Nahm Thai

Perhaps Perth’s closest equivalent to the fine dining Thai restaurants of Sydney. Nahm Thai is one of the few places that tries to take style and atmosphere seriously in it’s quest to elevate the understanding of Thai food away from Pad Thai and Green Chicken Curry. Chef Kevin Pham takes influence from the likes of David Thompson in his recreation of classic Thai dishes.

Firstly I should point out that I like the place. The food is rich and vibrant, there is clear cheffyness to the presentation, and the produce is a world apart from your average Thai place. It’s also nice not to eat Thai food off a plastic tablecloth occasionally, and having 3 different curries that have been made ahead of time and had the <insert meat here> treatment is not something I’ll ever miss either.

Service is a bit of a let down though. The wait staff are dressed in uniforms vaguely reminiscent of bell boys, and usher you to tables in hushed tones, but most give off a clumsy backpacker-waiters-on-holiday feel. Very eager young types struggling in vain for descriptions of dishes and wine, and then sending the food to the wrong table. The menu is barely readable in the dim lighting, and I really wish someone would clean the large overhead lights of dead bugs on a more regular basis.

The food ultimately shines however. Red duck curry with lychees, crispy pork hock with chilli, and crispy egg net with shredded duck are all fantastic, so are the galloping horses (pineapple, duck, scallop) and the sticky rice dessert with mango and sago pudding give me hope that a decent dessert is able to be had in an Asian restaurant that doesn’t involve frying ice cream.

Nahm Thai
223 Bulwer St
Phone: (08) 9328 7500

Nahm Thai: Sago puddingNahm Thai: sticky rice with bananaNahm Thai: red duck curryNahm thai menuNahm Thai: Crispy pork hockNahm Thai: Salmon with green curryNahm Thai: cuttlefish ?Nahm Thai: Crispy egg nets with shredded duckNahm Thai: galloping horsesNahm Thai: lightingNahm Thai: glasswareNahm Thai

Bar 399

The bar at 399 Bloody Mary @ 399

Small bars, small bars, small bars.

Perth is awash with them of late. You’d almost think they’d sprung up overnight in a flurry of activity caused by the state government lovingly embracing the community and doling out liquor licenses like they were sewing corn into a big fertile paddock.

Of course the reality of the situation is pretty different. Most of the small bars that have opened in Perth recently have been a long time in the making. Legislation changes that were supposed to make it easier to apply for and be granted a small bar license, and thus be able stay open til midnight during the week and to serve drinks without food, have not exactly come to fruition the way the general public would have expected.

It’s been a long and often arduous road for the majority of these venues to get off the ground, jumping through hoops like training monkeys hoping not to have their bananas confiscated. Only to be rewarded with yet more trials and ordeals. I for one, however, am glad that those people persist in the face of inexplicable bureaucracy, or we wouldn’t have such interesting new venues like Bar 399 to tickle our collective fancies.

It’s situated at the top end of William Street next to one of my favourite Vietnamese restaurants, in a fairly nondescript location, that’s slowly building in potential for educated winers and diners out for a good time. The concept is simple, a small space with a bar down one side, booths down the other. A regularly changing wine list that isn’t based on any one distributor, bespoke cocktails from a group of experienced bar tenders, and a nightly meal of just one selection.

ECM ReflectionsNat serving at 399Havana Club at 399The bar at 399399 manager NatEspresso at 399Cheshire AlexNorthbridge styleratiHavana, where jazz musicans congregateBen n Jen at 399Bloody Mary @ 399Bloody Mary @ 399

The hook that got me in however was the master stroke of bacon and egg rolls and Bloody Marys served on a Sunday morning. $15 for a thick roll filled with lashings of bacon and a fried egg or two, and a peppery but piquant Bloody Mary is as fine a way to start a day as I can think of… A classy hair of the dog that even temporarily took the place of my dim sum ritual, which is a formidable opponent to almost everything.

I think it’s time to start rediscovering your city through the eyes of some of these venues. Perth is not, and will probably never be… Melbourne, but the more venues like this that open up, and the more people who start to build a following behind them, the better off we’ll all be.

