Perth: Eat and drink like a local

By Sue Baxalle

Food Loose Tours offer an insider’s guide to Perth’s culinary scene, discovers Sue Baxalle.
Food Loose takes tourists and locals on tours around Perth eateries, covering different themes and cuisines. Photo / Supplied
Food Loose takes tourists and locals on tours around Perth eateries, covering different themes and cuisines. Photo / Supplied

"Rum bar, somewhere in Chinatown, Northbridge" is as close as you get to finding Sneaky Tony's on its Facebook page.

It's one of the hottest nightspots in Perth, but also one of its most secret - on Friday and Saturday nights you must even give a password (found on Facebook) to gain entry.

So I find myself lurking at the door of a bar in a Perth back alley. It may sound dodgy but it's the first stop on my walking tour of the city's gastronomic delights with Justin Blackford, food blogger and tour operator of Food Loose Tours.

Sneaky Tony's is one of the newer stops on Justin's circuit. The password procedure is modelled on the American prohibition era and, indeed, the vibe is of a speakeasy.

The rum specialist is named for Tony the Hat, a rum-runner, gambler and bootlegger who smuggled rum into prohibition California in the 1920s.

Barman Carsten is a fount of knowledge about the rums in stock - all 300-plus of them. He runs through the history of the pirates' favourite Caribbean tipple and the variety of cocktails he and the bartenders develop weekly for their customers.

He says the aim is to explain to people - especially Australians - that there is more to rum than Bundaberg (Sneaky Tony's doesn't even stock it) and to talk them through the tasting experience.

It would be easy to settle down with another of Carsten's concoctions, but it's soon time to hit the road again for the next stop in Justin's tour.

He and his aunt, Jenny, devised the food tour concept after a trip to New York, where they experienced a similar thing. He says one of the best parts of any overseas trip is the food - and drink - but newcomers will not always know where to go to find the gems.

The tours give participants a taste of the fare available in a variety of bars and restaurants depending on the focus of the tour - one is devoted to Asian food and another shows off the international flair of the city.

Sommelier Jessica is on hand to match these mouthfuls to the perfect wines from Australia and Italy. Photo / Supplied
Sommelier Jessica is on hand to match these mouthfuls to the perfect wines from Australia and Italy. Photo / Supplied

Justin says the small plates or beverage tastings give visitors an idea of what places locals enjoy and is a great way to find out where to go for meals.

Food Loose is not only for out-of-towners, he says: locals also are surprised to discover hidden gems in the culinary scene.

We peek into Pleased To Meet You, a restaurant near Sneaky Tony's, which boasts the only charcoal grill in town and can drum up an excellent roast suckling pig, according to Justin, then head on to No Mafia, which specialises in Southern Italian cuisine.

Here we enjoy a delicious range of antipasti, from in-house marinated Fremantle sardines and pesto-marinated enoki mushrooms wrapped in thinly sliced eggplant to mortadella and crispy potato croquettes.

Sommelier Jessica is on hand to match these mouthfuls to the perfect wines from Australia and Italy, the comparisons showing the differences geography can have on the varietals.

Before moving on, we look at The Standard, a bar and garden kitchen serving a mix of modern Australian and cosmopolitan cuisine in what was previously a gambling den.

Next stop is Lucky Chan's Laundry and Noodle Bar. If the previous spots were for an aperitif and entree, here was our main course.

The specialist ramen noodle-maker opened in April and is Australia's first crowd-funded restaurant.

Szechuan spicy pork mince with buttered corn, spring onion and bean sprouts. Photo / Supplied
Szechuan spicy pork mince with buttered corn, spring onion and bean sprouts. Photo / Supplied

Justin (who contributed to the cause) says pledgers could opt to either have their names printed on the "Great Wall of Chan" inside the restaurant, a chair named in their honour, dedicated slogans painted on the stairs, or hold an exclusive party for friends at Lucky Chan's.

Justin explains the name pays homage to the Chinese migrants who discovered they were unwelcome in the WA goldrush of the 1890s, so headed to Perth, particularly Northbridge, to set up stores and laundries.

Indeed, Lucky Chan's entry looks like a laundromat, and there is laundry-style decor throughout the three-level restaurant.

We enjoy a variety of dishes, including, of course, the chef's choice, "Danny Ramen": Szechuan spicy pork mince with buttered corn, spring onion and bean sprouts. The menu describes ramen as "born in China, raised in Japan and modernised in New York, the quintessential noodle soup".

While waiting for the ramen we munch on crispy pig's ears with aioli and Japanese mayonnaise and delicious dumplings made from scratch. The meal concludes with a Chinese fortune cookie - my message reads: "A busy chef is a happy chef, so order more noodle."

Back outside, it's good to walk off our meal a little before the next instalment, this time a visit to Frisk, which boasts the largest gin collection in Australia. Behind the bar is Grace, who says there are just under 200 brands of gin on offer.

Among them is the locally produced and award-winning West Winds, offering navy-strength The Cutlass and the traditional The Sabre varieties.

As Grace serves us a gin and tonic she explains the range of additives customers can enjoy: citrus fruit, cinnamon, rose petals, marmalade, cherry tomatoes and cloves - to name a few.

We look in at Darlings Supper Club, which offers "steaming late-night rock 'n' roll Asian fusion" (kangaroo-and-fig dumpling, anyone?).

Our culinary adventure ends with a visit to the Laneway Lounge. Manager Fernando Lima welcomes us with a cocktail to sip while listening to the music. The venue has a 1940s-style New Orleans feel and live jazz music is playing six nights a week.

As a fitting end to a food tour, a dessert must be squeezed in: a chocolate fondant with Guinness gelato, griottes and golden truffle shells does the job nicely.

Checklist: Perth

Getting there: Qantas flies from Auckland to Perth, with Economy Class return tickets starting from $1110.

Details: Read more about Food Loose Tours at foodloosetours.com.au

Online: westernaustralia.com

- NZ Herald

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