Restaurant and food reviews from Perth, Australia

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Tuck Shop Cafe, Northbridge

Tomorrow morning, if you're not running in the fit and charitable city to surf, you might find yourself running to your favourite breakfast cafe for an indulgent breakfast with some awesome coffee or tea, or even a good ol' fry-up.  No doubt even with the thousands running in the city to surf, some of the popular breakfast cafes will still be bustling full steam ahead including the well patroned Tuck Shop Cafe situated in the otherwise not-so-well-known-for-breakfast-cafes suburb of Northbridge.

The Tuck Shop Cafe, often with lines on the weekend rivaling the well-known-in-Northridge Dim Sum restaurants, is very popular with the breakfast and lunch crowd and known for serving excellent coffee and great all-day food.  Once you get in you're greeted by some friendly service - polite and helpful.  Once you get a table you'll find yourself in a modern and inviting environment where the seating is quite cosy but comfortable.

Many people would know Tuck Shop Cafe for its pie selection, but on this lunch occasion we decided to go for the more satisfying (and more expensive) main courses.  The day's menu (which happens to be an all day menu) came with variety with the likes of organic toast with preserves ($6.50), free range eggs with organic sourdough toast ($11.50), BLT on organic sourdough with tomato relish and hand cut chips ($16.50), Moroccan meatballs with flatbread, tomato, hummus and za'atar fried egg ($17.50), and Ciabatta with Tasmanian smoked salmon, lemon ricotta, asparagus, and fennel salad ($18.50).  These all day brunch dishes were in addition to the pies ranging from vegetarian to chicken, lamb, and beef (bacon and cheddar, curry, or stilton) all for $12.50.

Warm slow cooked lamb and roast vegetable salad with goats curd, dukkah, poached egg - $18.50

The slow cooked lamb, a few chunks of which were laid towards the bottom of the dish, was tender with a great seasoned flavour running through it.  For lamb, the chunks were so tender they tore apart effortlessly with my knife and melted in the mouth.

The roast vegetable salad, including chunks of pumpkin, carrot and potato, was delicious with a great hearty roast flavour running through it mixed in with a slightly acidic flavour.  Added into the mix was a creamy and acidic goats curd, a runny centred poached egg, mint leaves and a lemon wedge.  I'm not normally into multiple acidic elements in a main, but this was executed well with the acidity keeping the meal light and balanced in flavour. I was quite satisfied with this meal.

Chorizo with paprika potatoes, peppers, spanish onions and crispy pork belly, fried egg - $18.50

The highlight of this dish for us (but only just) was the pork belly, the skin of which was crispy and crunchy but otherwise the pork was not really seasoned (including no noticeable salt piles on the skin).  The vegetables seemed of similar style and roast flavour as the lamb dish, only with emphasis on sweet roasted red peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.  Added together with the salty chorizo, this dish combined into another delicious brunch meal that was satisfying without being too heavy.

Finishing off the dish was a fried egg was fried sunny side up, with a lightly crispy base and runny yolk.

Cappuccino - $3.90

This was, in my opinion, a great cappuccino.  Using a Toby's Estate blend, the coffee was smooth and strong, the milk creamy and froth thick.  I wasn't too keen on the chocolate strip piled on top, mainly because it was of the type with mixed sugar and the coarseness of it all came through when it was concentrated together.

We liked: Great tasting cafe food including some unique dishes, some with hearty flavours; great coffee

We didn't like: The wait to get a table during peak times (it gets busy!).

Other things to note:  The menu is an all day breakfast/lunch/brunch menu.

The Tuck Shop Cafe
178 Newcastle Street
(08) 9227 1659

Trading Hours
Tuesday to Sunday - Breakfast and Lunch

The Tuck Shop Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pepper Lunch, Perth CBD

I'm always looking out for new places to eat in the Perth CBD.  Even though there is already a good mix of cuisines from fast food to fine dining across Western to Middle Eastern to Asian dishes, I'm always looking out for new tastes at reasonable (for as far as Perth is concerned) prices.  So when the Japanese chain of Pepper Lunch opened in Perth I quickly found myself there to try out this new addition to the Perth food scene (as well as a few additional times for good measure).

The concept behind Pepper Lunch is that of a fast food style self-grilled meats restaurant, or "fast steak" restaurant.  It's a Japanese food chain that has spread throughout Asia and now Perth, offering relatively quick meat or fish based meals (with an emphasis on steak/beef) served on sizzling hot plates or bowls that allow you to cook to your own liking.

Having taken over one of the street facing shops on Barrack Street in the CBD, Pepper Lunch isn't a large restaurant by any means but amply seats enough to keep it bustling through the busy lunch crowd - larger groups of say more than four may have a bit of a wait or will need to come early or outside of peak times.  However, in keeping with a fast food theme you are required to order at the counter after which they give you a number that you display on your table to assist them in bringing your order to your table.  As you'd expect with this set up, the service isn't amazing but at least it's decent enough and the staff will help you out with ordering or with "do you know how to eat it?" assistance.

