Max Veenhuyzen

Singaporean-born, Australian-raised food and travel journalist Max Veenhuyzen is in a committed, loving, long-term relationship with Perth. The Local Tongue’s editor-in-chief covers the city’s dining and wining scenes for key Australian publications such as Australian Gourmet Traveller, Broadsheet and Good Food and gets confused when people describe Perth as “boring”: how can life be dull when you’ve got this much good food and drink to hook into?

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Welcome To Perth Circa 2021

A lot changes in two years, especially if they’re two very stop-start years in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Since I wrote my first The Local Tongue guide to Perth, Perth’s suburbs have been getting busy. There have been more neighbourhood small bars pouring craft beer and new-wave wines; more cafes brewing great coffee made with beans from small-batch roasters; and more reasons generally for people to stay in their postcode rather than travel to, say, the CBD or Fremantle for a night out. (Although having said that, Fremantle seems to be going through a real growth spurt at the moment, too.) As seems to be the trend globally, most operators are opening casual and mid-range concepts rather than going for anything too ambitious which seems to suit Perth just fine. We’ll never boast the big-ticket diners that Sydney and Melbourne are able to sustain: after a decade of trying to emulate the dining scenes in Australia’s major capitals, it feels like the local industry and dining public have accepted – and are perhaps even relishing – that smart-casual is how the west coast likes to eat and drink.

Perth’s Indigenous History

Before it became cosmopolitan Perth, this part of the world was known as Boorloo. For tens of thousands of years, Boorloo and surrounds was home to the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation. Since European colonisation, Whadjuk culture – and Indigenous Australian culture generally – hasn’t always been celebrated, but thankfully things are changing. Learning about Whadjuk culture will give visitors (and locals) a more rounded understanding of Perth as well as the issues being faced by First Nations Australia. In terms of starting points: the Noongar Culture website established by the South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council is rich in information, while the WA Museum Boola Bardip (“many stories” in Nyoongar) and Art Gallery of WA are also valuable resources.

The Perfect Sunday (Or Monday) Lunch

I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Millbrook Appreciation Society for a while, but over the past couple of years, I’ve worked extra hard at finding excuses to make the one-hour drive to this winery restaurant in the Perth Hills. It’s homely. It’s delicious. All the vegetables and fruit on your plate are grown on Millbrook’s sprawling kitchen garden. It’s a skew of farm-to-table dining that’s affordably priced, meaning more people can come and taste first-hand how delicious well-grown produce can be. Millbrook also hosts No Waste Monday, one of the best value meal deals in the country and an idea that I’m surprised hasn’t been emulated elsewhere. Basically, the kitchen serves guests lucky enough to score a booking with a four-course family-style lunch made up of the week’s leftover food. If only all fridge clean-ups were this delicious. Closer to Perth, Coogee Common is another kitchen garden restaurant making a compelling argument for growing your own.

A Destination Suburban Food Court and Noodle House

Hand on my heart, Perth has the best hawker food in Australia. The city’s proximity to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore made Perth universities attractive options for Asian students who brought with them an understanding of – as well as a demand for – real-deal south-east Asian food. For more than three decades, the vendors at the Spencer Village Food Hall in Thornlie have been supplying Perth eaters with uncompromising hawker food. My go-tos include Waroeng Jakarta for Indonesian comfort classics; Suzie’s Prata House for hand-pulled roti and great Muslim curries, and Ya Kwang, a specialist Singaporean hawker and one of the few places I can think of that does a legit bak chor mee (pork meat noodle), liver and all. Speaking of noodles, Trang’s Cafe and Noodle House in Girrawheen is my pick for pho on account of its stack condiment trays – it’s the only place I’ve seen pickled onions – and wonderful pandan-spiked tea.

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 the conti – as it’s often abbreviated to locally – can now be found at cafes and delis everywhere, the Re Store is widely credited as the sandwich’s creator and makes one of the definitive versions. 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 and a wondrous booze section, but the trade-off is fewer condiments. In late 2020, Deli’s Continental popped up on the scene and quickly made a name for its mighty contis made with house-baked bread. At the time of writing, the duo behind Deli’s is making moves to open its own space in Inglewood by the end of 2021.

Saffron spaghettini with clams and spigarello at Lulu La Delizia. Photography: Lajos Varga

Perth’s New-School Sandwiches of Note

Delicious-things-between-bread have always been important to West Australians: thanks to a new generation of sandwich makers, this category is set to remain a cornerstone of Perth’s food landscape. Ethos, a New York-inspired deli in East Fremantle, deploys house-made charcuterie and smallgoods in Coney Island hot dogs, hot pastrami sandwiches, conti rolls and more. Elsewhere in Fremantle, the recently opened Peggy’s applies a similar DIY spirit to everything from egg salad ciabattas to chicken schnitzel subs, all made with house-baked breads. The opening of Short Order Burger Co’s (licensed!) Fremantle HQ was good news for fans of Simon Kony’s fine grass-fed beef burgers, while Le Vietnam brings ace banh mi and other Vietnamese sustenance to the lunchtime CBD crowd.

Special Occasion Dining, Perth-Style

Despite what I said earlier, Perth does have places to celebrate life’s big moments, starting with Wildflower, the fine diner at COMO The Treasury. (Along with The Ritz-Carlton Perth, Como The Treasury is home to some of Perth’s nicest hotel rooms). From the view and the room to the depths of the cellar, Wildflower ticks all the boxes for that big night out. Michael D’Adamo combines native ingredients and polished technique to create a more modern modern-Australian while the floor team is stacked with hospitality professionals. Balthazar is another option for pushing out the boat. Luke Wakefield takes classic combinations – think pork and scallop or vitello tonnato – and ushers them into 2021. The service is equally focussed with wine being as big a focus for staff as guests’ enjoyment. 

