In a world where every new wine bar seems to be Italian-ish, French-ish or somewhere in between, Bertie, a new opening in Bassendean, is bucking the trend by drawing inspiration from Britain, from a decidedly modern angle.
You won’t find mushy peas or toad-in-the-hole, the stodgy classics that gave British food a bad name, at neighbourhood wine bar Bertie, the new Bassendean watering hole helmed by bartender James Connolly. Instead, chef Anthony Yuill (formerly of La Madonna Nera and Melbourne’s Vue de Monde) is taking inspiration from the London pubs, bars and restaurants that have forged a new identity for modern British cooking, grounded in technique and tradition. Think simple, elegant renditions of gastro-pub favourites like Welsh rarebit, Scotch eggs and steamed puds. We chat with Yuill about his love of British cuisine, the dishes from his childhood he can’t wait to put on the menu at Bertie, and where he’s planning to eat and drink on his next visit home to London.
Perth has a lot of great wine bars with strong Italian or French influences, so it’s exciting to see that Bertie is bringing something new to the market. Why did you decide to make the menu British-leaning?
One of the reasons I was excited to jump on board was the pitch of British food. When James and I met first, that’s what intrigued me and it sort of fell into my wheelhouse, too. Because like you say, there’s Italian and not much else in that space. So I was immediately like, “Yeah, that’s cool, let’s do it.” And then we started building it out from there and drawing on all of the things I learned from the chefs I grew up with and idolised, and what I see in the little bars and pubs in London.
Do you try to get back home often?
Yeah, so I was born in Croydon and grew up in that kind of South London area. Then I moved to Australia with my family in my early teens. I try to go back at least every two to three years, but obviously with Covid there was a bigger break in between being back. My wife and I went in October last year and we’re planning to go again this October.
You mentioned that you grew up idolising chefs. Is it fair to assume that you’ve always had an interest in food and cooking?
Yeah, absolutely. I started my apprenticeship at 15. I think I was like 14 and a half when I started as a kitchen hand, so it’s been almost 20 years now. So early on I was watching the Great British Menu and all the BBC food shows. I was obsessed with the Great British Menu, I watched that constantly. And then from that, I was idolising chefs like Tom Kerridge, Marcus Wareing and then obviously the big wigs like Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsey. I love Tom Aikens as well and Simon Rogan is one of my favourite chefs.
It sounds like it was really a great way for you to stay connected with your motherland as well.
Yeah, definitely. I didn’t think about it at the time, but as I’ve grown up, and of course with the opening of Bertie, I’ve realised that there is that connection, very much so.
Can you tell me about the London addresses that inspire your cooking and the menu at Bertie?
The last time we went back we stayed in Shoreditch, which is a little bit of a food mecca in terms of having places like Rochelle Canteen and St. John Bread and Wine. We went to an Italian spot called Manteca which has great nose-to-tail cuts of meat and charcuterie. It’s also a really cool space. And I was really taken aback by a restaurant called BiBi. It’s basically fine-dining Indian cuisine. I guess we’ve all had that experience of walking down Brick Lane or into a curry house and just smashing as much as you can fit into your mouth. But to see this in a refined space, and the food being so polished, it really blew my mind. It was really impressive to see the chef’s skills in terms of still having those punchy flavours, but completely balanced and refined. It was definitely one of the highlights of the last trip.
London restaurants St. John and The Harwood Arms have certainly forged an identity for modern British cooking, and you can see you’ve taken inspiration from this in dishes like the Scotch egg and Welsh rarebit. What other classic British dishes do you want to introduce to West Australians?
This week I’m working on a take on coronation chicken. Trying to refine it and make it a polished wine-bar-restaurant dish is the main focus. Blending Indian and English flavours is a big part of the food culture in London and particularly Birmingham. I really like those flavours and think they work really well together, so bringing them to Bertie is one of the things I will try and continue to do, purely because it’s enjoyable.
