Max Veenhuyzen

Max Veenhuyzen is in a committed, loving, long-term relationship with Perth. Although he spends much of his time on the road, this Singapore-born food and travel journalist still calls Western Australia - and more specifically, land belonging to the Whadjuk people of Australia’s First Nations - home, and relishes covering the state’s vibrant eating and drinking scene for key Australian publications. His advice for having a blast in P-town: pack your bathers, leave your prejudices at home, and ensure the following addresses are all on your radar.

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Perth’s Most Famous Sandwich

New Orleans has the muffuleta, Boston has the spuckie. In Perth, our deli roll of choice is the continental roll, a hunger-busting sandwich starring Italian cold cuts and pickled veg crammed into a crusty white roll. While most European delicatessens offer some sort of riff on – as it’s often abbreviated to locally – the conti, the Re Store is widely credited as the sandwich’s creator. Although you can get a conti at both the Northbridge and Leederville Re Stores, each offers a slightly different experience. The filling and condiment selection is bigger at the older Northbridge store – you can, for example, get onion and sliced rounds of boiled egg there – but it’s a tricky place to find a park at. The Leederville store, meanwhile, has its own car park, but the trade-off is a smaller condiment section. Most crucially, Leederville is also an Aladdin’s Cave of booze, cheese and smallgoods. While this, in theory, is a beautiful thing, the reality is that you’ll drop by simply to pick up some lunch but leave the store with a small wedge of Comte, sheets of sliced-to-order prosciutto, some bottles of biodynamic chenin and a significantly lighter wallet.

Where Hospo People Score Late-Night Kebabs

I also really like Little Lebanon, a late-night kebab shop that I used to stop by after a night out. I no longer live in the area, sadly, so my visits are a lot less frequent, but local hospitality workers continue to observe the tradition of a post-midnight doner with garlic and chilli. While the ever-reliable kebabs and great pastries are available all-day – the baklava is some of the city’s best – evenings are when the charcoal-grilled chicken comes on the menu. It’s served with a really excellent toum – garlic sauce – plus if you get a whole chicken takeaway, it gets wrapped in rounds of pita that, once home, you peel off the bird like delicious, schmaltzy bandages.

An Alternative, Not-So-Late-Night Kebab Spot

I’m yet to get to Turkey, so can’t speak to the – quote-unquote – “authenticity” of the food at Arik’s Istanbul Kebabs & Turkish Bakery, but I’ll vouch for the excellence and deliciousness of its namesake kebabs. They’re weighty, wrapped in house-baked flatbread and the garlic sauce has a good amount of sting. The bakers there also turn out some righteous Turkish bread that’s pretty much impossible to get home without tearing a couple of chunks out of. That plus a tub of Arik’s house-made hummus equals happy days.

Le Rebelle, a new-wave French bistro on Beaufort Street. Photography: Jacqueline van Grootel

Real Deal Cantonese Barbecue

Continuing on the theme of lots of bang for a small amount of buck: Hong Kong BBQ is my go-to for Cantonese-style barbecue meat. While I haven’t found a local barbecue house that does all the three classic Canto roasts – roast pork, roast duck and char siew – really, really well, Hong Kong BBQ’s roast pork is my local benchmark. The kitchen also makes its own powerfully salty chilli oil and sells it by the jar. It’s a great stand-by to have in the fridge and a teaspoon of it stirred through mayonnaise or aioli makes a fine all-purpose dipping sauce.

Beachside Dining (That Does Not Suck)

Perth, as I and most locals will tell you, is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. And, disappointingly, middling restaurants with a view. Thankfully, there are a handful of exceptions to the rule. El Grotto in Scarborough serves rock-solid Mexican food and drinks, while Canteen Pizza in Cottesloe bangs out reliable wood-fired pizza alongside a list of predominantly natural Italian and Australian wines. For something a little nicer but still beachy-cool, consider Island Market Trigg Beach: a breezy address north of the city. Journeyman chef David Coomer was behind some of the city’s best restaurants (Star Anise and Pata Negra, both closed, come to mind) and he brings his finely-honed kitchen smarts to a menu big on seafood, Middle Eastern spice and wood-fired deliciousness.

Excellent Pasta

Want pasta? Go directly to Lula La Delizia, a cosy family-run pasta bar in the inner-city hub of Subiaco. Joel Valvasori-Pereza draws on his family’s north-eastern Italian heritage to conjure some of the most interesting and original pasta in the city, if not the country: squiggly, pigs’ tail-like gramigna spiced with saffron and served with pork sausage, perhaps, or corzetti, ornate coins of dough dressed with a duck and currant ragu. It’s hearty, deeply comforting stuff, which helps explain why this cosy, lace-curtain-strewn room is booked out most evenings. Visiting at lunch is an excellent plan B, although it will probably affect the amount of Italian vino and grappa you put away with lunch. Probably.

In the CBD, Lalla Rookh has your daytime pasta consumption needs covered, although chef Alex Haynes’s cooking gratifies at any time of day. The strike-rate is high across the entire pasta range, but when I’m chasing comfort, it’s hard to go past the pappardelle and ragu. Although the menu is available throughout the whole venue, my favourite place to eat is in the dedicated Wine Store: a tiny 20-seat enoteca-style bar and bottle shop where everything in the fridges or on the shelves is available for drink-in enjoyment. Otherwise, sommelier Jeremy Prus always has something good to try by the glass. The pizza here, incidentally, is fantastic, totally underrated and nails the balance between crisp and pliable.  

