Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Standard, Northbridge, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

With a seemingly one a week rate of notable restaurant openings, its been interesting to see a common framework emerging as a model for success in Perth's burgeoning dining scene. Conceptually, its fairly straightforward: put together a great drinks list, combine it with a kitchen headed up by a chef with fine dining bonafides cooking technically proficient but accessible share plate food and serve it all up in a room with a hip and inviting mise en scene. The underlying formula may be predictable but the specifics are so open-ended that the permutations are seemingly endless - a whiskey bar with an ex-Vue de Monde chef (Varnish on King), Asian/American inspired 'dude food' from a guy who used to serve up fine dining food at Harvest in Fremantle (Pleased to Meet You) and a fortified wines specialist and artisanal bakery/charcuterie also staffed by Vue de Monde alumni (The Flour Factory) are but a few examples scattered around the future Perth City Link. Located next door to the Bonsai on Roe St and conveniently located facing the future Queen's Square precinct of the City Link, the recently opened Standard is quite possibly one of the best yet.

With the 80s-tastic glass blocks of the building's exterior dictating a certain look, the interior design wisely chooses to play up the gridded, cubed look, and they do so to great effect. By totally owning it, the slightly naff and dated style is interpreted in a way that makes the venue look hip, stylish and nostalgic...

... accentuated by touches like '80s school chairs repurposed for the dining areas and bar...

... along with gloriously gaudy menus.

As an added attraction, the back alley behind the restaurant has become a charming courtyard, featuring a lovely rooftop bar (on a converted sea container!) and spectacular views of the CBD. Along with Sneaky Tony's just a few doors down the same alley, its great to see a once dingy part of Northbridge being reactivated.

The drinks menu is more generalist than the rum-centric Sneaky Tony's or the Sake focus of the nearby Darlings Supper Club, however the drink on offer are nevertheless excellent, with a selection of aperitifs (pictured is a refreshing Lillet Rose), alternative varietals and with a spirits list leaning more towards the premium market than regular bottom shelf offerings.

As much as we enjoy a good drink, the main reason for our visit was for dinner and there was a lot to be excited about in this regard. Keeping with the recent trend of having chefs with a fine dining background bring a high standard of cooking to more accessible fare, the Standard's head chef Chase Weber is formerly from No. 4 Blake Street, and he brings so much creativity to the menu that we ended up dining at the Standard twice in 5 days! The first dish we sampled - Fava Chips, Mushroom Ketchup, Aioli - are highly representative of Standard's style. Chips are a fairly common and ubiquitous dish, with most lunch bar and fast food varieties being nothing more than awful, mass produced filler. The Standard's Fava Chips chef things up considerably, constructing chips out cooked, mashed/whipped fava beans and then frying them in a manner similar to polenta chips. The result was everything you'd want in a good chip, with a perfectly crispy exterior encasing an interior that was soft, fluffy and smooth, and made even better due to the lovely flavour of the fava beans. Considering how fava beans are often sold cooked as a crunchy snack the idea of Fava Bean Chips were nevertheless as revelation. Combined with a lovely, umami-rich mushroom ketchup and an excellent aioli, this was a very impressive start that showed the cleverness in the kitchen while still keeping things very accessible.

Beautifully plated on a wooden board, Pork Croquette, Beetroot, Horseradish, Hazelnut arrived shortly after. The Croquettes themselves were the rightful stars of the dish; made from pigs' tails, the croquettes had an addictive, melt-in-your-mouth, creamy texture - even without the usual gravy or bechamel filling commonly found in croquettes. It's like the collogen from the tail bones had undergone the same magical alchemy seen in tonkotsu ramen, where the pork bones are boiled done to such a point that the broth ended up thick and milky. That is what the interior tasted like. Quite extraordinary.

Each croquette was sat on a spoonful of beetroot sauce, ably filling the role of appelmoes as served with Dutch croquettes, while introducing a pleasing root vegetable earthiness. With some added crunch from nuts and various shavings on the plate to round it off, you'll want to have at least two croquettes each, so plan on ordering more if you're going with a bigger group.