Then coming into winter, I’m also thinking about doing some northern dishes like Lancashire hotpot, fish pies, steamed puddings and a jam roly-poly. Things like rice puddings that my nan always cooked. Lancashire hotpot is almost like a cross between a shepherd’s pie and a stew: you’ve got a delicious lamb stew with onions and everything else that’s boiled down and topped with sliced potatoes. It’s very simple and very hearty. I love these sorts of nostalgic dishes, and want to refine them a touch and put them on the menu.
I’ve had discussions about doing a Sunday roast. One of the best things you can do is go to a pub in the country and have a Sunday roast. It would be amazing to bring that vibe to Bertie.
I’m loving the sound of the Lancashire hotpot. It’s also great to hear that we’ll see new dishes introduced throughout the year. What dishes, if any, do you want to keep on the menu permanently?
From the opening, the dishes that have hit the most are definitely the Scotch egg and the mushroom parfait. The Welsh rarebit has also become really popular. I don’t want to pigeonhole the menu too much, but I’d say the Scotch egg is the one dish that’s likely to stay on the menu and maybe become a signature.
That’s very good news to hear. It can be tough to find a good Scotch egg. Can you talk me through the cooking process?
The Scotch egg is one of those dishes that’s simple in concept, but to get it done consistently right can be a little difficult. We poach the eggs for about five and a half minutes, then put them straight into iced water and peel them once they’ve cooled down. Then we coat them in a pork and sage mince, double coat them in panko crumbs and deep fry them for about eight minutes. It’s a long process for a small dish, but it’s worth it. We serve them with my take on HP sauce.
Speaking of HP sauce, is there any chance we might see a bacon butty on the menu anytime soon?
I’ve been thinking about that, too. Like a bacon butty or a chip butty, something like that. There’s actually a really cool spot in London called Norman’s cafe and they’re doing retro dishes, but super polished. They’ve done a chip butty and it looks really good.
Bertie has been open for a little while now. How has it been going and what is the focus for the future?
It’s been going good. I think this will be the fifth week since we opened. So we’re still settling in and working through the teething issues that come with any new venue. But the reception has been good so far and people seem to be enjoying it. So that’s always a big win. Now it’s about refining it and building on it.
I guess for me, the first goal is to make sure that the food at Bertie is consistently good. And to make it, as corny as it sounds, a place that Bassendean can be proud of having in the neighbourhood. Like when you look at Wembley that has Mummucc’ and Mount Hawthorn having La Madonna Nera and Casa. So making the neighbourhood proud is an important first goal, and then it’s about just continuing to polish and refine.
I guess I’m gonna continue to pull from some of my favourite places in the UK. There’s obviously such a plethora of amazing wine bars and restaurants, and that’s not even going into the Michelin sphere. There’s lots of inspiration out there.
The drinks menu at Bertie is obviously very strong and equally important. What would you love to see people pairing with the food?
We’ve had a few people just come and sit at the bar, have a pint of ale, order a Scotch egg and have a chat with James or one of the bartenders. There’s been a few occasions where I’ve spotted this, and it’s really nice to see. It’s nice to know you’re creating a space where people feel comfortable coming in by themselves.
I’d love to get some English ales on, and I think James would too. It would be amazing to have ales like Old Speckled Hen, Hobgoblin, or there’s a really cool one I had last time in Yorkshire called Black Sheep Brewery. It’s probably a bit difficult to get at the moment, but there’s some really cool, sparkling wines coming out of Somerset, Devon and those kinds of places.
I’m sure the community is feeling very proud to have had Bertie open. It must be a nice way to connect with the neighbourhood.
I live in Guildford, which is the suburb over from Bassendean. The Bassendean community is pretty local and they’ve definitely embraced what we’ve done so far, which has been good, and there’s been some really good feedback. It’s made me feel a bit more connected to the area, which is nice because this is the closest I’ve worked to home in a very long time. There’s definitely something nice about it.
Bertie, 77 Old Perth Rd, Bassendean; @bertie_bassendean
Interview: Jessica Rigg