When asked by the West Australian in July last year about the new small bar he was planning to open in Leederville, Iain Lawless said it was going to be a bit more bohemian and interesting than what was currently on offer to Perth eaters and drinkers, saying
"Unfortunately, most of the bars and restaurants here look as though Jamie Durie did the fit-out. You look at it and go, 'Oh that's nice - for me house!' People can do what they like but for me I don't want that, I want people to either love it or hate it, not just think it's all right."
Hmmm, so no quaint water features or a nice bit of sponge work on the walls then I take it. He then went on to comment on the lack of mutual respect between Perth bar staff and customers:
"There's a lot of people here who think they're a bit too cool for school for my liking and I'm sure they think the public don't notice it. They'll judge you on buying a cheap bottle of wine . . . you see it in their eyes, they're going, 'That's the wine you're having and you're only having one entree? For God's sake, piss off'.It drives me bananas! I don't care if you sit there for four hours and have a glass of wine between you."Hmm, he had me until the part about sharing my wine. Strangely enough though, I have actually had an experience with bar staff not letting me have half a drink...I had a strangely boozy tasting white wine spritzer at tiger, tiger in the city a couple of months ago, which we discovered was actually half white wine, half sparkling wine when we received the bill. Perhaps I should have said "soda water" instead of "sparkling water" when I had to explain my drink to the waitress.
The July article also said that he was planning to open this new small bar - Kitsch Bar - in seven weeks. Fast forward seven MONTHS and the dream has come to fruition. In a more recent article in the West Australian, he explains that it took much longer than expected to get their small bar licence, but this gave them time to get the concept right. It doesn't seem as though Iain's thoughts on service have changed in that time, with him saying
"You can walk into Rockpool in Sydney, with its $36 million fitout, order a glass of their cheapest wine and you'll be welcomed by staff who are happy to see you. We're a long way from that in Perth."Iain, I've never met you but I like you already, and I was very keen to see if you'd managed to succeed in these noble plans with Kitsch Bar in Leederville. I was even more keen after noticing on Twitter (yes I have finally succumbed to peer pressure, you can follow my ramblings here) that Matt from Abstract Gourmet was a fan of the place. So last Saturday night some friends and I battled the highly entertaining AC/DC crowds, making our way into Leederville to investigate Iain's creation.
Kitsch front area
Well, I didn't get any Jamie Durie vibes when we arrived. Rob Broadfield's description of the decor - "an old house on Oxford Street crammed with a mish-mash of bric-a-brac, recycled furniture and a cacophony of paint finishes" - was a little over the top but gives a good idea of what to expect. I really liked the feel of the place, and we kept commenting on big features and little touches that we noticed throughout the night - the beautiful big frangipani tree, a wooden staircase leading nowhere with lamps to guide you there, very pretty light shades, a wooden canoe filled with candles hidden in a little alcove - and I'm sure there are many things that missed our attention.
Service was really very friendly from the get go, and after being lead to our table we were brought out water promptly and left to have a look over the menu. After giving it a once over we realised that although it is not a large menu, it was going to be difficult to narrow it down to a few dishes. Leaving that problem aside for a minute, we ordered drinks - Magner's Cider ($9), Jed Blanc de Blanc NV ($9) and Ad Hoc 'Strawman' Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 09 ($7.50).
The drinks came out quickly, and we took a moment to admire the glassware before knocking them back. All hit the spot on the warm night, with particularly good reviews on the cider (which I personally didn't like, but I'm not a big cider drinker).
With drinks in hand we felt better equipped to tackle the task of menu perusal, and eventually settled on "steamed pork dumplings with hot chilli sauce and sticky soya" ($8), "deep fried salt and pepper tofu with hoisin peanut dipping sauce" ($8), "spiced green papaya salad with peanuts, cherry tomatoes and sweet, salty pork ribs" ($17.80), "coconut mussel pancake with bean sprouts, green mango and sweet chilli vinegar" ($16.80), "braised angus beef with black vinegar and hot and sour salad" ($23.80) and "stir fry greens with ginger and yellow bean" ($8). Our waitress informed us that the dishes come out when ready, tapas style to share, which was fine with us (as long as I don't have to share my wine).
