Max Veenhuyzen

Young Guns

2 min read

In this special Perth issue, Max Veenhyzen shares inside knowledge on the top and on the up and coming talent from Western Australia’s flourishing food scene.

No Quiet on the Western Front

Thanks to a new generation of chefs bringing chutzpah and bright ideas to the table, the Perth dining scene feels (and tastes) more diverse than ever. Go west indeed.

To paraphrase a certain Ferris Bueller: the West Australian dining scene moves pretty fast. And if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it – even though that “it” feels like it’s changing from week to week.

One moment it could be a hip British wine bar changing the fortunes of a once passe suburb. The next, all eyes are on a low-key eatery that’s harbouring yet another stowaway from the world of fine dining.

And then there are the enfants terribles eschewing “traditional” restaurant models and running Asian-inspired barbecue pop-ups, taking over bowling club kitchens, and generally revelling in their role as industry disruptors.

In short, when it comes to having options for places to dine and wine, Perth eaters have never had it better.

While the local dining scene had been steadily building momentum over the past decade, COVID seemed to have hit fast-forward on everything. The combination of a (relatively) easy run through the pandemic, cooking talents returning to or migrating west, plus a captive audience hungry to eat (cancelling an entire state’s annual winter migration to Europe for three years running does wonders for a state’s food scene) all conspired to create one heck of a growth spurt and opportunities galore for emerging talent to step up. The city’s new guard didn’t have to be asked twice.

Some took on the challenge of running a kitchen for the first time. Some decided that the time was right to open a dining room of their own or to expand. And some changed tack on career trajectories to pursue pipe (and sandwich and steak and pinsa) dreams. All – or at least all those mentioned here – brought something delicious and unexpected to the table.

Welcome to the 2024 edition of Perth’s young chefs to watch. They’re looking forward to meeting and cooking for you all.

Art Bunraksa (Rym Tarng)

In Thailand, a rym tarng (“next to the road” in Thai) is an open roadside kitchen that feeds and nourishes locals. It’s also the name of a bijou restaurant – yes, it’s next to the road – in suburbia that’s turning heads with its high-definition Thai cookery. Take a bow Art Bunraksa: a Bangkok-born, Perth-raised chef who’s cooked at, among other places, David Thompson’s street food temple Long Chim.

In Bunraksa’s hands, the beef salad is 100 times tastier than the version found at your local Thai takeaway; beef massaman curry is the unctuous, slow-cooked meat of your rice-eating dreams; and chargrilled lamb cutlet finds companionship in a jaew relish made with grilled chilli and tomato. Factor in bubbly, charming service from Bunraksa’s wife Princess and it’s no wonder that competition for one of Rym Tarng’s 16 seats is so fierce.

Blaze Young (Edward & Ida’s)

Housemade sausage rolls. Smoked fish on toast. An Instagram-ready beef and Guinness pie, looking all resplendent with its bone marrow chimney: if the menu at this revivalist Northbridge corner pub didn’t make it clear enough, Blaze Young is just a little in love with the counter meal. Yet cooking like hers feels too polished to be described simply as pub grub.

Instead, here’s an inquisitive go-getter wondering out loud how assured kitchen know-how can help old favourites sparkle anew. The results: beef carpaccio gussied up with a Carpetbag-inspired oyster cream; an all-time fish burger modelled on the Fillet-O-Fish; chicken schnitties (bone-in, quarter-bird) that are golden and juicy in all the appropriate places; and waxy fries jazzed up with curry powder. There’s a reason why these dishes are regarded as classics.

Rose Bass (Corvo)

After cutting her teeth at a local Mexican restaurant, Rose Bass celebrated her 21st birthday by moving to London to further advance her cooking career. The move paid off and led to a stint with Marco Pierre White protégé Phil Howard that included Union, Howard’s (then) Michelin-starred restaurant in the French Alps. Claremont Quarter might be a long way from Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, yet Bass and the owners behind this polished suburban wine bar inject plenty of European style into guests’ day-to-day.

The open hearth features throughout, from toasting the bread that accompanies house meatballs to rendering wagyu rump into a smoky, juicy wonder. Pale pucks of thin-sliced lamb crunched up with crisp ‘taters is another gratifying moment. Go the chef’s menu and Bass will take care of ordering, leaving you free to direct your energies towards navigating the impressive cellar.

