Since leaving Perth at the end of 1999, chef Paul Bentley has built up a mighty CV.
He’s worked as sous chef at Daniel, the flagship Manhattan restaurant of storied American chef, Daniel Boulud. (“Jackets are required and expense accounts come in handy,” proclaims Google.) He’s opened restaurants and taquerias and ramen-yas throughout Mexico and Hawaii. He’s broadened WA’s definition of Italian(ish) cooking via lobster sandwiches, mushrooms roasted with schmaltz, crab roti and other standouts from his menus at Beaufort Street’s Si Paradiso, the restaurant he’s called home since Covid-19 border closures grounded him in 2020.
As of this week, Bentley will be adding Oxford Street to his beat following the launch of Casa, the new neighbourhood bar and organic wine bottle shop he’s opening with Alex Cuccovia, Cale Mason and Sydney-based chef Enrico Tome. In addition to feeding and watering the good people of Mount Hawthorn, Bentley is excited to show guests what he’s been up to since he completed his apprenticeship at Alain Fabregues’s legendary The Loose Box in Mundaring.
“The menu is basically a distillation of all the cooking and life experiences I’ve had,” says Bentley. “It’s just stuff that we’d want to eat with these sorts of wines.”
So, what does a well-travelled, 40-something like to eat when he’s pulling corks on bottles of minimal intervention wines? In Bentley’s case, he’s thinking high-calibre cosmopolitan snacks that defy pigeon-holing: golden and squishy Chinese doughnuts (you tiao) piped with taramasalata and topped with mussel escabeche, perhaps, or La Delizia Latticini stracciatella studded with pellets of cucumber – some fresh, some heavily charred – and brightened with yuzu juice. The menu also frequently references Bentley’s Mexican years. There’s a roast chicken and chips plated alongside a puddle of mole (pronounced mo-lay, Spanish for “sauce”) poblano, one of the seven traditional moles of Oaxaca. There’s a whole grilled fish basted with a guajillo chilli adobo sauce. And for afters: a tres leches (three milk) lamington that’s been steeped in a mix of milk, condensed milk and coconut milk, then plated in an armour of shaved coconut. Australian food culture gets a look-in via a clever scalloped potato scallop – a deep fried potato cake crowned with raw scallop – as well as the Golden Gaytime remake made in conjunction with Chicho Gelato.
As mentioned previously, Sydney-based chef Enrico Tome – late of Fratelli Paradiso – is one of the partners involved with Casa, but care of a certain global pandemic, he’s been far less hands-on ahead of opening as he would have liked. (Like the rest of us, Tome has been checking in via phone and web-based meeting apps as well as a shared Google Drive doc.) Still, his influence can be tasted in house-made pastas such as a squid ink spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin butter, and agnolotti filled with duck. In short, the food at Casa has flavour and imagination to spare: Bentley and Tome know how they might approach the menu, it’s now up to guests to decide how they’ll use it.
“The idea is that you can enjoy the venue on several different levels,” says Bentley. “You can come and just have a few snacky things to share with someone or you can come and have a bigger dish or a bowl of pasta. There’s no right or wrong way to have a dining experience here, which is important, you know?”
Casa (399 Oxford Street, Mount Hawthorn) opens on September 16 and will initially trade for dinner from Tuesday to Sunday. (On opening week, it will only trade September 16, September 17 and September 18.) Lunch and breakfast services will be introduced soon.