"steamed pork dumplings with hot chilli sauce and sticky soya" ($8)
First out from the kitchen were the dumplings, luckily in a serve of three so we had one each. I would have liked to have dissected mine a little to investigate the separate tastes, but it was much easier to just pop the whole thing in your mouth with a little of the sauce so I did just that. There was none of the fatty, overly 'porky' taste that is often found in such pork mince dishes, which I do not enjoy, and I found this to be surprisingly fresh in taste. The wrapper was a good thickness and texture, and we agreed that these were a great way to start our meal.
"deep fried salt and pepper tofu with hoisin peanut dipping sauce" ($8)
Up next was the deep fried tofu. The tofu was firm and easy to break into chunks, dunking them into the flavoursome hoisin sauce before dunking into your mouth. I've said before how much I like a good hoisin peanut sauce, and this was no exception. I could drink the stuff. The tofu was fried and drained really well, and had no unpleasant oiliness to speak of. I was a little disappointed with the slightly bland taste and texture of the tofu on its own but I suspect this is because I was comparing it with the silken tofu that I have been eating a bit of lately when dining out.
"spiced green papaya salad with peanuts, cherry tomatoes and sweet, salty pork ribs" ($17.80)
It was hard not to widen our eyes at the sight of the sweet, salty pork ribs with the papaya salad. The friends I was dining with spent a few weeks in Thailand a couple of months ago, and seemingly ate their weight in papaya salad whilst there so they were very curious to see how Kitsch's measured up. One of them remarked that this salad did not seem quite as fresh as the ones they had eaten in Thailand, but the other didn't entirely agree, so we were at a stalemate. I, as an independent adjudicator, found the salad to be quite fresh in taste and texture, and although I found the overall taste a little too 'fishy' for my liking it did not stop me going back for seconds.
The ribs were fantastic. Sweet, salty, porky, delicious. Beautiful chewy morsels that you happily dirtied your hands to pick up and gnaw upon.
"coconut mussel pancake with bean sprouts, green mango and sweet chilli vinegar" ($16.80)
The coconut mussel pancake was declared by two of us to be the standout dish of the bunch. The mix of super fresh flavours was just perfectly balanced, and as my friend put it - you couldn't quite pick out any particular flavour or ingredient in each mouthful, it all worked together so well. The pancake was crisp though not at all overcooked, and had a number of tender mussels. I really enjoyed this dish and hope that it remains on the menu for me to order again next time I am there.
"braised angus beef with black vinegar and hot and sour salad" ($23.80)
I did not try the braised angus beef dish, funnily enough, but it looked beautifully fall-apart-at-the-slightest-touch tender, and by all accounts it was just that.
"stir fry greens with ginger and yellow bean" ($8)
Even the stir fry greens were moreishly delicious, with the light, delicious sauce and beans being a lovely change from the good old standard oyster sauce that I do generally enjoy with greens but was getting a little sick of.
Service was a little confused throughout the night - a couple of times other people's drinks were brought to our table, and we were also given someone else's bill at the end of the night (which we were tempted to pay - it was around $100 cheaper than what ours ended up being) but the rest of the service was both so warm and efficient that we happily overlooked these little slip ups.
Word of mouth must be working well for Kitsch, as it was reasonably busy when we arrived at 6:30pm and steadily got busier until it was pretty much full when we left a couple of hours later. Not bad at all for a place that has only been open for a few weeks and is a bit of a walk up from the busy area of Leederville (it's next door to Re Store for those familiar with this Perth institution). With this popularity, it is probably a good idea to book if you are planning on going for dinner on the weekend, although they only accept reservations for between 5 and 7 pm.
I will definitely be returning. The decor, the vibe, the service, the drinks and above all the food all got big ticks from us. Tuesday nights offer a "pad thai and chang beer $18.80" special which I am quite curious to investigate as a good pad thai is a glorious thing but many poor ones abound. Given the quality of the food we have enjoyed thus far I am hopeful that the kitchen is capable to whipping up the former rather than the latter.
Iain, I liked you before but I really like you now. Well done.
Fish in the cool room greet you on your way to the loo; comic collage
Phone: 08 9242 1229
Bar Open: Tuesday 5 - 10.30pm; Wednesday to Saturday 5 – 12midnight; Sunday 2 – 10pm
Kitsch'n Open: Monday – Cooking School; Tuesday 6 - 10.00pm; Wednesday to Saturday 6 – 11.30pm; Sunday 3 – 9.30pm