Pony Club

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I grew up riding horses. Not pretty little ponies, but real, gritty, working mans horses. Ok, well maybe not working men, but men who have things to do and places to be, and no time for fancy shenanigans. We grew up in New Zealand riding the family horse Pinky, who was a former pacer (racing name: Inky Pinky Parlez Vous). Pinky was a good horse, but a crazy horse… She would at random and unknown times decide to switch from running forwards, to running sideways, and when you’re riding bareback (because you don’t own a saddle), that can be a problem. Dad decided it would be a good idea for me to start learning to ride her by myself when I was about 4… possibly one of the scariest moments in my life up until that point, but after the bruises healed, it soon cemented my love of horses.

Skip forward a few years and we find ourselves in Australia, horseless… Though it doesn’t take Dad long to find a local crazy called Joe who had plenty of crazy horses but no time to ride them. Joe lived on the outskirts out town and had amassed himself a huge junkyard of old cars and machinery, and (inexplicably) a small herd of Welsh Mountain Ponies.

One of these Welsh Mountain Ponies was named Rocky… and was every bit the battler of his famous namesake (Marciano not Balboa). He was of course a stallion, and prone to choosing his own course of action whilst galloping through a forest at high speed… which always made for an interesting ride. Rocky was not the most stable horse to ride… Dad had broken him in (along with the other horses there), and trained him to accept having someone ride him… but there were times when he conveniently forgot about all that and just did his own thing. In some ways that’s why I liked him so much… he was his own horse… he just let me sit on his back sometimes.

The pony club on the other hand, stood for everything that I wasn’t. Privileged, polished, and perfectionist, and all the pluck and courage in the world did not stop Rocky (and I) drawing the scorn of the primped and plaited members of the pony club brigade. I despised them… Their perfect little ponies prancing around in circles with ribbons in their tails and plaited manes… They were the bourgeois and I was the proletariat. My rugged little pony and I would gallop through the bush jumping logs, tree stumps, fences, and generally causing mischief. I didn’t have a helmet, a crop, jodhpurs, riding boots. I had a hard head, a stick, some old jeans, and a pair of well holed K-mart special Traxx.

Every year the local agricultural show would happen, and the pony club girls would get their parents to help them groom and ready their ponies, load them into a horse float, and drive them into town. I would ride my bike out to Joe’s place, saddle up Rocky, and ride him the few kilometres into town myself.

We competed well, but the judges seemed to be less interested in how fast I could ride and how high we could jump than they were at how nicely you can post whilst trotting around in a circle, and at exactly which angle you hold your feet in the stirrups. So sadly my technique for holding the reins that I’d developed from the need to jump off in a hurry before Rocky went crazy, didn’t win any votes. Still, we did manage to come away with the award for champion pony stallion under 14 hands, of which he was the only entrant…

Such is my experience with the ilk of the pony club… Elitist and over privileged, with little respect for what they’ve got.

What the hell does that have to do with food you say ?? Well nothing… but it does set the scene for the main attraction… My restaurant review of “Pony Club”.

Pony Club is a new tapas restaurant in Mt Lawley, where Infusion Noodle Bar used to be. The layout is basically the same as it was in the Infusion days, with a little more of a plush intimate feel coming from the use of a few velvety curtains here and there. The fit out is stylish and refined and the lighting dark (I have a feeling it actually got darker as the night went on). It looks and feels like it’s going to be a classy kind of place, and this is where my rant begins.

Tapas are bar snacks ! This is how they started off, this is how they should be. They are a brilliant idea. Bring out lots of tasty little dishes and charge next to nothing for them so people can happily snack away all night whilst consuming large quantities of wine and beer, before perhaps moving on to somewhere more substantial for dinner later. The moment they spread out into their own themed restaurants, things started to go down hill.

Now I’ll admit, I was once enamoured with the idea of the tapas restaurant. What a great concept it seemed. Lots of different flavours and tastes combining to make a meal. Easy to share with large groups of people who can happily graze over dish after dish of sumptuous Spanish delicacies.

Not so !