Even better was Lamb Belly, Sweet and Sour Eggplant, Grapefruit. The unctuous, immensely flavoursome pieces of belly tasted as if they had been cooked sous-vide for several days, and then given a deliciously salty rub before being seared off. The result was meat so tender, I could imagine someone without teeth being able to eat it. With the lamb so well cooked, the kitchen could easily have rested on its laurels, however the accompanying salad was just as noteworthy. The sweet and sour dressing seemed very Thai-inspired, with a good chilli kick. The Asian influence was a nice and welcome surprise, and the acidity and heat were a perfect contrast to the fatty richness of the accompanying protein.

The pieces of Eggplant really needs their own special mention though. Cooked in way that resulted in a super crunchy exterior to contrast with the softness of Eggplant flesh, Alissa and I were blown away. I'm not sure how they achieved the intense crispiness but combined with the flawlessness of the lamb, this is a must order dish.

Chicken Grill, Rice Noodle, Peanuts, Herbs, Nuoc Cham was another Asian-inspired dish. The chicken itself was really well cooked, having a softness of texture similar to Chicken Rice chicken (which suggests sous-vide at play again) but made all the more delicious due to the char from the grilling. The noodle salad below was flavoured by Nuoc Cham - the classic Vietnamese dressing - but with all the peanuts, the flavour profile was close to a Pad Thai. This was another winning dish, with perfectly cooked noodles, nice crispiness from the peanuts and shallots and well balanced acidity. The highest praise I can give it is that I've had worse legitimately designated Pad Thai at lesser Thai Restaurants.

Having enjoyed our meal so much, Alissa and I returned a few days later for a second round. Free Range BBQ Chicken Wings, Granny Smith Apple had been on our short list of dishes to order during our first visit, so they were a priority for our return visit. When the dish arrived, my initial thought was that it was a little bit small, however it proved to be a massive flavour bomb. The pieces of wing had been carefully deboned, with the meat tender and succulent. The combination of the Sriracha-like sauce and the slices of seemingly pickled apple beneath made us think on Korean food and kimchi in particular, and Alissa loved it so much she scraped the plate clean.

We ordered two salads for our second visit, and Greens, Blood Orange, Fennel, Labna, Fried Bread was the better of the two. Fennel and orange are always a great combo, and as people who love snow pea sprouts this was an easy salad for Alissa and I to like. The labna and the fried bread took the dish to the next level, with the bread so crunchy it seemed like it may have been dehydrated before frying, and the labna having the perfect level of saltiness without being over the top. Nice and fresh, this was a salad that could hold its own against some of the Standard's heavyweights.

Along with the lamb belly, 36 Hour Pork, Witlof, Onion, Puffed Grains is undoubtedly one of the restaurant's flagship dishes. And rightly so - this was an incredible dish. Presentation-wise, it looked like something you might get at Restaurant Amusé, with the toasted puff rice in particular reminding Alissa and I of our visit to the justly celebrated fine diner earlier this year. As with the lamb, the pork was flawlessly cooked, with the texture again suggesting a sous-vide first cook that was then finished on a grill for a nice crust. The puffed rice added a delicious, toasted crunch, and the onion was so well cooked and flavoursome that it almost tasted like it could be fennel. Rounded off by the nice peppery bitterness of witlof and a smooth, creamy foam, this was a dish that was equally sophisticated and down to earth.

The Spanner Crab Salad, Orange, Buttermilk, Herbs was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. It wasn't a bad dish per se, but it seemed filled with ideas and flavours we'd tried elsewhere on the menu, and were better executed in those other dishes. The sweet crab meat was cooked well, but the puffed rice worked better with the pork and the orange worked better in the green salad, and the result was a dish that was unfortunately a little insipid compared to the others.