Sofika Boulton (Sonny’s)

Sofika Boulton is another member of Perth’s growing fine-dining-chefs-doing-great-things-in-wine-bars fraternity. After ditching her engineering degree to pursue behind the stove, Boulton ended up at Wildflower, COMO The Treasury’s soignee rooftop fine diner where native Australian ingredients rule. Next came helping Le Rebelle owners Liam and Sarah Atkinson open their cocktail bar spin-off Bar Rogue: an ideal primer for taking over the kitchen at this fresh-faced Mount Hawthorn hangout.

Tightly composed, fuss-free plates speak to an instinctive cooking style that combines strawberry tops, white vinegar and shiso to create a cool mignonette for oysters; deploys crème fraiche to make Basque cheesecake extra jiggly and fleet-footed; and trusts fire to bring out the best in fluffy flatbread, and hunky cuts of lamb.

Elliot Sawiris (Nextdoor)

When a neighbourhood butcher shop opens its own restaurant “next door”, eaters will understandably have expectations, certainly when it comes to the calibre of the meat on offer as well as how it’s cooked, at least. Good thing that Gavin Olsen – the second-generation owner of South Perth’s Olsen Butchers – had the good sense to recruit Elliot Sawiris for the family’s ambitious expansion.

A survivor of Perth’s high-volume Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sawiris has the skills to do justice to the top-shelf beef sold at the mothership. While prized Cape Grim ribeyes and assorted cuts of Stone Axe Wagyu (including denver, a fatty part of the chuck) form the cornerstone of the menu, look out for seasonal specials all meticulously grilled over the kitchen’s wood fire hearth.

Chris Caravella (Testun)

Born into a pioneering Italian restaurant family, Chris Caravella’s life as a cook almost feels preordained. Still, that didn’t stop the plucky firebrand from beating his own path to that destiny. After learning the ropes at Fremantle institution Capri Restaurant, Caravella struck out on his own and fled the port city to clock time at other kitchens and broaden his horizons.

Today he’s been adopted by the Trequattrini family and splits his time between neo-trattoria Threecoins & Sons (get the pistachio-encrusted lamb cutlets!) and Testun, a maverick wine bar where Caravella and co-head chef Frank Trequattrini take la vera cucina to unexpected new places. Beef tartare gets a Thai makeover with pickled green mango and chilli oil adding freshness and spice to raw Black Angus fillet. Skewers of rare charcoal-grilled lamb rump amped up with cumin suggest the Italian kitchen has more in common with Uyghur cooks in northwest China than first suspected.

Stev Makhlouta (Deli’s Continental)

In a former life, the founder of this new-school sandwich shop spent his nights as a hard-working pizzaiolo. Helps explain why many eaters regard Deli’s Continental as a key player in best-conti-roll-in-Perth discussions. For the benefit of non-West Australians, the conti roll – slang for the continental roll – is Perth’s famous Italian-Australian sandwich made with cold cuts, Italian pickles and a chewy, jaw-testing white roll.

While Deli’s namesake lives up to its not inconsiderable hype, the rest of the sandwich line-up warrants consideration. Start your exploration with the meatball sub: a masterclass in deliciousness as well as flour physics. Just how does that house-baked roll manage to retain its crispness and structural integrity while shouldering the weight of three all-beef meatballs, sugo, salsa verde and melted provolone?

James Higgs (Lulu La Delizia)

While this lively osteria is widely regarded as one of Australia’s best pasta joints, not-so-well known is the role played by head chef James Higgs in establishing the legend of Lulu’s. After joining the kitchen in 2017, Higgs gradually ascended the ranks and now upholds chef-patron Joel Valvasori’s vision of Northern Italian deliciousness. (Valvasori, meanwhile, has shifted to the role of host and his day-to-day is now more patron than chef.)

While signatures such as plush meatballs, and veal and pork ragu tagliatelle remain essential, Higgs has zero interest in standing still. Check out our man’s orecchiette with prawns sharpened with dried chilli: a recent pasta creation destined for future classic status.