Bar 399
399 William St, Northbridge

399 Bar on Urbanspoon


Chinese New Year 2008

Lions doin lines

A belated happy Chinese New Year to everyone ! We spent a good couple of weeks eating and drinking our way through relatives, and friends places (not necessarily because of CNY mind you… but it seemed appropriate to mention it anyway), and tossing a few lucky noodles. I am also happy to announce my biggest ever haul from generous quasi relatives via the wonderful “ang pow”. If I’d known the benefits I would have become Chinese a long time ago :)

The only mildly official event we went to was the traditional lion dance ceremony, held in Chinatown’s the world over. The photos below were taken at Hawkers Cuisine Restaurant in Northbridge, where we had our ear drums ruptured by fire crackers and watched a performance by a local kung fu school, whilst partaking in a very decent Shaoxing Drunken Chicken, Salt and Pepper Squid, Red Hot (!) Sichuan Beef, and Red Braised Pork Belly.

Bring on the Rat ! (and try the red pork belly)

Hawkers Cuisine
66 Roe St Northbridge
Phone: (08) 9328 9668


Big Bowl – Noodle House

Pork & Chive Dumpling Noodle Soup

How very remiss of me to miss this lovely little spot out for so long. Big Bowl has been a welcome addition to the upper end of William St in Northbridge for a good year or so now, and has not disappointed every time I’ve been in.

The “gimmick”, if you can call it that, is that all of their noodles are made fresh to order for all the various dishes they serve.
There are two large machines behind the counter with big signs on them saying “No Photo!” that I was careful to respect, which would appear to be the driving force behind the fresh noodle phenomenon. It has a large container on the top full of flour, and various mechanisms that I assume add water and salt and mix the whole batch together, then spits the noodles out the other end, either of the thick or thin variety.

These noodles then find their way into an assortment of dishes of various types. There’s wonton noodle soup, char kway teow, something vaguely reminiscent of spaghetti bolognaise, and a few baked noodle dishes that taste a bit like macaroni cheese.

Regardless of what you’re after, there’s something to please just about everyone, and clearly people are pleased. A casual Monday afternoon lunch today saw the place as a hive of activity, with not a spare seat in the place, and a steady flow of people in and out hoping to snag a table.

The fact that it’s hugely popular with the local Chinese community means that there’s not a lot of reading material besides the local “Asia Times” newspaper, that I casually flick through on occasion just to put a lingering doubt into the minds of nearby Chinese speakers who might wonder if I can actually understand any of it.

Still, the place is friendly, clean, and simply appointed, and service is always accompanied by a smile and a laugh.

If you’re looking for a quick / cheap / tasty lunch or dinner option in Northbridge, I can highly recommend Big Bowl. Most of the dishes range from $8 – $12 maximum, and represent great value.

Do yourself a favour and try the Big Bowl on for size :)

Big Bowl

408 William Street
Opening Hours: 11:30AM to 8:30PM (Closed Wednesday)
Phone: 9228 4448


Heartlands Exhibition

Just as a matter of interest for some of my Perth based readers. There is an photographic exhibition starting soon that I will be a part of. So if you’d like to own your own little slice of my photography, feel free to come down and check it out. No pie throwing allowed ! :)

Heartlands Exhibition
Photographers in Perth
Kurb Gallery – 310 William St, Northbridge

December 2nd – 7th
1pm – 6pm Sunday – Friday

Since getting a bit more seriously into photography of late (though not exactly food photography), I’ve been getting a lot out of meeting up with other local photographers who are all part of the Photographers in Perth group on Flickr. It’s through the proactive nature and organisation skills of the members of this group that this and other exhibitions have been created to give the collection of talented (but otherwise unknown) photographers a chance to exhibit their work.

This event is also a part of the wider Byte Me Festival, running for the first week of December.

Dragon Tea House

Lady Lan Green Tea

What do you do when you’ve had too much coffee ? Drink tea of course ! But what does a bona fide coffee snob do when he has to turn his palate to the other drink ? Well either seek out the finest possible Japanese green tea he can… or more recently… dive straight into the world of fantastic Chinese tea.

