They were waiting for me. I'm hardly ever late, yet I could feel everyone's eyes on me as I slunk into my seat at Amphoras Bar in West Perth. Menus were being tossed around and everyone had a half finished drink in front of them. Was I that late?
I had been under the mistaken impression than Amphoras was one of the new small wine bars popping up in the streets of Perth, but even though there is definitely a strong focus on wine (and wine service to go with it) this is an open and non-intimidating tapas bar. There are no secret nooks, no moose head on the wall, no kitschy decorations. Instead, this is sleek and mirrored and welcoming space.
There are a number of tables al fresco, which catch the breeze that barrels down Hay Street at the end of a long summer day. As the West Perth work day winds to a close, free street parking becomes available, making it an easy destination to access.
The service was as memorable as the food. We had two wait staff on the Friday we visited and they were both friendly and helpful.
Although I occasionally had to ask for my water to be re-filled (why not just leave the bottle on the table?) everything else was no trouble. A dish normally comes with three items, and we needed five? No worries. Need more bread for that fondue? It appeared before we even asked. Bunch of over-stuffed women still feel the need for dessert? Three desserts and six spoons and plates to share, easy done.
There are more than 20 dishes on the tapas menu, with more daily specials appearing on the chalk board. Dishes range from $8 for sourdough with evoo, balsamic and Cyprian black salted butter to $38 for a Cape Naturalist Black Angus fillet and petite king mushroom garden. The vast bulk of the menu are sub $30 and most are in the range of $14-$16.
Vegetarians are well taken care of with the dishes mentioned previously plus roasted field mushrooms, cream sherry and ricotta ($16) or seasonal green specials: we had asparagus with goats curd and pine nuts ($16). The asparagus was perfectly cooked and contrasted nicely with the richness of the other dishes. The mushrooms were surprisingly filling and intense.
We also had to try the Beef Carpaccio, capers, parmesan, truffle oil and panna gratta ($24). I actually found it a tad too oily but still delicious and tender.
A dish of patatas bravas (potatoes with Tabasco), harissa spiced tomato sauce and aioli ($14) was my least favourite. I don't know if it was the potato a tad firm, or the spice a tad strong, but it just didn't compete with some of the other dishes.
The big winner for me was the calamari: that rare, perfect combination of soft and tender meat and crispy, flavoursome crumb. I had three helpings and was secretly pleased that I didn't have to share with the vegetarian and the no-seafood members of the group. Bliss.
The other favourite of the night was the pumpkin and mozzarella arancini (which I did have to share). Who would have thought a root vegetable, some rice and cheese could make such a perfect dish. A definite must-try.
The six of us shared eight dishes and despite being warned not to over-order, we found by the end of the meal we were releasing buttons and leaning back groaning with pleasure. Still, it was pretty clear that we needed to try the desserts regardless of whether or not we were actually hungry.
The donuts and custard, with the apple tarte tartin in the background
After much debate and some name-calling we decided on three desserts to share amongst the six of us. It was a tough decision, but in the end we ordered the bombolini (Italian donuts) with orange anglaise and dark chocolate ganache ($16). There was quite a bite to get into the eight little balls, and the dolls-house sized jug of anglaise was almost laughable.
We were all so polite, dribbling the smallest dot of custard and chocolate on our donuts. The person to eat the last donut cleaned up, literally, getting to drench their ball in the delicious liquids while the rest of us looked on in envy. A more generous serving of anglaise and ganache would definitely save arguments and frustrations in future.
Next was the apple tarte tartin ($16), a favourite of the sisters at the end of the table. It came with a ball of unnervingly green apple flavoured gelato. It was unusual and the icecream was hard to share.
Finally, a chocolate fondant with Turkish delight gelato and Persian floss ($16). My only complaint with this delicious, gooey, rich dessert was that I had to share it with five other people.
I'm not a wine sophisticate so I won't comment on the wine list, suffice to say, the wine, cocktail and beer list is about four times as long as the menu, so there are a lot of choices to be had. I thoroughly enjoyed the Spanish sparkling wine I ordered by the glass ($10).
What I enjoyed even more was that I wasn't made to feel embarrassed by my clear lack of wine knowledge: the waiter was friendly and helpful. Full marks.
I can see why Amphoras is a popular watering hole after work for those who work in West Perth, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't come from further afield to enjoy. The price is reasonable considering the quality of the food and the fact that you get to try so many things. In all, our eight dishes, three desserts, two bottles of wine plus a couple of other drinks cost us $60 a head when the bill was split.