Perth’s Benchmark For Pasta

Lulu La Delizia, Ivana and Joel Valvasori-Pereza’s cosy pasta bar in Subiaco is one of Perth’s non-negotiable eating experiences. 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 Australia: 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. The rest of the menu hums with flavour: grilled ox tongue served with salsa verde is a fond recent memory. Despite all the openings in the city, an evening booking at Lulu’s can still be a tricky table to land. Visiting at lunch is an excellent plan B, although it will probably affect the amount of Italian vino and grappa you put away with your food. Probably.

Return to Paradiso

Beaufort Street’s Si Paradiso is another restaurant to file under “essential Italian dining in Perth”. Or at least it has been since Paul Bentley took over the kitchen in mid-2020. A former Perth boy that’s cooked in New York and owns restaurant in Mexico and Hawaii, Bentley was back home visiting family when the borders closed. He’s been here since and eaters have been loving it. His definition of Italian cooking is far-reaching and features a strong Japanese accent. He’ll grill octopus over binchotan, for example, and serve it with a yuzukosho made with blood orange, or kombu-cure the kingfish served in the crudo. He also does this lobster tramezzino that is just off the hook, plus Si’s puffy pizze still figure among the city’s best.

The Pizza Scene In Perth

…which is the perfect segue to talk about one of my loves: pizza. For my money, the city’s finest pizza joint is Monsterella a seven-night, family-friendly suburban BYO pizzeria. It’s insanely popular and bookings are pretty much mandatory, even on a Monday night. It’s also 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. A couple of years back, team Monsterella opened its small bar spin-off Mummucc’ as a sort-of holding station for the mothership, but the cooking of up-and-comer Matt McDonald has made Mummucc’ a destination in its own right. In the CBD, the pizzas at Lalla Rookh have puff, crunch and savour for days, while Canteen Pizza in Cottesloe bangs out excellent wood-fired Naples-style pizza – high-rise cornicione, thin base and all – alongside a list of predominantly natural Italian and Australian wines.

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

Rebelle With A Cause

In two short years, Sarah and Liam Atkinson of Le Rebelle have made their Beaufort Street restaurant and wine bar another essential address for wining and dining in Perth. While the offering is best described as bistro, it’s not quite your grand-mère’s idea of French cuisine, unless duck frites with Béarnaise sauce, crab toasts sharpened with pickles, and barbequed sweetbreads were commonplace on your grandmother’s table. The wine list follows the menu’s French and Australian bias and showcases great cuvées from both countries.

Grape Expectations: The Rise of the Wine Bar and Enoteca

If you needed further proof of Perth’s worldliness, consider not only the recent boom in wine bars, but also how heavily these venues lean into new-wave, lo-fi, “natural” winemaking. It’s a category that seems to be growing steadily and includes popular establishments such as Madalena’s, La Madonna Nera and Shadow Wine Bar. At enoteca-inspired venues such as Wines of While, Besk, Lalla Rookh Wine Store and Petition Wine Bar & Merchant, guests can purchase bottles to take-away (at bottle shop prices) as well as drink inhouse with the addition of a corkage surcharge.

Perth’s Best New Restaurants (So Far)

Well, perhaps not just specifically restaurants, but generally places to eat tasty things. At the casual end of the spectrum, Drasko’s Hot Chicken sees former Noma stagiaire and 108 junior sous chef Drasko Jankovic turn his attention to Nashville-style fried chicken with pleasing results. Nieuw Ruin sees Fremantle finally getting in on the new-wave wine bar action (although the free-wheeling cooking of emerging cooking talent Blaze Young is as big a draw as the wine) while fellow young gun James Cole Bowen is the kitchen firebrand behind The Corner Dairy, a promising Doubleview small bar that also operate as a cheery neighbourhood cafe in the mornings. While Tiny’s isn’t a new opening, the arrival of new chef Justin Wong denotes the eatery as an establishment worth watching.

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

Two Pop-Ups With a Strong WA Accent

Being able to experience these pop-ups might require some forward planning, but your efforts won’t go unrewarded. The first is Fervor, a roving pop-up that serves indigenous ingredients in remote settings. Established by one-time Noma and DOM stagiaire Paul Iskov in 2013, Fervor is an important bridge between modern-day (Western) Australia and this country’s indigenous population. The other pop-up of note is Big Don’s Smoked Meats, a vagabond cook that brings real deal Texas-style barbecue to sports clubs, bottleshop car parks and other low-key addresses. Follow his Instagram for deets of where he’ll be popping up next – as well as an uncensored look into Big Don’s work life – but be ready to act fast: Don’s events often sell out in minutes.

Manjimup: Western Australia’s Home of the Black Truffle

Manji-what? Manjimup: a town in the Southern Forests region that produces most of the Southern Hemisphere’s farmed black truffle (and not to mention avocados and good cool-climate wines). During the annual truffle season between June and early August, local growers dig up these prized underground mushrooms and send them interstate and internationally to appreciative chefs and diners. Although black truffle is ubiquitous in Perth restaurants during the season, Manjimup’s annual Truffle Kerfuffle festival in July is a great excuse to check out the region in winter and sample freshly dug truffles.

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

Our guides are fact-checked and updated regularly. Read more here.

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