Chestnut pappardelle with duck and spinach at Lulu La Delizia. Photography: Lajos Varga

The Pizza Scene In Perth

And now I’m thinking about pizza. While it’s absolutely true that – to quote New York Times food editor Sam Sifton – “even when pizza is bad, it is actually pretty good” – good pizza is a thing of beauty, and Perth is home to a bunch of fun, really excellent pizza options. If you’re after somewhere family-friendly, make a play for Monsterella. This seven-night, suburban BYO pizzeria is insanely popular and bookings are pretty much mandatory, even on a Monday night. It’s really loud, really casual – you help yourself to your own plates, cutlery and wine and water glasses – and really delicious. Whenever I’m there, I always wish I lived closer. In addition to crisp, wood-fired pizza, Monsterella also offers a number of other items including arossticini (grilled lamb skewers) and a couple of pastas that are handmade by Maria, the mother of owner Tania Nicolo. If it’s open, Mummucc’, the small bar spin-off of Monsterella, is worth dropping by before or after dinner.

I also like the minimally topped, blistery pizzas at Si Paradiso, a “nuovo-Italian” spot on Beaufort Street that’s big into natural wines and live music. Ryan and Seren Chu of cult Perth bakery Chu Bakery helped develop the dough and the Chus brought their A-game: the bases have so much flavour but feel impossibly light. On a warm afternoon, it’s hard to think of a better outdoor spot on Beaufort Street than in the Si Paradiso amphitheatre. Finally, there’s King Somm, a wine bar, bottle shop and pizzeria with veteran chef Ben Atkinson in control of the oven. Crunchy, golden pizzas with gently inventive combinations such as spicy Calabrese salami and eggplant plus a serious cellar is another fail-safe recipe for happiness.

Australia’s Best Wine Bar

I’m not sure if it’s obvious with my answers, but there’s been plenty of movement in wine and wine bar circles in Perth over the past couple of years. Naturally, most wine bars hit their stride in the evening, but some warrant inclusion in lunch plans too. Take Wines of While, for instance. As much fun as Gourmet Traveller’s 2020 Bar of the Year is on Friday and Saturday nights – the bar is very much in the spirit of P Franco (London), Septime Cave (Paris) and Four Horsemen (Brooklyn) – I really enjoy dropping by during the day when the place is almost empty, grabbing a seat in the window, ordering a pasta for lunch and asking owner Sam Winfield to pour me a glass of whatever I should be drinking.

Zucchini and nduja pizza, Lalla Rook. Photography: Jessica Wyld

The Perfect Sunday (Or Monday) Lunch

But as far as ultimate daytime dining destinations go, it’s all about Millbrook, a postcard-picture winery-restaurant an hour south of the city. If it’s on your plate, it was grown in Millbrook’s sprawling kitchen garden, from the pristine radishes and cucumbers in the vegetable “tartare” served with housemade cottage cheese, to paintbrushes of broccolini that need little more than a star turn on the chargrill and salt. Vegans and vegetarians can be catered for at the drop of a hat and fridge clean outs are rarely better than Millbrook’s No Waste Monday that sees the week’s leftovers repurposed as a value-packed four-course family-style lunch.

Rebelle With A Cause

I wouldn’t say that Liam Atkinson is an underrated chef, but considering he’s cooked at most of Perth’s key restaurants – Star Anise, Print Hall and Ku De Ta come to mind – his name should be better known. I hope Le Rebelle – the instantly likable bistro and wine bar he and his sommelier wife, Sarah, opened in mid-2019 – changes that. Despite being less than six months old, the space feels like it’s been there forever; the vibe and wine choices are spot-on and Liam’s French food remixes are such joys to eat. The duck frites with Béarnaise sauce is wonderful, and the crab toasts sharpened with pickles are a two-bite snack to be reckoned with. A great place run by great people and a serious candidate for Perth’s best new restaurant of 2019.

Madalena’s, a seafood and natural wine bar in South Fremantle. Photography: Duncan Wright

Natural Wine And Seafood By The Sea

Also from the department of 2019’s best openings is Madalena’s: an easy-going spot at the beachy end of South Fremantle. The premise of this small bar – good drinks and seafood by the beach – isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the way the owners have pulled it off certainly is. Young gun chef Adam Rees works closely with local fishmongers, Fins Seafood, to source lesser-seen seafood such as razor back prawns and tropical reef fish that he cooks with a deft touch. It’s sort-of like a more free-wheeling version of Saint Peter in Sydney but with a lot more natural wine. “Fish of the day” not only means something here, but fills you with excitement and might translate to barbecued red mullet, or Rottnest island herring that’s been splayed open, crumbed and fried golden. And it’s not just the food and drink that appeals, but the whole spirit of the place. You’re out on the sidewalk, it’s sunny, and South Freo beach is just across the road and you’re totally welcome to come in with wet bathers and sandy feet. Madalena’s really is the perfect Saturday or Sunday daytime destination. On weekends, it also offers a $40 fish and chips lunch special consisting of a great bit of fish – often dressed with this amazing chamomile butter – waxy chips and salad. It’s a meal deal built and priced for two regular diners or one hungry, post-swim eater.

Guide last updated September 2019

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