrack Street, Perth
Just around the corner, Nao is arguably Perth’s best ramen joint, so you may have to queue at lunchtime – and it’s been around for 12 years, so that’s saying something. Everything is handmade here by the Japanese cooks, including three different types of fresh noodles – plain egg noodle (written as ‘plane’ egg noodle on the well-worn menus in plastic sleeves), spinach-infused noodles, and red chilli-infused noodles – along with the rich soup stocks. While the flavours might be authentic, the process is very Australian. First you select your broth from a choice of four types – shoyu (soy), miso (soybean paste), shio (salty) and spicy (‘red & hot’; a lost translation obviously) – then the noodles, and lastly your toppings, which include everything from chashu (succulent roast pork) to nikumiso (minced pork that has been braised in the spicy miso). Servings are generous, and yet you can still upsize most dishes if you’re famished. They also offer gyoza and teriyaki, but everyone comes for the ramen.
117 Murray Street, Perth
Formerly known as D’Nyonya Penang, which is now located in the Perth suburb of East Victoria Park, this sister restaurant has undergone a name-change only. The menu at the modest eatery essentially remains the same, despite minor tweaks, eg. the Kapitan chicken curry is simply called a chicken curry. Although it is in no way simple and is one of the richest and most deliciously complex curries we’ve had outside Malaysia. This is Perth’s most authentic Malaysian food, as the number of Malaysian students and tourists streaming into the fluoro-lit eatery each day attest, and it hands-down beats Melbourne and Sydney’s more fashionable Malaysian restaurants when it comes to flavour and value. While diners happily share an array of generously sized plates, they’re here to eat and don’t tend to linger, making this best suited for a quick stop rather than a leisurely meal. Malaysian regulars swear that the creamy curry laksa (the coconut-based soup also known as curry mee, not to be confused with the sour asam laksa), the smoky char koay teow noodles, and the flaky roti canoi are as good as they are in Georgetown. Finish with an icy-cold air bandung, a rose syrup drink so sweet it could serve as dessert. If you’re on a budget, there’s a fantastic value takeaway lunch special for $6.50, which you can picnic on in nearby leafy Stirling Gardens.
Shop 1, 564 Hay Street, Perth
Perth foodies believe that the best banh mi tit – the Vietnamese baguette filled with pork, pâté, salad, pickles, fragrant herbs – is to be found in Girrawheen, home to a sizeable Vietnamese community, however, most visitors don’t have time to venture to Perth’s sprawling suburbs. Your next best is at Mama Tran, which serves some of the city’s most traditional Vietnamese food, including aromatic pho (rice noodle soup) such as pho ga (with chicken) and pho thai (with rare beef), as genuine as any in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. This is because ‘mama Tran’, Khuu Thi Gioi, who fled Vietnam to Australia on a refugee boat with husband Tan Tran and eight children in 1978, has stayed true to her culinary roots, running Perth’s finest (and first) Asian grocery business since the early 1980s. Her family stir the colossal pots of broth in the open kitchen and man the counter at stylish Mama Tran, which has Vietnamese lanterns, lampshades shaped like conical hats, long communal tables, and the Tran’s framed family photos on the red brick walls. An alternative if you’d prefer to take your banh mi to the park is the Saigon Pastry House (37 Barrack Street), opposite Stirling Gardens, recommended to us by the staff at Adina. Although pricey at $9-10, the baguettes come packed with fillings, including massive cuts of succulent roast pork with crunchy crackling. Our only gripe: no pâté.
Shop 6, 36-40 Milligan Street, Perth, Mama Tran
Perth City Farm Café
There are few lovelier or healthier ways to spend breakfast or lunch in Perth than sitting in the sunshine among the gum trees at this garden café, which takes the farm to table concept to a whole new level. The organic produce used in the café is grown just metres from your table at this community-ran non-profit farm flourishing on a former scrap metal yard on the CBD’s eastern edge. Almost everything else is organic too, from the bread to the coffee, and vegetarians are obviously well catered for. While the dishes won’t win any gastronomic awards, they’re simple and wholesome. The beetroot and leek soup with organic bread, free range pork and fennel sausage roll with tomato relish, and the kale pesto and ricotta quiche are all delicious. The salads are so crunchy, they taste just-picked – and probably are. Try to time your visit with one of the Saturday Farm Markets where you can buy some local biodynamic olive oil or organic honey, join a yoga class, and listen to live music.