Dragon Tea House is a new venture that’s opened recently on William St in Northbridge (up the top end where the real stuff is). I was first put onto them by the ever vigilant Alex, who has an uncanny knack for finding quality places to explore.

So a couple of weeks ago, after a hearty dose of Dim Sum (funnily after drinking too much tea), Ben, Jen, Sharon, myself, and the sadly now departed (to Montreal via Melbourne) Isabelle, walked off a little of the post lunch bloat with a brisk stroll up to Dragon Tea House to check out their wares.

What we found there was a little treasure trove of exquisite Chinese teas of the highest quality, and an enthusiastic host in Jun, who walked us through some of her favourite drops.

Jun and partner Sandy run the business with Sandy hand picking the teas (not physically, but you get what I mean) from China and bringing it in twice a year from very high quality sources. They bring this back for local tea lovers who want to try the wonderful teas they’ve heard about, but can’t manage the commute to the highlands of Zhejiang every week (which is possibly quite a few of us).

There’s a range of green, white, black, and flower teas that are remarkably different and unique (well to my palate at least), each with their own interesting characteristics. Dragon Tea House is primarily a retail outlet for the teas, although they do let you sit down and order a pot of your very own, to sip in contemplative appreciation. Although if you’re lucky, and things are quiet, you might just be able to convince them to run through a tea tasting session.

Of course… I had to taste them all. So after convincing Jun that we weren’t the fly by night charlatan drink and runners we probably looked like, we were treated to a good two hours worth of tea, food, and information…

We started with Lady Lan, a smooth oolong tea with ginseng, added to remove the normally bitter aftertaste associated with oolong. We moved on through Dragon Well green tea, a slightly astringent green tea with a buttery smooth texture that’s prevalent in great green teas. Then on to White Silver Needle Tea, which is from the same species but white tea consists of young leaves (new-growth buds) still covered in a fine white hair, that has undergone no oxidation or fermentation (unlike black or oolong teas). It has a style very different to green tea in that the typical grassy flavours are replaced by a lighter, slightly sweet finish.

Jun showed us a little of her developing Kung Fu Tea skills (I know, I thought it sounded too cool to be true too, but it’s actually the proper name for the Chinese art of the tea ceremony). These included making sure the water is at the exact right temperature, priming the the leaves with a cleansing rinse before drinking, and making sure that the delicious last drops of each pour are distributed evenly into each cup. The best part being that it doesn’t matter if you spill some :)

Gently First pour

After that it was on to a blooming flower tea. These blooming teas are a relatively new concept (I think) and typically consist of tea leaves bound tightly together with the addition of herbs and flowers such as Osmanthus and Chrysanthemum. The beauty of these teas is that in the right vessel they slowly “bloom” in hot water. Opening to reveal an array of colours and flavours that intermingle to create a completely unique experience. The one we tried was called Lily Bloom, and it contained lily, osmanthus, and white silver needle tea.

We took a break somewhere at this point for refreshments, which took the form of little Chinese sweets, and some roasted pumpkin seeds. Just the thing to hit the spot after a solid hour and a half of tea tasting.

With our palates refreshed (and bladders emptied), it was then on to the final tea, which was a Pu-erh. Described by Jun as the ‘short black’ of the tea world. It was something I had to try for myself. Pu-erh differs from most other teas…whilst it may be confused as a black tea because of it’s dark colour, it’s actually caused by a secondary oxidization and fermentation process after it’s picked, which gives it a particularly strong and distinct flavour. Not quite what I’d call an alternative to my morning espresso… but definitely enough of a kick to make the tea doubters sit up and take notice.

So after depriving Jun of her lunch, and bombarding her with more questions and photos than I’m sure she wanted, we came away with a good bundle of teas, teapots, and associated paraphernalia. Enough to keep our nerves calmed and palates cleansed, at least until the next time we stop by, which I imagine won’t be too far away.

