It would be so easy to start this article with cheesy old-school puns, but I'm a professional, so will start my review of the North Perth bar The Classroom with a straight-forward list of some of its recent merit awards: 2012 Gold Plate Best Small Bar, 2012 Best Themed Venue, and the 2012 Mixology and Cocktail Menu of the Year.
I'll spell that one out for you: it's very, very good.
The Classroom is one of Perth's new small bars. Despite its North Perth address, it's not located in a trendy strip of cafes and bars, but on the corner of Charles and Outram Streets, next to an adult shop and in the middle of a light industrial area. It's an odd classmate, but its location doesn't stop it from being one of the most popular new bars to spring up in the past year.
There are two reasons for this: the drinks, the food and the fact that it is great fun from the moment you step through the door. Ok, that's three reasons. I was never very good at maths.
We had organised a group booking for our end of year function. We're a group of Year One parents, and I thought it was hilariously ironic that after a year of school drop-offs we were back in The Classroom. I had also wanted to visit but was afraid that as a thirty-something, mother of three I was too daggy to visit on my own. So I found a group of 20 plus thirty and forty-somethings to join me.
I needn't have worried. While there was certainly a decent number of the young-and beautiful and the ultra-cool bar hoppers, there was also a good showing from cliques across the board.
Two young girls sat at an old wooden desk, torturous in its day, now supporting smoking cocktails (literally). An older group reclined in the library on old leather Chesterfield couches, drinking red wine and sharing plates of delicious food. Later in the night an elaborate birthday cake was brought out to much fanfare.
Apart from the main room, with its well-stocked bar, and range of seating options from old school desks to high bar tables (they didn't have those in my school, just saying) there are two smaller rooms which can be hired for private functions.
Through a secret entrance is the library, and with its dark walls and leather couches it's reminiscent of the principal's office. Vintage world maps remind us of a different time and place, moody lighting from old lamps cast a glow of studious seriousness. Nab one of these couches, and you'd never want to leave.
Our group was sent straight to the school yard, which seemed only apt. Although there was a row of canteen style tables along the graffitied wall, we preferred to prop ourselves up at the bar tables. With its own private bar (no cocktail mixing though, you have to go to the main bar) and toilets, we were well taken care of.
You are encouraged to write on the walls (some of them)
Function packages are exceedingly good value. Trust me, I did my homework like the nerd I am. There are a choice of packages, but basically it's as simple as two hours of food for $25 per person, or three hours of food for $35. There are drinks packages as well, but we decided to let people take care of themselves.
The cocktails deserve their place on the honour-roll. They're not cheap, but they are out of the box and decadently delicious. They are also served in a range of unusual receptacles from toby-jug like tankards to jam jars with handles. Where are the martini glasses?
Some of the brews on offer include the Bad Apple, an apple martini that has been sent back to school for improvement. It was delicious: and made with Absolute Elyx vodka, Monin Pomme Verte, cloudy apple juice, fresh lime and the glass rim was dusted with cinnamon sugar ($18).
The Espresso Martini also had a makeover in the school bathrooms and what emerged was this: a hotted up concoction with fresh pressed Darkstar espresso, the unique Classroom Espresso mix, mascarpone sherry foam, shaved chocolate and – in a Heston-like turn – liquid nitrogen which turns this into a truly smokin' attraction ($22).
I'll let you do your own research into the rest of the cocktail menu. It will be the easiest homework you have ever done.
Despite mentions on the website to canteen ladies, the food dished up at the Classroom is no tuck-shop mush served in bain-maries. This is quality, finger-licking food.
A charcuterie board with grilled chorizo, salumi, liverwurst and beetroot and caperberry pickle came with a plate of toasty bread ($18). Yes, that looks like a spelling mistake, but it turns out that the teachers at the Classroom do know how to spell. Salumi is simply Italian cured meat and it covers all the meats including prosciutto, mortadella and – you guessed it – salami. You really do learn something every day.
I was the first to admit that the black, crumbly chorizo looked terrifying, but as they teach you in primary school: never judge a book by its cover. This was the real deal: soft, full of flavour, and absolutely delicious.
A plate of empanadas came out next, with a manchego cheese and hazelnut filling, and an eye-wateringly tart and tasty raspberry vinaigrette topping ($12 for 2).
Soon we were served bamboo steamers crammed with prawn, scallop and chive dumplings. I loved the fact that the soy sauce was served in pipettes ($13 for 4). Never before had high school chemistry been so much fun.
This seems to be typical of the Classroom. The food and drinks may be seriously good, but they don't take themselves too seriously.
All the staff from the guys behind the bar to the people serving the food were smiling and happy to share a joke. I guess it's difficult to be grumpy when there is a netball hoop hanging off the wall, and a collection of old electric pencil-sharpeners on the shelf. The memorabilia on the walls is worth the visit alone.
Small metal buckets of hand cup chips were served up with a mini tub of lime aioli ($8).
The kicker for me were the best chicken wings ever to pass my lips. They came with hot sauce and a blue cheese dressing, but I ate them on their own, back turned to the room so no one could see the juices dripping down my chin and onto my old school tie ($16 for 4).
Often chicken wings are over-cooked, so the meat becomes mummified like a bilton stick. These were soft and moreish. It was difficult to stop at one, so I guess it was lucky that even though the function menu is fixed price, it's not simply a one-piece-per-person affair. There was plenty of food to go around and at the end of the night, there were still leftovers.
Dinky dishes of caramel pork belly served with a melon and bean shoot salad were tasty but difficult to eat with the tiny wooden fork. I had to put my drink down!
Finger food it's not, if the definition of finger food is something you can eat while still clutching a smoking cocktail or elegant sparkling wine. Some of these dishes need two hands and plenty of serviettes, but it is top quality food, and it's interesting. And for the price (we went for the $35 option), more than sufficient quantity as well.
For normal students, the food is designed to share (see here for share food etiquette) and the prices are very reasonable considering the quality. The canteen menu may be less than a quarter the size of the drinks menu but vegetarians and gluten-intolerant are taken care off.
Towards the end of the night, a hush fell when we were presented with dessert. The menu humbly stated rhubarb and lemon curd meringue, but these were so much more. There was a layer of rich lemony curd, nuts, rice bubbles, cubes of jelly, a soft moist meringue and rich wisps of fairy floss on top, all beautifully presented in a martini glass ($13). So that's where the cocktail glasses went.
Unlike my daughter who occasionally says she doesn't want to go to school, there's not much to complain about The Classroom. One small issue was that I felt like I was shouting all night. I'm not sure if the music was a bit loud, or everyone was just so excited to have a night without the kids we were all a bit manic, but this is not a place to expect to have a quiet, D&M with your bestie.
Maybe it was because we were in the school yard. Surely you have to whisper in the library?
The Classroom is open for drinks and food every night except Mondays when it is available for 'private classes'.
This is one instance when I'd certainly be willing to go back to school.