1 City Farm Place, East Perth, cityfarmcafe.com.au
By the look of the photos on the website, this big, bright space with its sizeable tables with charmingly mismatched seats looks like it would be perfect for a family meal. This was one of family man Jamie’s eateries after all. It probably is a super space during the day in which to catch up with a sibling and young niece you haven’t seen in a while. However, after dark it’s an entirely different beast, especially on a boisterous Friday night. Jam-packed with big groups of friends shouting over each other at the tables, and couples more intimately chatting at the bar, it was next to impossible to hear each other speak above the din. The four of us were given a table that would have more comfortably seated two or three. As it was, there was barely enough room for drinks, the one course we each ordered, and the miniscule charcuterie board, which is probably why the waiter perched it precariously on two cans of tomatoes. I wouldn’t need to worry about it for long, because five minutes later and the sole piece of prosciutto, slice of pecorino, tiny dish of slaw, and handful of pickles, olives and caperberries predictably ended up on the floor. Fortunately we’d already taken a bite each out of the buffalo mozzarella and single slices of salami and mortadella, and our main courses, while underseasoned, were substantial. What was disappointing was, while we appreciate that the restaurant was busy, the waiter whose attention I finally managed to get didn’t appear to think he should rush back with a fresh board. I include the restaurant here because everybody else appeared to be having a great time, my niece loved her gigantic burger, and I do love the space. If we ever return it will be during the day and we’ll be asking for a bigger table.
140 William Street, Perth, www.jamieoliver.com
Leederville Food Safari: Ria Malay Kitchen, Kitsch Bar Asia, Foam Coffee Bar
The tuk tuk is our main form of transport in Siem Reap, so it was hard to resist the opportunity to try the quirky Leederville Food Safari, a progressive dinner by rickshaw that moves diners between three different eateries. Ran by the owner of all businesses, the safari is a clever way to get diners to sample all three restaurants – two of which are bit too far to walk between, yet too close to warrant calling a taxi. First courses were at Ria Malay Kitchen, decorated with crimson Chinese lanterns, long communal tables with mismatched seating, and an enormous mural of a woman with a parasol on the wall. While home-style Malaysian cooking is the specialty, we were presented with small sharing plates of modern Asian fusion snacks, including an octopus salad, gyoza dumplings, and satay sticks with a smear of mayonnaise. The food going to the other tables looked more tantalising, including an aromatic beef Rendang Terlagi-Lagi. Our second courses were at cool Kitsch Bar Asia, accessed by a red Oriental gate, where a mural of a Chinese beer ad enlivens the wall. Sitting beneath hanging woven-cane lamps in a dimly lit space we feasted on generous portions of modern Asian street food, including a barbecue Szechuan chicken, corn and salsa salad, and some of the most succulent pork belly with crispiest skin we’ve ever eaten. Our last stop was Foam Coffee Bar, a quintessentially Aussie coffee shop, where enormous, old-fashioned, layered cakes with Chantilly cream and coffees capped off the night. While all three eateries are worth trying, the rickshaw ride felt a little naff, though I’m sure the experience would have been much more fun with friends or family. The safari (A$95pp) starts at 6pm and takes around three hours.
Oxford Street, Leederville, leedervillefoodsafari.com.au
The Old Brewery
Slapbang on the Swan River, beneath King’s Park, the Old Brewery restaurant is located in an imposing heritage building dating to 1838, which was a flour and timber mill, before it became a brewery in 1877, producing the state’s beloved Swan beer until the 1960s. It’s now home to the Old Brewery, a steakhouse and craft brewery. While meat is the specialty, they also get some beautiful seafood in, including wonderful marron from Pemberton, however, it was impossible to not try their signature beef. I opted for a 400-day grain fed Wagyu eye fillet from Margaret River and Terence went for the 28-day dry aged Black Angus sirloin from Lake Preston in Western Australia. Cooked the way we requested – barely; not how the waiter suggested, which was bewilderingly to over-do them – the meat was wonderful and full of flavour. At $87 and $71 respectively, a meal here unfortunately doesn’t fit into the ‘cheap and cheerful’ category, but it’s a great choice for meat-lovers and locavores. Our tip: dine early (say, 6.30pm) as most diners were finishing when we arrived at 8pm, or better yet, come for lunch to enjoy the Swan River views.
173 Mounts Bay Road, Perth, www.theoldbrewery.com.au