The reality is that most of these places are massively over priced and serve up minuscule dishes that everyone on the table fights for a piece of, before forgetting was it even was two seconds later. This is what we ordered at Pony Club:

Chermoula Prawns,
Dhukka Chicken,
Spanish Meatballs,
Chorizo Stew (look for my version coming soon),
Salmon Tartlets.

I would have thought that would have been a decent meal for two people… but $100 and less than an hour later it was all over and we went home still hungry. Now even if you aren’t blessed with my tank-like physique and uncanny eating abilities, I’d challenge anyone to be truly satisfied after getting a few bites of any one thing.

The food itself was nice, but uninspiring. Having made or tasted something similar to most of what was on the menu I was singularly unimpressed by all of it. And at around $14 per dish… they were far from worth it in my book.

The tiny wine list had some nice looking entries on it, but with only 3 available by the glass, and my eventual choice of a glass of Tempranillo setting me back a cool $9, I would have much rather been at home with a bottle from my small but growing collection of Spanish wines soothing my gourmet nerves.

So in the end… a revelation occurred. Fancy tapas restaurants are not for me, and until I have sampled and written off every tapas bar in Spain, I will be weary about any place that makes it seem like I should expect to pay top dollar for glorified bar snacks. To be fair, there is a “main meal” section of the menu, but we weren’t ordering from that, so I really can’t comment on how good it was. The girls next to us seemed to enjoy their Moroccan Chicken Salad.. however strange it’s appearance on the menu was.

I’m sure some people will like this place, it may even turn out to be very popular, but just remember that you heard it here first… Yo no quiero tus tapas !

The Pony Club
620 Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley 6050
Western Australia

Tel: (08) 9228 8801


15 thoughts on “Pony Club”

  1. Que disgracia esas tapas! The Spanish would be horrified, disgusted, and appalled at such a travesty of what a cultural “funtime” for them has become in the eyes of many abroad. Basta ya! Tapas are not meant to be pretentious. So Matt, be like your proud Rocky, and stick it to the man!

  2. Yep. Gone are the days of the Toledo with great tapas (if memory serves). Tapas has now become de rigeur with slinky cocktail dresses, upturned noses and synonmous with snob. But, have you tried the Village Cafe atAberdeen Street? Tapas-like servings, very tasty and quite substantial. We went for a set menu and two hours later, were nicely satisfied. The service too was attentive. The only downside – they didn’t have squid that night, and I don’t know why avocado laced with salt and lemon juice should command such a price. But that’s my only criticism. Everything else – perfick!

  3. Thanks Maria, it’s my intention to never get to the point where I put food below the wankery that goes along with it. Having said that however, if someone wants to give me lots of money to run a flash tapas bar I may just cave in… I like to be morally flexible. Til then it’s fight the power all the way :)

    Seng, I can’t say I remember Toledo’s, but perhaps you’re thinking of Flamenco’s ? Another Mt Lawley staple for a long time… I will have to try this Village cafe you speak of soon… cheap and tapas like sounds entirely up my alley… And as long as they aren’t using fake meat, I’ll be happy.

  4. I travelled though Spain with my partner for 2 weeks with some Spanish foodie friends and they brought us to the best tapas places which we would never hope to find ourselves. We would start at breakfast with beer and fried pigs cheeks and kidneys and bar-hop through to lunch. These places were unpretentious with honest food. You’re right, most tapas places in Australia these days charge a fortune and are obviously targeting the pretty girls and boys in town. By the way I’ve been told about the Village Cafe as well so really need to try and make it there sometime…

  5. Years ago (too many I’m afraid) my wife and I traveled the world and fell in love with Spain thanks to a wonderful retired English couple we met who lived on the south east coast. Unlike the traditional Pommie retirees they had embraced the Spanish way of life and we were treated to a wonderful tour of little out of the way tapas bars and restaurants. We became addicted to the tasty flavoursome inexpensive morsels served with ice cold beer or crisp white wine.

    We come back to Perth and tapas suddenly become overpriced trendy tiny bites. Not good. Lucky I can sort-of cook so it fun whipping up my own versions of favourites.

    Why can’t someone open a tapas bar for real people?

  6. Matt,
    Perth should be perfect for a string of good cheap tapas and wine bars. We have the right climate and a growing cafe culture. $100 for 2 for tapas is outrageous – especially if you still feel hungry afterwards!