***edit with a few corrected details.

Dragon Tea House
3/369 William Street (next to William shopping centre)
Phone: (08) 9228 3305

Nine Fine Food

Nine Fine Food

Friday evening in the city (Perth that is)… a group of news friends and acquaintances gather to catch up, drink wine, talk coffee, and listen to some great Jazz (with accompanying impromptu tap dancing) and ease their way into the weekend with some quality dining. The scene is set for one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had in a long time.

The venue for the rest of the evening was Nine Fine Food, a modern Japanese restaurant on the fringes of Northbridge that is doing some excellent food at the moment. They are tucked away in a relatively nondescript area of Northbridge on Bulwer St, not particularly close to the rest of the Northbridge scene, but equally far away from North Perth or Highgate, and certainly not somewhere I’d expect to find a restaurant of this quality.

So Sharon and I, and our dining companions, laden with bottles of wine, whetted appetites, and great expectations, made the short trip down from Hotel Northbridge to Nine.

On arrival we were greeted cheerily by the waiter who remembered our dining companions from the last time they came. It’s nice that even in a place where they must get a lot of new people coming through all the time, they can still add a personal touch by remembering names and faces.
The waiter then seated himself casually at the head of our table and proceeded to take the order.

The menu all looked interesting. The modern Japanese theme is worked through almost every dish, each having it’s own unique take on traditional style Japanese ingredients, in beautifully presented combinations and what could be called a European style setting.

We started off with a couple of tasting plates that were mostly little morsels of deep fried goodness. Tempura fish, spring rolls, karaage chicken, with 3 different dipping sauces, a wasabi cream, a chilli soy, and another mayonnaise… Now with a taste of things to come and rapidly moving our way through the first bottle of wine, it was time for mains.

Cooked Special Pierro Pinot Noir

As is generally the case when you get a group of food lovers around a table, there was much tooing and froing of ideas and opinions on what we should try, who should get what, and how best we could suitably get to try a bit of everything on the menu. That was until we saw the specials board, of which almost everything sounded more intricate and alluring than the last. With great difficulty I finally settled on one of the cooked specials… basically a tasting plate (mental note: remember names of dishes next time) consisting of scallops, duck, prawns, octopus, mussels wrapped in chilli seaweed and fried tempura style. Sharon had the spider crab and tuna, Marhsall and Linda had the sashimi salad, Daniel had a sashimi tasting, Alex I think had a steak dish (?) and Cathy… crushing all my hopes of thoroughly enjoying my meal… ordered the Wagyu rump.

Wagyu rump

Now all of the dishes I sampled were fantastic, beautiful clean flavours that effortlessly combined the best of Japanese and European cooking, with wonderful presentation. But the waygu was something else entirely. Cooked medium rare the way any steak should be, it literally melted in my mouth as I savoured the morsel Cathy was nice enough to let me try. Combined with an excellent choice of wine in a Glaetzner Shiraz, it was heaven in a mouthful… and made it that much harder to go back to my own plate… however lovely it was.

We finished off the evening (and a few more bottles of wine) with dessert, choosing the Azuki bean and chocolate pudding with ice cream. Another taste sensation and a perfect way to round off a great meal.

Perhaps it was the wine talking, perhaps the fact that the company was so enthusiastic, but I can’t remember enjoying a restaurant experience as much in a long time. I can now easily see why Nine Fine Food won “Best Asian Restaurant” at the 2007 Restaurant and Catering Industry Association Awards. An accomplishment only detracted from by the the fact that the term “Asian” is relatively vague, and to my mind means about as much as “meat” when you’re reading through a menu wondering what to order. Though I suppose that’s more of an indication of the lack of variety in the Perth scene when it comes to “Asian” restaurants that are pushing the envelope in terms of taste, quality, and presentation.

Still, credit where it’s due… this place is a welcome addition to trendy dining in Perth, and deserving of it’s status.

Fully satisfied, and a little merry, we stayed long past the time when everyone else had left… getting an impromptu piano recital from one of the staff, while the rest of them cleared up. Not even a hint of stern “will you just bloody well leave already” look was seen, which is a credit to their commitment to their customers.

Definitely a place to go back to soon.

Nine Fine Food
227-229 Bulwer St (corner of Bulwer and Lake St)
Phone: (08) 9227 9999