Beards. Elk. Cutlery dispensed in old recycled tins. Retro light fittings. Kitchen gardens. Couches and fireplaces. Share food. Raw timber. Exposed brick.
Am I taking the mickey? No, not really, because I just love these places. I love the eclectic furnishings. I love the casual chatty staff. I love leaning across the table and trying a range of dishes. I love pointing to the menu and saying 'bring us one of everything'. I love wandering around restaurants and being amused by what I find on the walls. I love the food. There is talent in the kitchen.
There are a lot of deer heads at The Cabin. I presume they're not real...
The Cabin in Mount Hawthorn fits right into the niche of effortlessly cool, on trend small bars popping up all over Perth. Of course, The Cabin has been around for a few years now and was one of the first small bars, so it has well and truly earned it stripes.
Sure, many small bars call themselves unique, but they do all seem to follow a similar theme. Luckily the theme includes creative menus of small plates designed to share with the table, and clever people behind the scenes.
The menu at The Cabin works along the lines of mentioning every single ingredient in a long list with no mention of cooking styles. While you might think this means there are no surprises (and works well for people with food intolerances or dislikes) I find that it usually the opposite: either because I haven't actually read it properly, or because the boring list hides a wealth of imagination and creativity.
We were a group of seven visiting on a Friday evening. We had our drinks (served in absolutely massive wine glasses) when our waitress came back to the table. She explained that there were a couple of large groups expected in the next few minutes and suggested we ordered immediately while the kitchen was quiet, rather than battle it out with dozens of other hungry diners. We decided that we could each just choose one thing from the menu, and the pressure was on.
The vegetarian said there was only one dish on the menu for her and I died a little inside. I try and be careful when picking restaurants that my vegetarian friends aren't treated like second class citizens. She was quick to point out though, that there were actually a few meat-free dishes available (five at my count) but she didn't like some of the ingredients.
Lucky for her though, the grilled haloumi with strawberry salsa, lime, agave and Aleppo pepper flakes ($16.5) was an absolute standout. We carnivores ordered one as well to share, and I could have happily eaten it all to myself. I wouldn't normally think to pair haloumi and strawberry, but the textures worked well together and the pepper gave the salsa a very satisfying kick. Recommended.
When I ordered the brisket croquettes, potato pancake, nectarine chutney and maple ($17.5) a few of my friends screwed up their faces. I can't really blame them, as my only knowledge of brisket comes from being the butt of a joke in Seinfeld. But we ordered two for the table and it ended up being the favourite of the night.
The four croquettes were filled with the shredded beef, crumbed and fried, then they sat on the softest, tastiest potato pancake ever. A generous serve of spicy sweet chutney rounded out the dish, and when I go back I will be ordering a full serve to myself (note: it's not available on the lunch menu).
I wasn't blown away by the panfried little squid, piquello peppers, parsley and piri piri ($18.5). The squid was a tad overcooked, and the sauce essentially a spicy tomato broth. It was the only dish that we didn't finish.
The roast pork, crackle, rhubarb, sweet and sour and heirloom carrots ($27) had enormous potential but fell a bit short. Its hefty price tag was not matched by a hefty serve, and while each of the elements tasted fine, they didn't actually seem to work together. I would have liked to see the rhubarb be the sauce, rather than little chunks dotted around the plate.
Tiger prawns, Wagyu sausage, muhumara, zucchini, peas, fried potato, dessert lime ($22.5) was one of those dishes that didn't make a lasting impression. There was a lot to it, but I can't recall the sausage and I still don't know what muhumara is [note: I just googled it and it is a Middle Eastern nutty dip.] Maybe there was too much going on. Maybe I was still eyeing off the last piece of potato pancake and the prawns just never stood a chance.
Our final dish was green beans, rocket chimmi churri, palm hearts, smashed hazelnuts ($13.5). I found the beans to be a bit tough but I liked the addition of the hazelnuts. I think more veggie dishes need nuts in them.
The Cabin is located upstairs, but there is an external lift for wheelchair access. There are a number of different spaces for dining including two outdoor balconies, high bar tables, the ubiquitous couches and inside low tables.
The west facing balcony has both protection from the sun and the cold. Just as the sun set, the blinds automatically retracted, and even the roof peeled back revealing a perfect Perth summer night sky. The verandah's are nice because of the fresh air, but the wooden benches aren't the most comfortable, and since they have no backs, there's no option for lounging. If you have a sensitive butt, bring a cushion.
Service was friendly and my advice would be to listen if they make suggestions. Especially when it comes to dessert. There are four on the menu and they're pretty full on.
Up first was the Snickers in a Glass ($15). This is one of those desserts when the experts (ie. the wait staff) say "they're very rich, maybe you should consider sharing", you should really listen to them. No one listened (maybe because sharing certain desserts is a bit more icky than a main meal, which you divide first then eat. Sharing desserts out of a glass is a lot more intimate and germ-sharey, with everyone digging around and spoons all knocking together.)
The bottom layer was a rich peanut mousse, topped with a thin nougat layer then a layer of chocolate, drizzled with chopped but and toffee. I had one mouthful and it was delicious, but I think that my personal limit would have been about four mouthfuls. Only one girl managed to finish it and she looked a dubious shade of green afterwards.
My caramelised banana and bourbon pie wasn't really a pie and I couldn't taste any bourbon ($16). It came with salt caramel, coconut ice and candy mascarpone. It was a tasty dessert, bordering on overly sweet but not quite. I'm not sure how the banana was prepared to make it the blackened mash it was presented as, but aesthetics aside, it was a nice dessert, well balanced, and I was very glad I wasn't battling the Snickers.
The Cabin is a tad pricy but if you choose well, the dishes are good value for money. There is an enormous wine list with plenty of options by the glass. They also do cocktails and a big range of beers and ciders. We had seven share dishes between six of us (plus bread and oil) and no one felt remotely full afterwards. A dessert apiece sorted that out quickly and we all rolled out. The bill was just under $60 a head and included at least one drink each.
While nice in summer, I can see how The Cabin comes into its own in winter, with its ski cabin interior and double-sided fireplace. The menu's change regularly, and they offer a number of lunch specials during the week, and now offer brunch on weekends (from 11am).