As you'd expect, the menu at Pepper Lunch is heavily based around grilling meats as well as the flavour of none other than pepper (from subtle to strong)!  However, the menu is split between rice meals (rice with beef, chicken or salmon and sauce/flavours), J-Curry being rice meals served with pre-made Japanese curry, and main meals which are the beef, chicken and salmon steaks served directly on the hot plate with vegetables whilst steamed rice and miso are optional extras.  Or if you can't decide between one meat, there is also a combo section where you can order more than one meat in your mains.  However, prices generally start around the $10 mark for rice meals, through to $15-20 for the steak main meals plus rice.

Kimchi beef with cheese - $11.50

This meal, part of the pepper rice range, was a pre-cooked-rice based meal topped with raw slices of beef, kimchi, corn kernels and a stretchy cheese.  All were served in the sizzling iron bowl, ready for you to combine the ingredients and cook the meat.

After cooking and combining the ingredients in this meal, and being the first dish I tried, I was pleasantly surprised with how satisfying it was.  First and foremost, the kimchi gave the dish its overriding flavour, preventing it from being bland - the light red chilli and sweet but more so sour pickle elements amongst the other spices gave the dish a real kick of flavour.  Adding to the kimchi preserved cabbage and flavours was a (true to Pepper Lunch's name) distinct pepper flavour, not enough to be overbearing but enough to be noticed.

Whilst the kimchi beef dish is available with or without cheese (with comes with an additional cost), if you love cheese then the with-cheese version is worth it.  The cheese taste and its stretchy texture worked excellently with the kimchi and beef flavour of the dish.

Curry beef - $9.50

Similar to the Kimchi beef with cheese dish above, this meal came in a sizzling iron hot bowl ready to be cooked and combined.

The curry beef came with similar slices of beef and corn kernels, but was finished with a curry powder and pepper.  Combining the dish, the meal definitely had a curry flavour.  However, as the dish used a curry powder as opposed to the pre-cooked sauce based Japanese curries, the dish didn't seem as hearty (but on the other hand not as heavy) as a sauce-based curry dish and in fact seemed to have an almost powdery texture to it.  This was further brought out by the pepper in the dish which overall meant the dish had a good level of curry and pepper flavour running through it.

So overall, whilst this definitely fit the description of a curry beef dish, my personal preference is to go for the sauce based J-curry dish instead.  That dish in particular I found to be quite filling.

One bite cut - $11 (rice + miso or soft drink $3.50 upgrade)

Another (and possibly more special) part of the menu was the "main meal" section - filled with steaks, chicken and fish (salmon) dishes that were to be cooked to your liking, adding sauce as you so desire.

This "one bite cut" from the main menu section was a pre-cut steak served with some vegetables cleverly placed such that if your steak reached your cooking point of perfection you could move the remaining pieces on top of the vegetables rather than have to scoff them down before they overcooked on the sizzling iron plate.

The one bite cut beef was admittedly the basic grade of beef on the main menu.  As such, the beef was a little tough though I'm not completely sure whether it was due to the beef itself or that perhaps it was left too long on the heat by the time I tried a piece.  However, given there were options with higher grades (and marbelisation) of beef, I'd guess other cuts of steak could offer greater tenderness.

Overall though, the flavours of the dish were quite simple with no special marinades or additions other than simple sauces to add to the meat whilst it cooked.  The novelty of cooking the steak and adding the side sauces was nice, but  just expect that what you see is what you get.

We liked: The novelty factor; new tastes to the Perth CBD scene; some satisfying meals for lunch.

We didn't like: Some of the dishes can be a bit plain tasting, but this is (upmarket) fast food; due to the (effectively) open grills at each table, you can end up smelling like your lunch.

Other things to note: During peak times, there can be a bit of a wait for a table; despite being called Pepper Lunch, it's also open some dinners.

Pepper Lunch
Shop 5g, 95 Barrack Street
(08) 9325 3532

Trading Hours
Sunday to Thursday - 11am to 9pm
Friday to Saturday - 11am to 10pm

Pepper Lunch on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 11, 2012

El Publico, Highgate

Perth for as long as I can remember has had tex-mex - the good 'ol cheese-rich and almost fast food feel meals that conjure thoughs of old el paso.  Moving on from this I got introduced to more authentic Mexican venues including The Flying Taco and (at least it used to be) That Little Mexican Restaurant.  So the natural progression to this would lead to modern Mexican right?  But what would that be?

