There was a sense of mourning when Clarences, one of Perth’s original small bars, called time in 2019 after a decade of trade. But with the opening of Clarences Company Store in the same site, albeit with a fresh name and a new owner, the city can now celebrate the reimagining of a classic.
Regulars will appreciate that the layout retains the aesthetic of the original – the upstairs section and outdoor courtyard bringing relief to an otherwise dark and moody space – but there are a few refreshes throughout. The drinks list is one of the biggest beneficiaries, with local spirit-maestro – and former WA Good Food Guide Bartender of the Year – Dean Buchanan (most recently of Ethos) in charge of a cocktail menu that looks to spins on classics, then goes big with a “Fancy Pants” list ranging from around the $40 mark (try the Royal Sazerac) up to $80, where your drink might come garnished with beluga caviar. There are six tap beers (and plenty in the fridge), while wine stays mostly Australian and mostly under $70, with about half the list on by the glass.
New chef Daire Fox is pushing shared plates and emphasising vegetables, with a few protein-heavy dishes tipping the balance back the other way.
Where once Clarences’ traded in cheeseburgers and mac ’n’ cheese, new chef Daire Fox (Varnish on King; The Flour Factory) is pushing shared plates and emphasising vegetables, with a few protein-heavy mains tipping the balance back the other way. Think Brussels sprouts sweetened with honey and given crunch with macadamia nuts, charred octopus with finger lime, or pan-fried peppers with goat’s curd and tobacco onions that are interesting but perhaps a little polarising.
Style can sometimes triumph over good sense, as with the beef tartare, which is difficult to wrangle, but there’s no faulting its flavour – horseradish cream and cured egg yolk bringing kick and richness. A generous piece of schnitzel-like fried chicken with pecorino and beer mustard, meanwhile, sits alongside porchetta and a 700g sirloin as the heavy-hitters.
Clarences Company Store will be a nostalgic experience for many, but it also deserves a new audience. Whether it can balance the old crowd with the new and become as much of a draw as the original? Only time will tell.