Perhaps it’s the obvious joke, but we can’t help but think – we really do wish Nextdoor was, well, nextdoor.
We’d visited the restaurant, nestled on the burgeoning foodie hub of Angelo Street, during its first iteration, and appreciated its refined, elegant approach to fine dining… But it had the atmosphere (and price tag) of a special occasion restaurant.
Nextdoor’s owner Gavin Olsen, also the owner of neighbouring family business Olsen Butchers, spotted a problem when few of the locals he had been serving each week since 2004 were dining at the restaurant – in spite of the numerous rave reviews.
“We were serving 1300 customers a week in the butcher shop and I saw maybe… Five to 10% of their faces in here?”
While acclaimed fine-dining is undoubtedly a worthy pursuit, Olsen envisioned a more neighbourhood-friendly venue: one that locals could pop into for a relaxed weeknight dinner.
What followed was a total overhaul, closing the doors for a few weeks before reopening at the start of May – a new aesthetic, new team in the kitchen and a totally reinvigorated approach.
At the helm of this transformation is new Head Chef Elliot Sawiris, who most recently came from a stint as Senior Sous Chef at Rockpool. The chef’s CV also includes time at lauded Subiaco osteria Lulu La Delizia, and as the Food Director for Palace Arcade – not to mention a wild weekend back in January taking over the pans at Testun.
“I oversaw the grill system and the meat program at Rockpool,” Elliot tells us, perched at the bar one afternoon while the wood-fired grill section crackles pleasingly in the background.
“It got to a point where I had kind of learnt what I needed to learn, and I was extremely grateful for that – I had a lot of amazing opportunities, but I needed to make a move. I needed to have my own head chef role, I needed my own team.”
After a few months relaxing, cooking for private functions and popping up around town, word reached him that Nextdoor may have an opening.
“Straight away, I knew prior to even coming here that I could make something great out of this.”
“I knew that this place had so much potential for me to work with, in terms of being able to run my own meat program, oversee my own menu and create something special.”
“We’ll have fun with our entrees and show flair and technique, but the proteins – treat it simply and with respect. I think I can definitely do that here, and I can’t wait to see what it becomes.”
That sense of playfulness certainly shines through in the first half of the menu. There’s a familiarity to much of it, in the way that you can dive in with confidence – of course a hash brown topped with cod roe whip, pickle powder, chives and smoked trout roe will be delicious. It almost seems obvious, except that it feels entirely original.
The same goes for that chicken wing. Who would think to combine hot honey drizzled fried chicken with the prawn and chive interior of a siu mai? Possibly a madman, but we must admit – as Elliot himself would say: shit hot.
Larger plates and sides lean more straightforward but no less delicious. Charred cabbage is practically saturated in umami butter, blackened on its outer layers but retaining a fresh crunch within, while roasted carrots are sticky with honeycomb, piled atop labne and sprinkled with walnuts and sumac.
While entrees are playful, the meat is where is gets stone-faced serious. A specialty menu of beef from Olsen Butchers is cut daily – the selection on the day we visited ranged from a Berkshire pork chop to a 9+ marble score Stone Axe Wagyu Denver that practically made us weep.
Dining with a crowd? There was also a 1.5kg, 150 day grain-fed ribeye on the bone on offer, suitable for sharing.
(A more weeknight-appropriate, wallet-friendly sirloin steak with chimichurri is also on the regular menu.)
“I think now it’s a lot more fun,” explains Gavin. “We take our steaks and meats and cooking very seriously, but if you want to duck in for a burger and two pints of beer and spend less than fifty bucks, you can do it. If you want to come for an amazing steak, and spend 200 bucks on a steak and a bunch of sides and enjoy it with a couple of friends, you can do that. It’s been really enjoyable the last two months getting back open, rebuilding the kitchen and finding our feet again.”
“The customers we’ve got coming in now are people that live up the road that are walking down, or decide at 5:30 to give us a ring to ask ‘Have you got any tables?’ – we’ll seat you at the bar, we’ve got the alfresco area outside now, we’ve got much more options for people”
“I get along really well with Gavin,” adds Elliot. “And I think having that butcher’s experience does work very well, because he understands what I need to execute the best dishes possible, I understand what he needs to be able to make this work. It’s been a bit of a journey and I can’t wait to see what it becomes in a couple of year’s time, or even three month’s time!”
“Working in hospitality for ten-plus years, you can’t just go in and be like ‘We’re going to be this’, because your customers dictate what you put on the menu at the end of the day. Every bit of feedback you get, you have to make changes and cater to it – so we’ll let this grow organically.”
Nextdoor to Nextdoor, Gavin tells us that the butcher shop is also set to undergo some changes, with a bigger focus on their dry-aging program and expanding their retail offerings to house-made condiments and pantry staples: “bring the level of butcher shop up to the retail level of what we’ve got here.”
“We want them to enhance each other, rather than have Nextdoor dictate what the butcher shop becomes.”
“It’s what I would consider a really neighbourhood-focused business. My dad’s a butcher, dad and I both work in the business together, we’ve got another store up in Roleystone as well, and my younger brother’s a butcher – it’s got that nice fairytale element of father and son working together!”
Nextdoor is located at 79 Angelo Street, South Perth