Over the course of our two dinners, we were lucky enough to try all three desserts on the Standard's menu. Vanilla Panna Cotta, Strawberry (actually Raspberry), Lemonade is probably the most visually exciting of the three, with an old school soda siphon used to pour the lemonade over the dessert tableside.

The result is sort of a dessert and drinks pairing in one, and Alissa and I enjoyed the refreshing berry tartness of the raspberry infused lemonade. Unfortunately, for all the theatre, the vanilla panna cotta was set too firm for my our liking, having a texture closer to an agar-agar set jelly rather than gelatine. At Jamie's Italian, their Panna Cotta is subtitled 'lovely wobbly'; that is the texture I usually expect from a good Panna Cotta, so this was a bit of a let down. A shame, as all the other components - even the little pieces of shortbread - were all exceptional.

Bay Leaf Parfait, Mandarin, Hazelnut Liqueur was easily my favourite of all three desserts; in a moment of sugar fuelled happiness, I even turned to Alissa and proclaimed this dish a masterpiece. This dish seemed inspired by a similar Mandarin dish once served at Attica (which I wouldn't be surprised about, given that the kitchen had a nice collection of restaurant cookbooks by the bar), but they've made it all their own. The Bay Leaf Parfait itself was nice and airy, with a perfect balance of lightness and sweetness. The trick taken from Attica was to use both fresh mandarin alongside freeze dried slices, resulting in bites that were alternatively juicy and intense and crunchy. The mandarin theme seemed carried over again in a delicious cream, with the pieces of candied, roasted hazelnut adding a nice crunch. Being a bit of an ice cream obsessive, I sometimes feel like a dessert could be made better with a delicious, cold quenelle placed on top, however this dessert didn't need it - everything was in perfect balance, and I couldn't have loved it any more.

For our second visit, Alissa and I decided to share a serving of Chocolate Ganache, Coconut, Spiced Rum. Keeping with the theatre of the Panna Cotta, a spray bottle of Sailor Jerry Spice Rum was brought out to the table and sprayed over the dish. This spritz was a nice touch, as we breathed in its aroma before we even took our first bite. I'm not usually known as a fan of Chocolate desserts, but the Chocolate Ganache was very, very good - rich without being over the top. It went well with the subtle sourness of the cream, and the crunch of the chocolate tuile shards and toasted coconut. The squares of brown butter coconut fudge would have stolen the show if not for the fact that they worked so well in combination with everything else, however their salty, buttery, sweet and coconutty flavour made them our favourite component in an absolute cracker dessert.

The Verdict: Excellent +
With the high culinary quality of recent openings in Perth and some mouth-watering Instagram photos heralding its arrival, our expectations were high going in. I'm glad then to say that the Standard exceeded our expectations, serving up clever, technical food so effortlessly and casually that you don't even notice how thoroughly modern a lot of it is. Being someone who loves Modernist cooking I'm very open to new techniques and ideas, however the subtle and often hidden Modernism on display here makes it very accessible - even for those who would usually view such touches as unnecessary frou-frou.

Three dishes each came in at around $50 each. This is slightly more expensive than some other restaurants following the same business model, however the quality of Chase Weber's food and the skill on display go some way to justifying the higher asking price. Additionally, service was really great during our first visit; considering it was a very busy Friday night, the staff were really on the ball in checking in on us and very fast in delivering our ordered dishes. I felt however that their guard was a down a bit during our Tuesday meal, as they were slower to bring out dishes and we had to wait a bit longer before we were able to put in our dessert order. Minor quibbles, but something for them to think about. With balmy Fringeworld-filled Summer nights just around the corner, I feel like the Standard's courtyard is going to be a massive hit. And when a place is this good, they definitely deserve it.

The Standard on Urbanspoon


  1. I really enjoyed this place! It has such a fun and relaxed vibe to the food while being all so tasty :)

    1. I was just reading your post on the Standard! Totally agree; I'm so glad that Perth is getting so many of these excellent casual but quality venues! I really wanna try the Chicken Parfait after seeing your photo.So good!