Fried chicken. Smoked meat. Good booze. Even better times. Ben Atkinson keeps the game plan simple at Meat Candy, a specialist “chicken and smoked meat shop” that owes as much to the golden, spicy fried chicken of Nashville, Tennessee as it does to Australian milk bars and diners circa 1970.
“You’re not going to look at the menu and go, ‘wow’,” says the former Cantina 663 and The Old Crow chef. “I'm searching more for ‘yums’. We’re built for speed, taste and comfort. There's going to be some pretty dishes, but everything is going to be tasty and well-seasoned.”
If you were lucky enough to taste Atkinson’s fried-chicken prototypes while he was moonlighting in the Ace Pizza and Late Night Valentine kitchens, you’ll be pleased to hear the final product lives up to expectations. Drumsticks, bone-in thighs and tenderloins from Liberty Free Range Chicken are marinated for 24 hours in a mix of buttermilk and house-made hot sauce before being double-dredged in seasoned flour. Following the lead of a well-known colonel famous for his fried chook, the chicken is cooked in a Henny Penny pressure fryer to keep the meat juicy within and crisp and golden without.
In keeping with Nashville tradition, all chicken is served on house-baked white bread alongside pickles, shaved onion ranch sauce and a choice of sides. There’s a pleasant buzz to the entry-level “southern” chicken, although chilli fiends can specify mild, hot and “you’re an idiot” heat levels. (The latter features four separate stages of spicing: consider yourself warned).
Smoked meats make up the rest of the well-priced menu (nothing tops the $20 mark), while the offering also tips the Akubra to Australian food traditions. “Auntie Merle’s broccoli coleslaw”, to paraphrase Atkinson, is pure CWA cooking. Collaboration and working with neighbours is a big part of the Meat Candy philosophy; Chicho Gelato has already signed on to supply and develop custom gelati for the restaurant.
In the bar, experienced drink-slinger Patrick Carpenter (El Publico, Late Night Valentine, Angel’s Cut by the Trustee) has channelled the diner vibe with a range of house-made sodas. Drink ‘em neat or – as per Carpenter’s recommendation – punch them up with a slug of booze. Cocktail pitchers include a Bloody Mary made with house-smoked tomato juice, and the Woody Island Iced Tea, an all-WA riff on Long Island’s famous party-starter featuring botanicals gathered from Woody Island off Esperance as well as locally distilled booze. Jessica Drew, last seen charming guests at Lalla Rookh, has signed on as restaurant manager. And former Mary’s head chef Simon Kruger is Atkinson’s sous.
Those that like their restaurants old-school and ever-so-ocker will like this: although courtyard and bar seating is available, pride of place is in the 30-person dining room and its timber and leather banquettes. Dead stock teardrop lamps and teardrop lighting add old-school charm. A custom-made ’60s-style diner push bar greets guests at the front door. Takeaway customers will be serviced via a cute sash window that opens onto the corner of William and Brisbane streets. It’s a ’70s-inspired look that has all the retro-leaning hallmarks of a Lazarus Studio fit-out (see also: Bill's Bar and Bites, Late Night Valentine and Highgate Drink & Dine).
“You’ve got a touch of bad, but it’s also a little touch of good,” says Lazarus Studios' Cale Mason of his latest project. “Everything's basically brown, caramel and creams. I just kind of went anti-cool. No one paints their walls cream or mustard, so that's what I went for.”
Meat Candy opens on Thursday September 1 and will initially only open for dinner (Dinner on September 1 will be BYO with the restaurant to become licensed from September 2). Takeaway and lunch services will begin shortly after.
465 William Street, Northbridge
Fri & Sat 5pm–11pm