Public House was one of those new Perth openings that flew under the radar for Alissa and I. Perhaps it was because they opened in November 2013 while we were in the mad scramble leading up to our wedding, or because its East Perth location is far from being along one of our regular thoroughfares. Whatever the case, we were kicking ourselves when we realised we'd missed out on their Nose to Tail dinners as part of Eat Drink Perth, however we added Public House to our ever-growing list of places to check out. It took us about 2 months, but on a cold and wet Friday night in July, Alissa and I finally made our way to for a 7pm dinner.
Expecting something closer to a very small small bar, Alissa and I were surprised to find the main bar space of Public House to be rather large and expansive, filled with CBD workers chilling out over Friday night drinks under the not so watchful eyes of kitschy taxidermied deer.
Of course, being here for a proper dinner rather than bar snacks, Alissa and I made our way over to our reserved table in the main dining area, framed by this stylish feature wall wine rack.
With some tough decisions to be made selecting dishes from the delicious-sounding menu, Alissa and I decided to make the drinks selection easier by going with their $30 Cocktail Tasting Board. Consisting of 6 of their signature cocktails, at $5 a pop the Tasting Board is a good value way to sample their menu. After trying all 6, Alissa and I picked our favourite three to drink for the rest of the evening. Alissa teased my preference for the two stereotypically 'girly' drinks, as I particularly enjoyed the floral Pink Seniorita (vanilla vodka, passion fruit and grapefruit served with a sugared rim and edible flowers) and the fruit-driven Mula Manga (a twist on a Vodka Mules made with house infused vanilla tequilla, passion fruit, mango and ginger ale), while Alissa preferred the super sourness of the Orange Caipirinha (Cachaça, Cointreau, lime, sugar & orange bitters).
But of course we were here for the food, and Public House impressed us right out of the gate. Chip & Dip of Avocado Salsa and Pink Salted Crisps was the first dish to arrive, and it exceeded any expectations that such a humble and altogether common name would elicit. The salted crisps were perfectly fried, with the result being nice and crispy without being overly greasy. The star of the plate however was the avocado dip, which had a wonderful acidity that was well integrated, and balanced out by the olive oil content. The super smooth avocado tasted really fresh, with supporting tomato and coriander flavours balanced perfectly. The composition balance was not what I would usually expect in a guacamole, but it worked really well while firmly suggesting that this is how it should be done.
After a good start with the Chip and Dip, the remaining dishes arrived as a share plate 'main course'. We began by digging into the Aguilla 18 Hour Pork & Pork Scratchings, and were immediately impressed by the pork's lovely smokiness. Clearly having been barbecued at some point in the process, the meat was tender and fall apart; Alissa and I described it as being like pulled pork that had not been pulled but that simply fell apart in your mouth. This was complemented nicely by the crispiness of the Pork Scratching (always a winner) and the nice surprise of the pork sitting in a bed of really creamy pureed cauliflower, and the robust flavour of a thick, sticky pork jus. The final touch of fresh pink peppercorns topped off what was a hearty and very delicious dish.
We sampled the Corn and Manchego Croquettes with Salted Popcorn next. The corn within had been smoothly pureed, and with the cheese resulted in the trademark creaminess and crunchiness we would expect in a croquette. While tasty enough, it was probably our least favourite dish of the evening; Alissa's feelingt was that the flavour was a bit one note, and I felt that it tasted better with some of the hot sauce from the condiments basket at our table. Not that these were bad mind you, its just that we could think of many croquettes we've eaten in the last few months that were superior - the Ham, Chicken and Cheese variety at Pinchos in Leederville would be a good local example, with the Smoked Eel Croquettes as Bar Lourinha in Melbourne being one our recent favourites.
The Aguilla Pork was delicious, but the Brazilian Espresso & Honey Lamb Ribs had it beat as our favourite dish of the evening. Being fans of Varnish on King's incredible Beef Short Ribs dish, Alissa and I knew how magical good ribs can be and these did not fail to disappoint. The Lamb Ribs had a wonderful sweet, sticky quality with the meat literally just falling off the bone. The fresh pink peppercorns gave the dish some nice fresh heat, while the roasted fudginess of the coffee rubbed into the ribs worked well with the fatty unctuousness. With a squeeze of lemon on top to provide some acidity, this was definitely a must order dish that we'd be more than happy to come back for.
With our main order complete, Alissa and I decided to finish off the meal with Curds & Whey - the Public House cheese plate. Traditional cheese plates are a bit of an assembly job but this was a well thought out assembly job, with the quince paste at least tasting like it was made in-house. A lot of quince paste seems to be more of a jelly or a jam, but the Public House variety was quite genuinely a paste and was better than most I've tried. The Fig and Almond Slice was also very good, and Alissa particularly enjoyed combining the slice with the manchego while enjoying the metallic flavour of the blue cheese with the quince. For me there was no choice really; I liked the quince paste too much and ended up having it with both.
The Verdict: Excellent
Public House's South American-inspired menu is right on-trend and delicious; hearty, casual and down-to-earth share plate food with a strong enough theme to differentiate itself from the competition, served up in space that, while large, was filled with character. The service was faultless; Dominique who took care of our order for the evening was both friendly and professional, and I appreciated that when we asked for a wine recommendation to go with the cheese she didn't just go straight for the top shelf option - indeed, her excellent (and well matched) suggestion was second from the bottom in price. For us, the obvious comparison would be Varnish on King's similarly hearty food. While I think Varnish's menu has a cheffy modern touch that probably gives it an edge over the competition, Public House is not that far behind. With so many dishes we didn't get to try, Alissa and I would definitely come back for a second round.