David Coomer is about as close as Perth gets to food royalty. His Star Anise restaurant in Shenton Park has been a mainstay at the top end of the dining scene for many years, and his reputation for sourcing great quality produce and making beautiful dishes out of them has placed him at the top of his game.
Which is why there’s been such interest in his latest venture, Pata Negra. When the announcement was made that David Coomer was going to be opening a Spanish restaurant in Nedlands, a great thrill ran through the collective stomachs of the greater dining community of Perth, hoping perhaps, that someone would come and pull us up from the quagmire of mediocre tapas restaurants.
Imagine my surprise then, to run into David at my favourite Spanish providore (article coming), buying much of the same ingredients as I do for said new restaurants launch party (though perhaps in slightly larger quantities than I ever have). I took some delight in the fact that he had to put up with as much, if not more hassle dealing with Rosa the feisty Spanish providore as I ever have. Who’s opinion on food and all things Spanish is undeniably parochial, and ultimately final. Regardless of whether she’s talking to a novice or an award winning chef.
After chatting for a while David kindly invited me along to the media launch the coming Sunday evening, a chance to explain the concept and demo some dishes before a full restaurant opening the following Tuesday. I wandered around chatting to wait staff and chefs Matt Stone (former sous chef from Star Anise) and Kurt Samson (previously of the Builders Arms and Momo in Melbourne), who will be heading up Pata Negra while David controls the reigns at Star Anise. It was a great night and a chance to sample some of the menu in it’s infancy, which had the immediate effect of whetting my appetite for the real deal.
Now I’m not prone to rhetoric as much as other writers in the food game in our fair city, but I will say that despite the build up, and all the hype, my first meal at Pata Negra was fantastic. So forgive me if I leave out details of the rustic mismatched furniture and glassware, and the warmly arcane lighting fixtures. I’ll also also brush over the unexpectedly icy dash to the bathrooms via the outdoors, and the unexplained mineral water that was poured into the next door tables glasses. Which are not all superfluous, but didn’t detract from the experience.
The review starts here
It was Friday night and the place was packed. Open since Tuesday, this was their 4th night of service. I’d booked for 8:30pm, ringing the day before to make sure I could get a seat, but was reassuringly told by the manager that tables would be set aside every night for walk in traffic. Lazy diners of Perth unite ! You should be able to stroll into Pata Negra at any given time with no forewarning and land yourself a table. The tables in question are a series of small communal spots at the front. The rest of the restaurant seems to run with two sittings, one at 6:30pm (the early bird special) and the later at 8:30pm.
A quick peruse of the wine list while we waited for the table to be ready showed an interesting mix of Spanish and Portuguese wines, and Australian wines in the same vein. New world Tempranillo blends mixing alongside Douro and Rioja. It was nice to see some decent cheaper options amongst the mix too. The cheapest bottle of wine being $35, which is not bad for a restaurant of this nature. Though it’s immediately apparent that the style of this place is meant to be warm, fun, and casually intimate. We settled on a bottle of Portuguese Douro that I know virtually nothing about. It was medium bodied and fruit driven and was a wonderful match to many of the dishes.
So the food.
The menu is split into sections. Tapas at the top, which are all small dishes. Working down through different sections based on the type of dish. If I recall correctly it was Sea (seafood things), Earth (vegetable dishes), Land (meats), Queso (cheeses). I know I’m forgetting or mislabeling them, but will clarify at some point when I go back. All the dishes are designed to share, thought not necessarily as individual pieces. But the concept of the shared table seems to be a central theme. The dishes are predominantly Spanish in feel, though there’s a strong Moorish / Middle Eastern influence coming from Kurt Samson’s background in running Momo with Greg Malouf and his own personal style of hearty tagines.
We started with some of the pork crackle. To call it pork crackle though is almost a misnomer. It’s essentially lighter than air pork rind fried to puffy crunchy perfection, served with a yoghurt dipping sauce and paprika. The joy of crunching into them is a must for any true lover of the pig.
Next up was some Jamon Serrano. At half the price of the restaurants namesake Jamon Iberico, it makes for a deliciously rich, salty indulgence. The fat is lovely and supple (though not as melt in your mouth as the pata negra), and it’s a generous portion of 40 grams for $15. A massive ham slicer sits atop the stairs in the entrance to the kitchen, which will no doubt get a considerable workout over the years as this place shaves many a leg of ham to it’s salty end.
A small anchovy fillet laid across a rich tomato salsa on a thin wafer was next. A wonderful combination of textures and flavours as it all came together in a satisfying bite.
Now a brief respite and a chance to collect thoughts, enjoy the wine, schmooze with other local food illumenati and choose some more dishes. The only problem so far is that there are far too many to choose from, that all look good.
So after some wrangling we settle on some wood roasted portobello mushrooms and the one dish it seems most food writers can’t go past… fabada. Fabada is a rich stew with confit duck, chorizo, ham hock, and beans (in this case lentils), quite similar to cassoulet… a lovingly rich rustic dish of epic proportions.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. The wood oven at Pata Negra is a legacy of the pizza shop that used to be there a while ago. As a lazy university student I fondly remember walking past Sol Pizza on the way to somewhere else other than university. Hopefully my lack of patronage wasn’t why it closed in the first place… but regardless the wood oven works well, and is used to great effect by Pata Negra to create a number of their dishes.
The wood roasted mushrooms then, were an explosion of earthy joy. Juicy, dense, perfectly cooked… I could have had just that one dish and been completely satisfied. Shavings of parmesan over the top only enhanced the depth of flavour. How good they were, yet how simple, was quite simply astounding.
The Fabada came served in a cazuela. The confit duck consisted of one large maryland piece split in half, that fell apart at the mere thought of a fork. The lentils mingled with Rosa’s intensely spicy chorizo and smokey ham hock. It was exactly what I was hoping for. Homely, hearty, soul restoring.
For dessert, we couldn’t go past some of the house made Pedro Ximenez ice cream. Served with a sweet doughnut made from brioche and deep fried, then rolled in cinnamon and sugar. All I can say is thank God for a complete absence of churros, I miss you not. I also tried the poached persimmon, with yoghurt ice cream, sadly reaffirming the fact that I really don’t enjoy persimmon. The yoghurt ice cream rich and creamy, although I’ve been told I need to include in this review that my initial reaction was: “Wow, this yoghurt is really yoghurty”. Such is the brilliance of my observatory powers.
I finish the night with a glass of Pedro Ximenez and a smug expression on my face at a fantastic first meal in a new restaurant destined for great things. Is this Perth’s answer to Movida ? Only time will tell. But with what I’ve seen so far the sky is the limit. The team behind Pata Negra is committed to bringing great food to Perth. The service was quick and attentive, and you can tell they care about giving people the right kind of experience.
Get there soon and tell me what you think.
26 Stirling Hwy, Nedlands
Phone: 08 9389 5517
Fax: 08 9389 5519