After 20 years frequenting the bars and clubs of Melbourne, I decided to head to the Wild Wild West that is Perth. Now I run Bar Hop, a bar tour company that brings people together who’ve never met before. Join us for a drink at www.barhop.com.au
I'm chilling out on the mezzanine of Studio Bistro with Tom Porter (Restaurant Manager), Mark Sackville (Venue Manager) and Steve Tippett (Proprietor). We're knocking back the lattes, the sun is shining through the peppermint trees in the native garden, and it's hard to fathom that we're still in the middle of winter. The day before, we had popped in here for some lunch with no expectations and just that come what may attitude that instantly takes you when you arrive "down south". We had some friends arriving later in the day, and with the house we had rented for the weekend boasting an outdoor hot tub and a fireplace, we knew a rather large night was probably on the cards. So, to make sure we were both on our A Game, we had agreed we'd stay off the booze at lunch to avoid that sleepy feeling later in the day.
And then we met Tom … aka The Bastard.
Immediately disarming with his Belfast lint and Irish charm, the chances of me not ordering a glass of shiraz to go with my meal quickly went from reasonably good to a snowball's chance in hell. The look on his face when I explained that it would be tap water that would be complimenting my Char Grilled 210g Cape Grim Grass Fed Scotch Fillet, was as if I'd just told him the world was about to end. Even explaining that my decision was part of a grander plan to party hard well into the wee hours didn't cut the mustard. Eventually I just had to order that shiraz, and as I approached Tom to acknowledge the utter stupidity of my previous decision, I saw that he had been brewing a pot of herbal tea which he was about to bring over to me as a joke. I knew right there that I had to review this place!
Ok, back to the steak, and get ready to salivate. This prime cut is joined by sautéed Kai lan, ginger, Szechuan salted handcut chips, star anise jus, and, after taking Tom up on another of his intuitive recommendations, a side of sautéed green beans with shallots, garlic and a soy dressing. How could you possibly even contemplate drinking water with that?
So enough about my experience for now, and let's get into some background. Studio Bistro will have been in operation for five years in September 2015 and during this time it has secured its spot on the WA culinary leaderboard, cementing its position by taking out the Prix d'Honneur award for Best Licensed Dining Country at the Gold Plate Awards for the three years in a row to 2014, making it now so successful it is ineligible to enter the competition again. To put this award into perspective, the most recent recipient of the metro version of this award was Rockpool.
Previously a State Manager of Liquorland, you could say current owner Steve has had some experience with alcohol, although I'm sure managing the day to day operations of one of the country's largest booze retailers is a far cry from the tranquil setting of rural Yallingup. That being said, Steve would need to draw on all of his operational experience to manage one of the leading eateries in the south west. With Studio Bistro his first foray into the world of hospitality, it could be surmised that Steve has been thrown in at the deep end, which would be true if it were not for the support he receives from the aforementioned Tom and Mark. While Tom hails from the land of Guinness, leprechauns and all things green, Mark comes from the English surfing capital of Newquay, Cornwall, so I'll give you one guess as to why Mark has decided to call Yallingup home!
Now I've eaten in my fair share of fine dining establishments over the years, and really, about the only difference I can see between Studio Bistro and a fine dining venue is the lack of white tablecloths at the former, because if you're classifying a venue based on the quality of the ingredients, what it does to your tastebuds, and the ambience of the surroundings, then this is fine dining all the way baby! With his Malaysian heritage and Melbourne upbringing, Head Chef Malcolm Chow completed his apprenticeship at the accolade-amassing Melbourne icon Vue de Monde, and held an additional residency at leading Sydney establishment Tetsuya's. With some of the other members of his team hailing from other far-flung places such as Brazil and the UK, Malcom's Asian-influenced contemporary Australian menu is sure to provide you with that fantastic culinary dilemma … just which dish should you choose?
There was an amazing sounding barramundi fish of the day dish that was vying for my selection on the day we visited, and the Arkady lamb belly with sweetbreads, chickpea, brussel sprouts and corn was also playing with my mind. The Asian influence is also apparent in the twice-cooked Malaysian duck curry accompanied by potatoes, eggplant pickle and jasmine rice, and in the spiced Xinjiang carrots with roasted cauliflower and chickpea salad. With the duck curry the rice and the duck are kept separate while the sauce and potato are remain at the bottom which keeps the duck delectably moist inside, and if your palate is geared for warmer flavours, then topping it off with some pickle is highly recommended.
Another option for those who prefer the spicier side of life, but this time in the drinks department is a Studio Bistro favourite, the Chilli Margarita. With house infused chilli tequila, Cointreau, lime and gomme, this one is sure to clear the airways!
Now of course we can't review a restaurant from WA's South West without mentioning the wines on offer. Unlike a number of venues in the area that only offer wines from their own vineyard, as a gallery / restaurant as opposed to a winery / restaurant, Studio Bistro is brand agnostic. This means you'll find a selection of some of the best the region has to offer, plus some options from interstate and overseas, and with more than 250 bottles on the list, I'm quite sure you'll find something that suits. Another big Studio Bistro plus for me as a Scotch fan, is that again, unlike many of the similar class of venues in this area, Studio Bistro offers a range of spirits and beers to compliment it's selection of wines.
Although Studio Bistro is one business, it does, as its name suggests, have two distinct identities, and the studio here is worth a visit all by itself. On the weekend we visited, the gallery boasted original artworks from 26 high profile Australian artists, including 12 from WA. Getting up close with some of the pieces revealed works by established names such as Di Taylor, Mel Brigg and Archibald winner Peter Clifton Kendall.
If I were to leave you with a tip regarding Studio Bistro it would be to make sure you head over to the events page of their website and avail yourself of the upcoming sensory delights that the guys have in store. With monthly degustation events featuring a single winery for each event, it might be an idea to plan your next trip down south around the Studio Bistro degustation event calendar. Of particular note is their participation in the annual Jazz By The Bay event, which this year featured an appearance by the critically acclaimed Charmaine Clements Trio.
So next time you're heading down south, as well as making a date with a winery or two, do yourself a favour and set aside some time at this perfect amalgamation of art, food, drinks and zen.