Food in bars. Typically (and by typically, we mean, back in the good/bad old days) bar food was pub food and that was usually a grey, gristly burger pattie on a supermarket bread roll with wilted iceberg or, the ubiquitous meat pie and sauce… served on a plate with a knife and fork in the posher country pubs.
In 2018, bar food, particularly in Western Australia, represents some of the best, most inventive food you will find anywhere. Bars like Varnish on King and Pleased to Meet You pioneered a serious approach to bar food with creative and sexy dishes elevating the mere bar experience to a culinary experience.
In one sense, bars are lucky in this respect. Unlike restaurants, they are largely unconstrained by expectations or tradition and can experiment wildly at the “Dude Food” end of the culinary spectrum. Varnish on Kings beef tendon crisps are a delicious case in point.
This year’s winner of The West Australian Good Food Guide Best Bar Dining award, Tiny’s at QV1 in the city, has also embraced the notion that a bar can and should spend money and resources on a smashing food program.
“I grew up working in bars and I always found that early in the week it was always hard to get punters in. I discovered along the way that by having a good food program, you could get punters in all week. It made a difference,” Tiny’s co-owner Paul Aron said.
“There’s also been a shift in the way people go out these days,” Aron said “People want to be entertained and food is a part of the entertainment. Chefs cooking, flames flaming, bar staff shaking cocktails, there’s theatre everywhere you look at Tiny’s and I think it makes for a pretty exciting night out.”
In terms of Tiny’s menu, Aron says there are some guiding principles in everything they do.
“Fun, fast and good value is pretty much our philosophy, but not at the expense of quality.”
Which is certainly the case with Tiny’s hugely popular rotisserie chicken, a dish, loved by critics, punters and Insta-geeks alike. It’s a return to the “golden age” of chook cookery when every service station has a rotisserie in the corner, turning out tasty chickens. For Aron his love of rotisserie chicken was also forged overseas.
“Everyone loves roast chicken and we just really like the idea of cooking with flames too. Some of my most memorable dining experiences were in Spain buying roast chickens off the street and in Mozambique where we found a massive 15m long rotisserie, serving hot chickens with peri-peri sauce,” Aron said.
“Mind you, it’s not as simple as it sounds. We spend a lot of time and energy prepping our chickens… we brine them to make the flesh sweet and moist and full of aromatics.”
So, what is the Good Food Guide Award winner’s secret?
“I think it’s the vibe,” Aron says, sounding for all the world like Australia’s most famous suburban lawyer, Dennis Denuto (The Castle).
“No, no seriously, it is the vibe,” Aron laughs. “We often talk about the vibe here and whether or not we’re adhering to our idea of it. It’s important. All the best bars that have great food, and are popular, have a ‘vibe’ which makes them work.”