Seeking a caffeine hit, a hidden gem or a place to celebrate that makes the grade in the minds of the state’s chefs? Look no further. We asked and they delivered.
Chefs tend to lead a different life to your usual professional, with gruelling shifts and brutally long hours, but when they’re not on the pans, you can count that most of them are seeking some form of comfort or deliciousness in their downtime. We tapped some of WA’s top kitchen talent for the places that they frequent to cool off, fuel up or spend big for a special occasion, plus some of the hidden gems they’ve uncovered along the way. Grab your cutlery of choice and jump in.
Paul Bentley, Casa & Si Paradiso
Back in Perth after years working in New York and Mexico, Paul Bentley now brings his experience and ingenuity to the helm of Casa and Si Paradiso. It’s coincided with the chef discovering new favourites. One thing Bentley loves, especially for a blowout, is pulling up a chair at the bar at James Parker in Northbridge and letting chef Naokazu run the show with the omakase menu. “It’s the best place for sushi in Perth,” he says.
A go-to casual haunt, meanwhile, is Fortune Five in Northbridge, and not just for the dim sum during the day. “It’s great for dinner too,” says Bentley. “I love ordering the lobster noodles, and it’s BYO wine.”
En route to work, Bentley gets his coffee fix at the vaunted Howard’s Groove in the CBD. But if it’s breakfast he’s after, Bentley can’t go past Forklore, tucked away in a quiet corner of West Perth in the City West Centre. “The food is super-consistent,” he says. “My favourite is the tonkatsu congee.”
Harry Peasnell, Peggy’s
After spending many years in Melbourne working at high-end restaurants, Harry Peasnell returned to Perth in 2019 to open a humble little sandwich bar in Fremantle: Peggy’s. If he’s after a big night out, his go-to is Casa in Mount Hawthorn for their constantly evolving menu and wine selection. “Their front-of-house service is always on point,” he says.
For a quick lunch or easy dinner with the family, Peasnall seeks out the xiao long bao and claypot rice at Authentic Bites Dumpling House in Northbridge, while like Bentley, he’s a fan of Howard’s Groove for coffee in the city, highly rating their batch brews and toasted sandwiches.
One place Peasnell considers a little under the radar is Makin Thai in Nedlands, where he’ll order the fried chicken wings, pad krapow and prawn fried rice. “These guys balance food better than anyone,” he says. “And they are BYO too.”
Jess Widmer, Glenarty Road
Jess Widmer, head chef of Glenarty Road (our 2021 winner of Regional Restaurant of the Year), highly recommends Chow’s Table as her favourite venue down south for special occasions. “I love the place so much, my partner and I are getting married there in November,” she says. “Not only is Mal Chow’s food seriously delicious, the wines are great and the front-of-house is always so welcoming.”
Widmer’s favourite casual place, meanwhile, is the Margaret River Brewhouse. “The food, beer and wine is always good, with great specials that change every weekend,” she says. “It’s a beautiful sitting spot for a sunny afternoon, which makes you feel a little lost in the forest even though it’s right in town.”
For coffee and breakfast, Widmer heads to her local Yardbyrd in Witchcliffe. “The menu is simple and the coffee is good,” she says. “It’s a beautiful spot to sit under the walnut tree and lose an hour or two.” Her other go-to? Margaret River Bakery in town.
As for a hidden gem? It’s got to be Normal Van for US-style cooking. “Rob and Jess are smashing out some seriously tasty burgers, fried chicken, sides and desserts,” says Widmer.
Matthew Sartori, ex-Wildflower/Fervor
Although Matthew Sartori stepped away from the kitchen earlier this year to spend more time with his family, he’s been keeping busy lecturing about cookery and creating the occasional event through Capsule. Holding a long-standing fascination with Japanese food and technique, in particular the way the chefs move and organise themselves in their kitchen, it’s no surprise that Japanese is on his radar for his next big night out. “I’ve been dropping the hint to my girlfriend that I would like to go to James Parker for my birthday for the omakase menu with lots of sake, as I have heard so many good things about it,” he says. “Hopefully she’s taken the hint.”
For something more casual, Sartori heads to pint-sized Cosy Del’s in Lathlain. “It serves great Italian-influenced food out of its tiny kitchen, as well as having a great list of wine from all over,” he says.
As for caffeine? “I’ve never really been a breakfast guy”, says Sartori, “but for coffee, my go-to is Modus”. The filter coffee from the Victoria Park store is his pick, made with ethically sourced beans roasted nearby.
Now that he has nights off from cooking, you might find Sartori tucked away at the Hoodburger 848 wine bar in Inglewood. “You don’t hear much about this spot,” he says, “but it has a great cosy vibe and you can order burgers from next door. I always go for the hot tender sandwich and a glass of vouvray.”
Art Bunraksa, Rym Tarng
Art Bunraksa was on the opening team at Long Chim and has spent time on the pans at Post in the State Buildings, as well as Hearth Restaurant. Now he’s just opened his own small Thai place in Bicton, called Rym Tarng.
If it’s a special occasion, Bunraksa is looking forward to going back to Egawa An, a new omakase restaurant in East Perth, to feed his love of Japanese food. “I like the idea of an omakase – the story about ingredients, where they came from and what it is,” he says. “Plus you get to see the chef cooking in front of you, and the service is spot on.”
If it’s casual, Bunraksa looks to Japanese food again, putting the word in for his favourite ramen. “I just can’t find a better one than at Hakata Gensuke in Victoria Park,” he says. “I’ll be there at once a week, or once in two weeks – sometimes twice in one week! My favourite is the ‘God Fire’ ramen, level 4 – I just can’t get enough of it.”
