Sunday, 25 January 2015

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

I've said it before and I'll say it again - pizza is an easy dish to make at a mediocre level (hence its ubiquity), but one that is very difficult to truly master. The dough, the thickness of the base, the type of oven, the temperature, the amount of toppings on top - all these variables greatly influence the final result, and while exotic and clever pizza topping combinations are obvious ways to make a pizza appear better, if the fundamentals of a great base are not achieved first then half the battle is already lost. Its for this reason I seldom seek out pizza, but when our friends Cam and Nadia said the Swings Taphouse & Kitchen made the best pizza they'd eaten since they lived in Italy, I knew it was something worth trying. We initially thought of saving it for future Down South holiday, however after a car breakdown meant another three nights in Margaret River, Alissa and I decided to pop into Swings for a late lunch.

Occupying the space that once housed Wino's, Swings has a more casual vibe that the venue's previous incarnation, with a storage-as-feature design aesthetic that would make Ikea proud, complete with racks of boxes above seating, and crates of wine acting as a room divider when you enter the restaurant. Alissa and I had had a lazy morning, and arrived for lunch sometime between 1 and 2pm. Considering the late arrival time, the place was still fairly busy.

An interesting feature of Swings Taphouse is their rather novel idea of serving wine on tap like beer. Being a subsidiary of the Swings and Roundabouts winery, the wine on tap is taken from the more drink now and food friendly end of the winery's range, although more options are available in the more conventional bottle form.

The wine on tap was sold in glasses, half carafes and carafes. This is quite a Mediterranean way of serving table wines, but a practice I have rarely seen in Australia. Its something that would be nice to see take off; it wouldn't work for 'serious' restaurants like Cape Lodge or Wills Domain, however it was a perfect fit for the quaffable nature of the wine on tap, as well as the casual vibe Swings are clearly going for. The half carafes and carafes are excellent value for money - Alissa and I worked out the half carafe meant the two of us could have two glasses each for an extra $1! After being turned off by the Chardonnay being described as 'unwooded' and 'soft' (not my thing; I'm a fan of buttery, oaked Chardonnay), we settled on the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon which proved to be a decent, fruit-driven drop.

The menu at Swings Taphouse consists of tapas-style dishes divided into Little Shares and More to Shares, as well as a pizza menu. Being here for the pizza but wanting to sample a few of their other dishes, Alissa and I decided to order two of the Little Shares as entrees. The first to arrive were the Fried Harissa Chicken Wings. These were really good; Alissa is not usually a fan of Chicken Wings as she feels the mess of taking them apart is not worth the effort, however she loved these. The spiciness and rich umami flavour of the chilli-laden marinade was addictively good, have something of the Afro-Portuguese flavour of Nandos, but even better. Well cooked, moist and juicy, Alissa and I were happy that we had two pieces each, as it would have been a showdown had it been three!

Our other Little Share of Pan Flamed Baby Squid, Chermoula, Pickled Cucumber, Labne, Coriander, Lime was just as impressive, and easily better than the Fried Squid we had at Morries Anytime a few days earlier. The tender Baby Squid was pan fried with Chermoula, a Moroccan-style spice blend that gave the dish some heat. The cooling quality of the pickled cucumber and the smooth saltiness of the labne made for a nice contrast, while a squeeze of the slice of lime gave the dice a nice fresh acidity. Perfectly seasoned and with well balanced components, this was excellent summertime food that went nicely with our wine.

But of course we were mainly here to try the pizza, and our main was their Diavola - Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Spicy Chorizo, Confit Garlic and Chilli Flakes. Far from being overhyped, this pizza easily ranked up there with the most excellent I've had; definitely the best since we visited Neighbourhood Pizza in Mt Hawthorn, and possibly even better. The crust was nice and crunchy, did not have any of the greasy oil that is synonymous with bad takeaway pizza, and was soft and fluffy on the inside. The dough was just about perfect, having been worked to the right level to be nice and light with the right amount of fermentation having taken place to give the dough a nice, slightly sour yeasty flavour. Toppings were right on point - Swings had the confidence to know the right ratio of toppings to base, and did not over-top the pizza as so many places do. The tomato sauce itself was really impressive - chunkier and fresher tasting than is common, the combination of the sauce, the Chilli Flakes and the Confit Garlic played on a childhood flavour memory I have of eating Chilli Mussels, making me like the dish all the more. With pops of Spicy Chorizo saltiness and fresh Basil, this pizza more than lived up to the hype of being named one of the Top 5 places for pizza in the Good Good Guide.

Although we were fairly full, Alissa and I decided to share a dessert of Yoghurt Pistachio Cheesecake, Poached Nectarines. The dish was like a set cheesecake, having a panna cotta-like wobble, and a nice smooth texture and pleasing tartness. The biscuit base at the bottom of the glass was good as well, while the Pistachio Brittle on top was addictively sweet and crunchy. The fresh nectarines Alissa and I ate during our time Down South were fairly incredible, and the Nectarine in this dish was no exception. Pouched in what tasted like mulled wine, they were delicious - sweet, slightly tart and spiced.

The Verdict: Excellent
In spite of the hype, I have to admit Alissa and I were not really expecting a lot from Swings Taphouse, however we were well and truly impressed by the quality of the cooking on display. The Little Shares and Dessert were just as well good as many places in Perth doing a similar style share plate food. That said, it was the pizza that was the real star of the show - the base was just about as good as I've had, and the ratio of base to toppings was absolutely spot on. With its casual vibe and excellent value for money with wines by the carafe/half carafe, Swings is an ideal venue for larger groups and families, and an essential stop on your itinerary if you're looking to try what is possibly on of the best pizzas in the state.

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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