No reservation? No problem. Of all the things to like about restaurants ditching the white gloves and tablecloths, dining at the bar is top of the list.
Not that eating at the bar is a new development, of course. Previous generations might have dropped in at the local for a counter meal, but bar dining circa 2016 is all about the theatre of the open kitchen, one-on-one time with bartenders and the freedom of being able to come, go, eat and drink as you please.
“Sometimes it might be coming in for a quick snack and a drink with mates, other times you might want to settle in for dinner and a couple of glasses of wine,” says avid eater-at-bars (and Rockpool frontman) Neil Perry.
As is the case at all Rockpool venues, barflies at Rockpool Bar & Grill are welcome to order from the menu proper. But the bar snacks – think Sichuan-spiced chicken wings, burgers, prawn cocktails and other small plate winners – are as versatile as they are delicious.
They’re also ideal for solo diners, as is the hospitality offering at Mount Hawthorn’s cosy Budburst. For owner Rachael Niall, looking after lone wolves is one of the perks of her job.
“It’s often easier and faster to build rapport with a solo diner than a larger group,” she says. “Unless it’s clear they want quiet time, I’ll engage with them and find out where they usually eat and drink, and why. In return I like to make them feel a little special and spend some time pouring free tastes of wine. They get an all-round better experience and are likely to return, and I have fun because I get to talk to people about products I love.”
Here’s Broadsheet’s hit-list of Perth’s better bar-dining options. Come hungry, with or without a friend.
Lalla Rookh Wine Store Obsessed with grape juice? Lalla Rookh’s dedicated enoteca is the drop-in centre for you. Quiz sommelier Jeremy Prus and his wine-loving fellows about what’s pouring, while hooking into some of the finest pasta in town.
Rockpool Bar & Grill Rockpool’s bar is no holding station, but an attraction in its own right. Whether you make a meal of great burgers or assemble a line-up of snacks, count on great cocktails and one of the land’s mightiest wine lists.
Long Chim Technically, the entire bar area is reserved for walk-in eaters, but the best seats are at the wooden counter peering into the kitchen. Heads up: chilli levels are proper Bangkok-hot: fight fire with James Connolly’s spice-friendly cocktails.
Petition Kitchen Young Jesse Blake has a knack for bright flavours. Nab one of the perches in front of his open kitchen and watch as Blake and co shower kingfish with beetroot all-sorts and accessorise polenta with grilled corn and spicy nduja.
El Publico Team El Publico will insist this is a bar with a kitchen rather than the other way around, but that doesn’t stop Tommy Payne from slinging some of the city’s realest Mexican food. The tacos are non-negotiable.
Must Winebar Must: the restaurant that introduced Perth to the joys of charcuterie? It’s not an argument without merit. Nab a spot at the bar for great terrine and pâté en croute (pate baked in dough) and toast a Beaufort Street veteran.
Sauma Little about this Northbridge Indian restaurant is by-the-numbers. Chunky Goan sausage and Wagyu beef samosas are typical of chef-owner Gurps Bagga’s punchy cooking. The drink list has been written with spice in mind.
Shadow Wine Bar There’s a deeply likeable accessibility to Alex Hotel’s all-day wine bar. Chef Sue Hutchins keeps it suitably simple with the luxe-casual likes of grilled split prawns and potato chips freighting crab meat.
Budburst If only every neighbourhood had a local like Budburst. While the drink selection is reason enough to set course for Mount Hawthorn, it’s the polished cooking of Gwenael Lesle that convinces guests to make camp. The croque monsieur, meanwhile, is the stuff of toasted cheese sandwich dreams.
Strange Company “A small bar in Fremantle”. So goes the undersell on Strange Company’s website. Movida alumnus Ricky Mandozzi nails the Mediterranean menu that sees white anchovy and tomato pinchos offered alongside ox cheek rolls.
Alfred’s Pizzeria This Goodfellas-esque den of booze and pizza makes a welcome addition to the CBD. The cocktails are snappy and unusually named pizzas (“who ordered the Princess Peach?”) are sold both whole and by the slice.
Il Lido New talent in the wine and food departments sees this seaside Italian favourite in career-best form. Sommelier Dan Wegener has a nose for outre, essential drinking while rosy meatballs and great pasta speak to the kitchen’s new vigour.