Singular Coffee Northbridge is Bunraksa’s pick for single-origin coffee, meanwhile. “They also have great baked goods and sandwiches too,” he says. But for something a little off-track, Bunraksa talks up M Town, a small café tucked down an alleyway in Victoria Park. “They have really nice desserts,” he says. “We had a croffle there and it was so good.”
Sofika Boulton, Bar Rogue
Sofika Boulton, head chef at Bar Rogue, has one place in mind for her next special occasion: Vasse Felix in the South West. “The food looks next level”, she says. For now, though, she’s often just looking for a place to wind down with a casual bite, such as The Corner Dairy in Doubleview. “The beers are great, the food is great and the vibe is great,” she says.
Boulton admits going to more coffee places than anything else and loves to sit down at Stomp Coffee in North Perth for a good cuppa. If it’s not there, you’ll likely find her scoffing a cinnamon scroll at Peoples Cafeteria in Northbridge.
Then there’s Nao Ramen, one of the first ramen joints in Perth and set to celebrate its 19th anniversary this year. “I’ve been going to Nao Ramen since I was an apprentice, but it never feels as busy as I think it should be,” says Boulton. “It’s my go-to place to sit alone and have a meal, it’s a bit dark and jazzy inside with a super-chill vibe, and it never feels awkward to sit in there alone for ages.”
Rose Bass, Corvo Bar
When Covid-19 hit, Rose Bass returned to Perth after a six-year stint in Europe. She now heads the kitchen at Corvo, a new bar and kitchen in Claremont. With Corvo still in its infancy, Bass doesn’t get down south anywhere as much as she’d like, but the chef is excited about a lunch booked at Vasse Felix in a few Sunday’s time. “We are so lucky to have so many brilliant wineries only a few hours out of Perth, and the drive down in anticipation I’m certain makes the wine and food taste even better,” she says.
Bass could go on for hours about her favourite casual places, mentioning that this is what she missed most about Perth while living overseas, along with its range of cuisines. “I love almost everything on Roll vs Bowl’s menu in Coventry Village, then the modesty of Authentic Family Recipes makes all the food (and a good cup of the tarek) taste even better, and it’s such a wholesome addition to Victoria Park (my childhood suburb!).” In East Perth, Bass and her twin sister are regulars at Maruzzella, where she says the pizza and pasta are “both always consistently delicious.”
Known for surviving on a coffee and a toasted sandwich in the morning, Bass likes to hit the drive-through at Rocketfuel in Nedlands, “they do Toastface Grillah classics”, she says. Otherwise, you’ll find Bass at La Veen for their coffee and three-cheese toastie.
For an everyday staple, Bass cites The Prophet, a little gem that’s been serving Lebanese food in Victoria Park since 2001. “I love everything about it,” she says. “The food is always consistently good, hot and generous. You can tell every nephew/niece/vague relative has done a stint there, and the familiarity of a family-run business is something very special to me.”
“The Prophet is BYO, and if it’s raining and the gate outside is shut, they let you walk through the kitchen behind the stove to get to the outhouse bog,” says Bass. “That’s hospitality at it’s finest in my books.”
Mikihito Nagai, Miki’s Open Kitchen
Japan-born, Margaret River-based chef Mikihito Nagai of Miki’s Open Kitchen seeks out Fervor’s Australian pop-up dining experiences for a special occasion. “Wherever the location you choose, Yoda [the chef] will take you on a journey of indigenous food origins with a totally unique menu,” he says. “The concept is the dream of food lovers.”
For coffee, Nagai spends most mornings at West Coffee at the Margaret River skate park. “The coffee is spot on and they’re lovely people,” he says. Later in the day, you might find Nagai grabbing a casual bite and sinking a pint at Rocky Ridge Brewing in Busselton. “Every time we go it has a new feature, like a playground or an expansion of the drinks offer,” he says. “It’s very pleasing and you are almost guaranteed a seat if you are just passing.”
When Nagai has a chance to get up to Perth, he looks forward to grilling meats Japanese-style at old-school yakiniku spot Sumiya Gin, out at the top end of William Street in Northbridge. “Shio tongue is my favourite, and the endless wagyu is dangerously good,” he says. “It will leave you marbled.”
Natasha Brownfield, Pastry Chef
Natasha Brownfield is a pastry chef cooking in Boorloo. You’ll find her doing the occasional pop-up or putting together limited-edition pastry boxes available to order through her mailing list. Her special occasions are marked by a night out at izakaya Jigoro in the city, with plenty of snacks and beers. But if she’s keeping it low-key and small, Brownfield’s pick is Yu Ren Ma Tou down Washing Lane in Northbridge. “I try to pick out a new dish whenever I go,” she says. “But I can’t go past the eggplant in special sauce, Chongqing noodles and vinegar cabbage every time”. The Cambridge food court is also a favourite place to sit for dumplings after a trip to the beach.
For caffeine? “I like a casual coffee at Get Ya Fix, or Satchmo for a black coffee with a chunk of Nathan’s mum’s babka.” says Brownfield. In the AM, you might also find Brownfield on the beach enjoying a croissant or danish from Harvest Boulangerie in Scarborough. “I think they set the bar for pastries in Perth,” she says.
For weekend breakfast, she’s happy to travel a bit further. “I love a Saturday morning food adventure around the city. It might be a steak sandwich from Churras Butcher, or something from Marcelita’s Empanadas whenever they pop up off Lord Street,” she says. “Also Dank Pizza in Morley is always fun.”
As for hidden gems? Brownfield has a couple of places up her sleeve for when she visits her parents in the northern suburbs. “I like to stop past Kings Eurostyle Bakery for a cheese or potato pita,” she says. “or Wanneroo Markets for a dabeli or vada pav from Aksharam Catering. It’s this bun filled with potato and crispy bits and chutneys for $4.90. I’ve never had anything like it.”