There’s something in the water around town. The way we eat has forever changed. Restaurants are no longer the be all and end all when it comes to experiencing an unforgettable meal paired with even better beverages. Welcome to the era of the wine bar and euro style eatery.
We chatted to Perth chefs about the shifting popularity towards these venues, the opportunities they provide to explore new ideas and their ability to provide a wholly personal dining experience.
Justin Scarvaci, Vinotto Bar
Vinotto Head Chef Justin Scarvaci has long been a fan of casual dining and you can see his passion shine through his dishes. Despite only being open a year, Scarvaci and his team have crafted Vinotto into a staple of the Swanbourne community. A cosy venue that leads from the front with a strong euro-centric wine list and a variety of intimate small dishes.
Aiming to create an experience that captures the “relaxed style of dining” dictated by the guest over a formal meal structure, Scarvaci looked to tavernas in Venice and La Caves in Paris as his inspirations for what would become Vinotto’s approach to dining.
“I would say it’s the relaxed, almost egocentric, aspect of dining out,” says Scarvaci when asked about the shift away from traditional eateries. “The guest can eat and drink as they feel, and share with friends without limitations.”
Public Wine Shop
Rose Bass, Corvo Bar + Kitchen
The team at Corvo aren’t huge fans of being boxed in by labels. They are as much a bar as they are a restaurant. Basically in the moment, Corvo are whatever you want them to be. While working in Europe prior to the pandemic, Head Chef Rose Bass became a fan of the stripped back, casual style of service found in euro eateries, noting their ability to provide “a more personal experience from a customer point of view.”
Bass notes how the environment is more conducive to providing good education and training, as the smaller team allows for more time for one on one instruction, preventing the dilution of quality over time. The end result? A higher level of consistency provided to every guest that walks through the door.
“I think people in today’s climate appreciate the genuine environment that a more casual dining establishment offers,” says Bass. “Non-hospo people know better than ever and understand the connection that a smaller scale restaurant has with its customer base and want to help support that.”
Lulu La Delizia
Tom Bidois, Besk
After building a solid knowledge base in the world of fine dining, Besk Head Chef Tom Bidois discovered the potential of European casual dining, small bites and bar food whilst living in London. Places where “you could just turn up with no booking and accidentally end up eating and drinking for the next few hours.”
On coming back to Perth, Bidois jumped at the opportunity to take the helm at Besk, where he’s since designed a menu led by the bar’s brilliant beers and wines. Despite the popularity of Besk and eateries like it, Bidois believes there will always be a place for “nice put together restaurants”, but with “so many neighbourhood bars with great food offerings, [it’s] hard not to check [them] out.”
“To be honest, I actually just think that we are catching up with the rest of the world,” says Bidois. “Bar food doesn’t have to just be your standard pub fare. It can be a lot more than that. In saying that, there’s nothing wrong with a good pub meal too.”
Matt McDonald, MUMMUCC’
Matt McDonald’s exceptional work over at MUMMUCC’ crowned it ‘Perth Chefs’ Favourite eatery earlier this year. McDonald has long been fascinated with wine bars and euro eateries, but that spark was ignited on a dining trip to Sydney. Visits to renowned eateries such as 10 William Street and Love Tilly made McDonald realised that the city “[seemed] to be years ahead of the nation in terms of venues offerings the perfect balance between exceptional food that you’d expect in a fancy restaurant, with your favourite drink selections previously only seen in fancier, stiff bars.”
An invitation to helm the kitchen at Monsterella’s new spin off wine bar couldn’t have been met with more excitement by the passionate chef. McDonald attributes the shifting popularity towards “the neighbourhood wine bar” as a mix of the pandemic providing local oasis’s for local guests and the influence of Sam Winfield’s work at Wines of While.
The MUMMUCC’ chef praises Winfield for introducing this European style of dining to Perth and counts him as the “catalyst for educating Perth about a better way of eating and drinking”.
“I have complete freedom to cook whatever I’m motivated or inspired by, which then flows into a total sense of enjoyment,” says McDonald. “Again, due to the small nature of these venues, often the chef is able to develop an interactive relationship with diners – or at least witness them enjoying their meal from the kitchen. You just don’t get that with the tucked away stainless steel restaurant kitchen environments.”
Wines of While
Sofika Boulton, Bar Rogue
“Keep it simple and snacky.” Bar Rogue’s Sofika Boulton’s mantra is a constant throughout every one of the delicious and creative offerings available at the Beaufort Street wine bar. Coming from a background in fine dining, Boulton’s first foray into wine bar and euro eatery style share plates and small dishes has come with a pleasant learning curve that has found the Rogue chef learning to balance refined technique with easy snacks.
Intuition and intimacy is everything, and Boulton is enjoying the “room to play around”. “I think it’s more of a realisation that eating doesn’t have to be an event or something special – sometimes it can be a damn good time,” says Boulton when asked about the draw of wine bars and euro eateries.
“I don’t want people to worry about what they wear or which piece of cutlery to pick up first when they come to Rogue. I want to build a place people come to be comfortable. Knowing they will eat good food, drink good wine and laugh and talk and maybe knock a knife off the table, but who cares right?”
Blaze Young, Nieuw Ruin
Former winner of the WA Good Guide’s Breakthrough Talent award, Head Chef Blaze Young has maintained “a long love affair” with wine bars, praising their ability to balance the “relaxed and comfortable” with the “informed and attentive”. Providing an “intimate” and “flexible” dining experience that feels akin to “walking into a friends lounge room”.
Young notes how the unique style of service opens itself up to a more creative and enjoyable kitchen, mentioning how the arrival of new produce at the start of a season is always met with both excitement and passion by the hardworking team: “It’s the best of both worlds. The perks of high quality products and a professional team, without any of the rules that make restaurants seem like ‘special occasion’ destinations,” says Young about the communal shift towards wine bars.
“There’s an approachability to a wine bar. At the end of the day, you’re there to relax and have fun.”
La Madonna Nera
Wines of While
Melissa Palinkas, Young George Bar + Kitchen
Melissa Palinkas has long proven that pressure makes diamonds and that’s certainly the case at Young George Bar + Kitchen. The 2019 WAGFG Chef Of The Year’s work at the zero waste neighbourhood bar and eatery has been nothing short of awe inspiring, pumping out a range of world class dishes and charcuterie. Inspired by 20 years travelling around Europe, Palinkas became enamoured with euro eateries’ approach to producing high quality “premium wines and small plates”, albeit with a more casual
Palinkas encourages diners to choose their own adventure when it comes to dining at Young George Bar + Kitchen. Whether it’s wine, cocktails, snacks or a full meal the “casual, commitment-free dining experience” is what makes the occasion unique.
“Working with hare style plates and snacks – in addition to our larger format dishes – gives us the opportunity to mix it up quite a bit,” says Palinkas. “Working with our no waste philosophy we have to get quite creative anyway in utilising everything we bring into the kitchen and the bar, but it gives us the scope to have more dishes on our menu.”
Shadow Wine Bar
Wines of While
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Header Image: Nieuw Ruin