We weren't really sure what to expect from Public House: a new CBD bar and restaurant, in the heart of the city. The website promised a South American experience with flavours and influences from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and beyond. The name seemed a bit strange but there are not many South American restaurants in Perth, so this was going to be a new experience for us.
The green bottle wall is stunning, and one of many curious decorative touches
We could hear and smell it before we saw it: a DJ sat in the space between the indoor and outdoor areas, his loud music more fitting for a night club than a restaurant, and not sounding remotely South American. The cloud of cigarette smoke that greeted us as we walked in was an unpleasant reminder of the fact that even though smokers are sent outside, they can still hover around open doors and windows.
The menu is large with a variety of options including eight más pequeño or small dishes, eighteen larger compartido or shared plates (or mains) and eight accompañamientos or side dishes. The menu recommends that in the spirit of traditional South American dining, a selection of dishes should be combined and shared with the whole table.
Our group of six chose to each order a main dish, and to share a bunch of sides. Our resident vegetarian, not finding the South American diet particularly friendly to non-meat eaters, was forced to order a few small starter dishes.
My main of smoked lamb, crispy chickpeas and green onion ($35) was exactly that. A huge wodge of lamb, smoky and tender, was easy to pull apart and would easily be shared with a large group. It came on a puddle of what I think was white beans. A few caramelised onions added sweetness and the crispy chickpeas added texture. It was a tasty dish, but there was a lot of it and without a variety of sides to break it up, could quickly become tedious. It would work well as a share dish.
The girls who ordered the crisp skinned barramundi, with ajoblanco and green chilli ($38) were the first two finished. It was light and healthy, with a crisp cucumber salad and the cold ajoblanco soup with almonds, garlic and bread. Despite having a decent portion of fish, they began looking around the table at everyone working their way through a hunk of meat.
The four beef dishes, ranging from a 300g Black Angus skirt steak ($30) to a 1kg whole Black Angus rump ($75) all come served with Peruvian potato salad, lime and chimi churri (the South American version of pesto). They are sliced, so again, easy to share.
Our vegetarian member had the choice of five small dishes and seven side dishes, all designed as share plates. The corn and coriander cakes ($13) came out as three fat, golden crumbed balls on a smattering of fresh salsa. She thought they were pretty good.
Her favourite dish (actually, all our favourite) were the burnt carrots served with thyme and goats curd ($14). Rustic and sweet, they were full of flavour and complemented all our meals regardless of whether we were having steak, lamb or fish. A winner.
We were disappointed with her sweet potato fritters with chilli salt and paprika mayo ($10). Firstly they were nothing like fritters: they were chips. Served in an old-style paper cup on a square of newsprint, they were tasty, but nothing special and certainly not the fritters she had imagined. The accompanying sauce had a real kick, but wasn't to my taste.
The crisp polenta with red chilli jam ($9) was another table favourite. Four fat wedges, crisp on the outside, oozy goodness on the inside were worth fighting over. The chilli jam was so light on it was almost absent, but the polenta was good enough on its own not to need it.
Service at Public House was a bit vague. Friendly but vague: as though knowing how a dish is made is irrelevant, and not understanding why customers were asking specific questions. 'What's free range?' our waiter queried when we asked if they used happy chickens. He didn't seem to be joking. We constantly had to ask for our water to be refilled and it was quite difficult to attract attention over the din of the music. We had to shout because everyone else was shouting. It makes for a good fun night, but not somewhere I would recommend if you wanted a quiet, romantic meal.
The desserts were pretty special, but considering how filling the mains were, they were hardly necessary. The green chilli and chocolate brulee ($14) had a nice burn, although the consistency of the dish was more chocolate yogo and less delicate custard. The accompanying espresso shortbread had enough coffee beans to make the whole table a cup of coffee.
The arroz con leche (rice pudding) ($14) was beautifully presented with a ball of coconut sorbet on top. The desserts are the hardest to share, unless you don't mind double dipping. Who wants to share dessert anyway?
My overriding impression of the room, despite the stunning green bottle wall, and fancy sound dampeners on the roof (which didn't seem to be particularly effective) was that of discomfort.
Everyone seemed a little awkward. In the main dining room, the chairs are a slightly different height to the banquettes meaning people on one side of the table sit higher than the others. Out front in the al fresco area, the choice is either perching on a high metal bar stool, or sitting on a backless, stone bench. There will be no casual slouching here.
Public House is perennially popular with near-by office workers and it is easy to see why. There are regularly changing lunch specials plus pre-performance dinner specials if you plan on watching a show across the road at the Concert Hall.
Not being an expert on South American food, I cannot say whether or not the flavours and variety are particularly authentic. The deer head on the wall seemed pretty authentic though.
If you decide to go, a group of four to six would be perfect, but make sure you follow the advice on the menu and share the main dishes as well as the starters and sides. That way you can try a bit of everything – and you will be glad you did.
I liked the writeup in general,and the photos especially.The comment about the happy chickens ... no thanks,unnecessary. I have not met a chicken yet that volunteered ... and 'free range' is also unnecessary comment. I am not a vegetarian