If you ever want to see me irrational and highly frustrated, then hop into the car with me while driving on the freeway during peak times - especially on a Friday night. There have been so many occasions when Alissa and I have wanted to head into Perth or Leederville for the evening and decided against it, as even going against the flow by trying to drive north can be met with sometimes inexplicably slow moving traffic and the lose-lose choice of either getting off at Canning Hwy and going through the suburban rat run or committing to the Freeway with no hope of escaping a traffic jam between there and South Perth.
Every time Alissa and I have had a free night to visit Low Key Chow House in Leederville, its been a Friday night and the thought of the drive has been enough for me to not want to go - especially since Leederville is only 15 minutes away from home if we have a clear run. With Alissa dying to try their food, I eventually gave in, and after a race against the clock we found ourselves in on the Oxford St main strip in time for our 6pm reservation.
With a fairly early reservation and the sun still out, the restaurant was fairly empty upon our arrival but filled up by the time of our departure. With a Modern Pan Asian menu, the restaurant had a very on trend design aesthetic that reminded me a little of Red Opium in East Perth, and included various pieces of Asian iconography scattered through the space, ranging from Chinese bowls to the decorative Mahjong tile prints above the bar.
To accompany the trendy Asian iconography was an equally trendy warehouse aesthetic, complete with polished concrete floors and the initials of the restaurant's name spelt out in copper pipe on the back wall.
Although the restaurant's $55 Food Odyssey definitely appealed to my preference for degustations and 'let us feed you!' chef's menus, Alissa and I were two people short of the minimum requirement of 4 diners, leading us to choose our dishes a la carte. First to arrive were the restaurant's well regarded Mantou Buns - candied caramel pork belly, crushed peanuts, coriander and cucumber in steamed buns. A take on the ubiquitous Pork Buns made famous (but not invented) by Momofuku, Low Key Chow House's version in some ways reflects the traditional Gua Bao from which the Momofuku version descends, as it features coriander and crushed peanuts. The bun itself was nice and soft, being really fluffy and well steamed. The Pork Belly was also very impressive, having a good sweet, treacly glaze, and an awesome, crispy crackling that made Alissa and I think of Siu Yuk. With the sweetness of the Pork however, Alissa and I felt that the slivers of chilli within did not provide enough heat to counterbalance the candied nature of the meat and that a squirt of Sriracha or a bottle provided on the table would have been a good solution. Additionally, we felt that the Coriander was a nice touch but that we again need more to balance out the sweetness with some other flavours. This was still a very enjoyable dish, although we both recalled the Roast Pork Belly Gua Bao from Wonderbao in Melbourne as being more well balanced, and thus superior.
With the previous dish obviously influenced by Momofuku, the next dish of Pok Pok Wings - spicy Asian-inspired Buffalo Sticky Wings - was an obvious (and thankfully credited) facsimile of a famous Andy Ricker dish. These wings were superb, and were probably the most successful dish we tried. Where I felt the Mantou Buns really needed a bit of heat to counterbalance the sweetness, these Mantou Buns balanced the two perfectly, with additional umami flavour thanks to the use of fish sauce that is the dish's secret weapon. Really simple and yet really delicious, this is a definite must try dish.
With the smaller share plates out of the way, Alissa and I moved onto our mains. First up was Sogalbi Skju-Namul - pear & apple marinaded beef short ribs off the bone, sesame beansprouts, house made kimchi and ssamjang hot sauce. Having cooked the Short Ribs recipe from the Momofuku cookbook myself, there did seem to be distinct similarities in flavour and texture - although David Chang admits in the book to have ripped the recipe off from a more traditional Korean dish his mother makes. With the sweet apple and pear marinade strikingly similar, a nice innovation Low Key Chow House introduced to the dish was a stage of smoking, which gave the dish a lot of character and interest. The provided Chilli Sauce and Kimchi helped round out what was an overall good dish.
Taken straight from the Momofuku cookbook were the Ginger Scallion Noodles, itself something Chang refers to as 'out-and-out-rip-off' of another restaurant's famous dish. Incredibly simple and yet delicious, the ginger and spring onions that flavour the dish are addictive, and Low Key Chow House did a great job with this - better than the time I made it at home. The fried shallots on top and good bitey noodles were highlights. This was a good filler dish - even if the $12 price tag is a bit steep when you consider that a bowl of bamboo pole noodles at Noodle Forum can be had for less.
Our final dish was Nestum Prawns, a popular dish in Singapore that I've eaten on many occasions - both cooked at home and hawker centres. Alissa and I were divided on this dish, as she was not as much of a fan as I was.
I liked it, and although I've had better in Singapore, I thought the Nestum coating was nice and malty as it should be, and the prawns were large and in a generous serve. For my tastes, I would have preferred slightly smaller and more juicy prawns than the Tiger Prawns used here and while the $37 asking price was no unreasonable for the serving size, a smaller and cheaper offering would have also been preferable and more competitive from a price standpoint.
The Verdict: Excellent
Alissa and I were glad to have finally dined at Low Key Chow House. While the restaurant's menu was not particularly original and owed a major debt to Cult Modern Asian restaurants like Pok Pok and Momofuku, the dishes were generally tasty and produced with skill. The Pok Pok Wings in particularly were addictively good, and are worth trying even if it were a bar snack to have with a drink from their bar. Service was pretty good, and the wine list was small but nicely curated for the food served. Unfortunately, the restaurant's lack of originality made it a bit less interesting a place to visit than comparable restaurants like The Standard, Varnish on King, Darlings Supper Club and Pleased to Meet You, as they all had more original and iconic dishes that make us want to go back. Additionally, I felt that while the mains were in very generous serves, slightly smaller servings would have been preferable as I felt that the meal was a bit pricier than other share plate meals we've had. Still, its nice to see someone in Perth doing these Cult Asian dishes, and Low Key Chow House would be a good place to start for those looking to get into the world of Modern Asian Cuisine.