El Publico - Modern Mexican Kitchen and Bar is ideally set amongst the cafe and bar strip on Beaufort Street in Highgate.  Its combination of booth and table/chair seating along with its bar upfront gives this Mexican bar restaurant a nice modern and cosy feel to catch up with friends or a night out snacking whilst sampling the extensive Mexican-oriented drinks on offer.  Modern Mexican food in a modern environment - check.

El Publico's menu items are set in a small typeface, and the names of the dishes are mostly in Spanish or Spanglish (Thanks to the reader who picked that up!).  If you can't read the language, you'll find yourself constantly turning the menu over for the mini-dictionary to work out what each dish is.  This probably creates a more authentic Mexican feel for some, but for me I would have preferred that they described each dish in English next to their names.  I hope that doesn't make me uncultured.

Once you get through the foreign names, the main menu offers a selection of snacks (or dishes that are about the size of tapas dishes), a small selection of "main" size meals, and a handful of desserts.  As with any restaurant that serves small dishes of food, all the dishes are designed to be shared, and can be served with a smidgen or a smothering of Sam's hot sauce served in a bottle labelled "POISON".  For the uninitiated the "poison" on the bottle should come as a warning, but for the chilli lovers out there this yellow sauce is some goooood poison.

Sam's hot sauce in a jar labelled "poison" - a warning to all

Of course any tapas meal, especially Mexican, is best served with drinks, and El Publico takes this part of the meal seriously.  The choice of beer and wine is all but drowned out by the selection of spirits and cocktails on the menu - many with a heavy emphasis on tequila...  So much so that the choice of tequila here goes beyond my appreciation - but if you think "whiskey bar" and insert "tequila" this is pretty much what you have here.

To go with this (for me) new experience, the service we were greeted with and experienced throughout the meal was very friendly, and very helpful in deciphering the menu and suggesting dishes.  This was very welcome considering the "foreign" to me menu.

Pork Scratchings Chilli Garlic Salt - $8

Why have crunchy French fries when you can have crunchy pork scratchings?  Thin strips of pork skin were fried till they were crunchy, then seasoned with chilli garlic salt.  The pork scratchings were perhaps not as crunchy as potato crisps (probably a combination of lightly chewy but mostly crunchy), but nonetheless this was a new experience for me that made a nice snack.

Lamb Mixiotes Watercress Salsa Taco - $14

Two soft shell tacos were filled with lamb that was so tender that it shredded and melted, along with chopped onion and herbs.  Completing the taco was a brown savoury and slightly acidic sauce that was mild, both in flavour and in spice.  No sign of grated cheese, or old el paso seasoning here.

Huarache House Green Chorizo Queso Fresco - $16

This dish, served on a board with a knife, started with a sandal shaped piece of bread that was about half a centimeter thick and had a dense and slightly coarse texture. The bread was topped with a mixture of the green chorizo in a sauce that was lighter in texture than it looked.  Overall the topping was a little starchy but had a nice balance of salt and savoury flavour.

Braised chicken olives sultana kifler - $24

This main course sized dish (but still meant for sharing) was like a mini stew.

A single chicken maryland was cut into two and cooked superbly, infused with the deliciously balanced savoury, acidic and lightly sweet sauce.  The sauce was no doubt enhanced by the salty olives and the sweet juicy sultanas giving it added depth of flavour.  The chicken itself fell effortlessly off the bone and was unsurprisingly tender.

Completing this "main" dish were a decent amount of kifler potatoes that were firm, yet soft to bite through.
Again, the potatoes had been infused with that delicious sauce.

The waiter suggested that we had tortilla ($1 each) with this dish.  The tortilla, which were a bit like small-ish round pieces of bread used to make wraps, were only mildly successful in soaking up the sauce.  Personally, I didn't find it really added much to the dish and thus wasn't all that necessary.

"Tequila Slammer" Lolly - $6

With a name like "Tequila Slammer", this sweet sparked my curiosity.  A single serving of this lolly came with two squares of home made marshmallows infused with tequila.  The marshmallows were almost jelly-like in texture, but soft like a marshmallow.  Tastewise, the marshmallows were sweet with an additional dusting of icing sugar, and lightly flavoured with tequila - but unfortunately not enough to give you a real kick.

We liked: Fresh and interesting flavours and food; an appealing modern take on Mexican food; friendly and helpful service.

We didn't like: Having to decipher the menu (but some might consider that fun); the small dish pricing (when multiplied) can be a bit pricey for a casual meal.

Other things to note: Reservations are only taken for 6+ people on a set menu for a 6:30pm or 8:30pm sitting

El Publico Modern Mexican Kitchen and Bar
511 Beaufort Street
(04) 18 187 708

Trading Hours
Wednesday to Friday - 5pm to midnight
Saturday - 12 noon to midnight
Sunday - 12 noon to 10pm

el PÚBLICO on Urbanspoon