I visited with a group of friends on an extremely hot and busy summer night, as Northbridge pulsed around us in the throes of the Fringe Festival. Once the summer sun finally set, the restaurant plunged into a moody darkness, highlighted by the smiles on our faces by the steady stream of delicious food that arrived on our table.
The menu is divided into sections – seven small plates (graze and gabble), seven mains (devour and delight), four sides (supporting acts), three desserts (indulge) and three cheeses. Heavily inspired by the east, the dishes embrace flavours like harissa, tahini, rose, yoghurt and pistachio.
You can choose to order off the menu, or order the Feed Me menu which promises to share the chef's favourite dishes until you are sated (more on that later).
Always ready for the easy option, we chose the Feed Me Menu. At $59 per person, I considered that it would be good value when the individual dishes average $15 for the grazing plates, $12 for the sides and $30 for the mains (excluding the whole goat shoulder for $68).
The food is exceptional at Bivouac. Not only does it look pretty, but it isn't overly fussy, instead relying on strong flavours and quality ingredients.
Within minutes of our group arriving we had two bowls of green olives, a subtle rose flavouring giving them a sweeter bite than normal. Two bowls of confit beetroot arrived next, one of my favourites, with a sweet orange sherry and maple dressing, thin shards of fennels and walnut tarator, a cooling tahini/yoghurt based sauce. This dish was cool (temperature) and very welcome due to the 39 degree day.
This was quickly followed by two pans of grilled kefalograviera cheese, delightfully salty and squeaky but with a surprising honey hit thanks to a thin layer of thyme and pepper honey underneath.
A secret dish (off menu) of roasted tomato, green pesto and a mozzarella-type cheese followed, then a small bowl of lamb ribs with a date and lemon glaze.
There was a brief pause as we mopped up all the sauces and the dishes were taken away before one of our main dishes arrived, seafood chraime with prawns, mussels, baby octopus in a tomato and saffron broth. Big round fregola gave the dish substance, although I would have loved some bread to mop up the delicious soupy sauce.
We had requested that most of our dishes be vegetarian with only a few meat/seafood dishes, which is what we were given. I am sure other tables ordering the Feed Me menu would have received a greater variety of meat/seafood dishes, and it would also change every night depending on what the kitchen has available and the desires of the table.
Two dishes of glazed heirloom carrots, spiced freekeh, feta and hazelnut had an unexpectedly curry-like flavour and was declared dish of the night by one of my friends. Others voted for 'peaches and cheese', a sweet and decadent version of the best coleslaw ever, with cabbage, puffed buckwheat, peach harissa chutney and fior de latte cheese. It was an absolute winner.
We were also served a yummy dish of charred broccolini with pistachio dukkah.
By now we were loosening out waistbands. This had all arrived within an hour, and at this point, the wait staff asked if we wanted more dishes or were ready to move onto desserts.
This is one of the great features of the Feed Me menu, they keep bringing food until you say 'no more.' It's a difficult thing to say 'no more', as there were plenty of other dishes I would have liked to try, but in reality, we had been eating solidly for an hour and were reaching our limits. We elected to move onto desserts.
The first dish to arrive was cherry and apple cigars. Dusted with cinnamon and sugar and with a scoop of cardamom mascarpone, they needed to picked up with the hands and nibbled cautiously, as they were hot and came the with the very real risk of shooting hot cherry sauce down your shirt. Dipped in the creamy mascarpone they were delicious, although required attention to eat.
Last up came tahini fudge, cubes of innocuous-looking chocolatey goodness, sitting prettily with pistachio crumbs, dried rose petals and mint. I'm not a fan of tahini as it has the tendency to suck all the moisture from your mouth, and these did not disappoint. Best chased with a glass of champagne. The fudge was probably the most divisive dish of the night, and only a small mouthful was enough.
By now we had been served eleven different dishes and we were all very happy and full. Our group take turns choosing a restaurant every 6 weeks or so, and this was unanimously agreed as a favourite.
Interestingly, when I did the sums the next day, the quantity of food we ate was around $100 less than the cost of the Feed Me menu. The restaurant were quick to reply to my feedback, adding it was a rare thing for a group not to eat in excess of the $59pp price tag. They were also quick to make amends in the form of a voucher, which was excellent service, something many Perth restaurants are lacking. However it does probably make sense to do some quick calculations before ordering - and if you're not very hungry, have a limited time to eat, or do not eat meat/seafood, it would be better to order a la carte.
Bivouac is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through to Saturday and can be found at the city end of William Street.