    Toledo’s was an old place in Northbridge – next to Torres the butcher. It was ok – but still far from the Spanish ideal that I recall from my travels of too long ago.

  7. Hey Steve and Steve II (the sequel),

    Sounds like you both had great times travelling Spain and experiencing the real deal… something I’d love to do myself at some point. And not that I have anything against pretty boys and girls per se… but a restaurant culture dedicated to their appreciation is not one I want to have to pay for…

    Edward, did I mention I was a glutton ? Could have something to do with me still being hungry… but I had the same experience at Duende last time I went, so a trend is definitely emerging. I can’t understand why they don’t work either… but perhaps the Perth economy boom just isn’t the right climate for cultivating simple, cheap, tasty places.

    Cin, I’m glad you liked my piece of extended creative non-fiction. I’m not the worlds best swimmer though… (I prefer floating), so if I can’t afford to fly I’ll probably be walking… wish me luck :)

  8. Bang on with your review of The Pony Club and thoughts on tapas. How is it that the trendy set always seem to take something wholesome and unpretentious and completely whore it up and somehow wrangle it into something a million miles away from what it should be? Having said that though, I enjoyed my visit to The Pony Club far more than our trip to Duende.

    If you ever get the chance, see if you can check out Bar Lourinha in Melbourne – really really good and somewhat affordable. In my mind, it’s even better than Movido near the exhibition centre and a lot more affordable. Marie and I dined there ordering plenty of dishes and a glass of cava and tempranillo each and walked away paying less than $80 for the both of us! Such value!

  9. Hmm.. not sure if I like being referred to as “the sequel” (aren’t all sequels the poor cousin of the original?) :)

    Mind you I find it funny that there is another international gourmet traveller called Steve from Perth who reads this blog and posted only hours before me with a similar tale? I would assume he is also incredibly handsome, witty, erudite, charming and of course modest.

  10. Hey Max, sounds like you got a better end of the stick than I did. Other things of note were the hair in my wine glass and the dirty plates… but I thought I had bagged them out enough for one day. I got a bunch of dodgy recommendations last time I went to Melbourne, so I’ll keep those in mind.

    Steve, I’m thinking Highlander II was every bit the equal of Highlander the original… so nothing to be ashamed of… and I’d expect every handsome, witty, international gourmet traveller named Steve living in Perth would be reading this blog… g’day to all of you :)

  11. love your pony story matt.
    don’t give up on tapas just yet…it can be good….I’m with Max…Bar Louhrinia in Melb is great and not that expensive and in Syd we have Bodega which is worth checking out.
    although you’ve made me a little nervous…there’s a new joint in sydney called pony that isn’t tapas but describes itself as ‘small plates’ and I’m heading there tomorrow..

  12. I haven’t tried Pony Club yet but know one of the managers so intend to soon.

    Duende – think it is a great place for what it does – there is no hiding of prices and it is popular so money talks in this instance.

    Flamencos – more reasonably priced – like the atmosphere and went back for some particular dishes – pity it is gone.

    MoVida in Melbourne is one you have to try. It is about the same price range as Duende but just has that touch of class on every aspect over Duende. The lane way thing and proximity to FedSq is also terrific.

    San Sebastian tapas – how do you match the price and taste of this kind of tapas? The ingredients are better, the chefs use those ingredients traditionally or much more intelligently than most Australian tapas places and the atmosphere (and sometimes character of service) is impossible to match.

    Raffles – you want a rip off for tapas. Go get 5 plates of tapas between 2 at the Raffles and then tell me what unsatisfied is! BTW 12 wedges for $7 is just a joke at the Raffles – surely they are aware of the absurdity.

  13. Hi Matt,
    I’m having a little spy of your blog after I met you and your lovely wife at five, I 100% agree with you on pony club, so good it closed down because it was ridiculous.

    Jessies curry kitchen is right near my house, owners are so friendly. The butter chicken was slightly different from what I am used to but it must be a more Malaysian style, either way I would go back and try some different meals that I haven’t tried.

    Another inglewood place I found which I recommend you check out is Saffron – the palak paneer is really yum and so are the people.

    Nice meeting you, great blog!

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