The shopping strip in Old Perth Road Bassendean has the potential to rival that of the revamped Maylands strip but has been rather run down in recent years with a tad too many real estate and settlement agencies and politician’s offices and not yet enough cafes, restaurants and eclectic shops. However it does have one distinct advantage – the grand old Bassendean hotel as a focus of the area. Opened in the 1930’s it has undergone many a transformation in recent years without ever really hitting the spot. The new owners may just have changed that.
The outside of the pub has been spruced up with a coat of paint and new signage including a logo that is also worn on the staff uniforms. The outside veranda area remains where patrons can sit and sip and watch the passersby, while downstairs, inside, the place has been opened up, lightened and furnished nicely as a lounge and public bar.
However it is upstairs where the changes have really stamped a new direction. After clambering up the staircase we came along an entrance hall which had a small bistro space to the left. This has seating for about three dozen with a bench along one wall and tables set for two, four and one larger table placed throughout the room with comfortable high backed chairs. There is a view through to the kitchen from the bistro so you can if you wish observe your food coming together.
To the right is the standout spot, however – the wine bar. This is simply a lovely area. The beautiful wooden bar and the high benches and stools are evidence of the style the owners wish to exhibit and the wine list complements the overall ambience. The list is not large but has a great selection of wines from WA and Australia, in particular, including some that are not often seen on Perth wine lists, with examples from John Griffiths’ Faber in the Swan Valley; Duke’s from the Porongurups; Castelli from Pemberton; Willow Bridge of the Ferguson Valley; Frogmore Creek from Tasmania; Brown Hill’s winery at Margaret River and Yangarra from McLaren Vale. Sparklings include offerings from Tasmania, France, Italy and New Zealand – perhaps something from WA could be included – I would suggest Mann from the Swan Valley or Brookside from the Bickley Valley would be worthy additions. But a well constructed and thoughtful list, nonetheless.
The hotel also serves a good range of craft beers and ciders – Feral, Nail and Bootleg among them.
There is also a small balcony area which, if the weather had been clement, would have been inviting. A return to sit out watching the sun or the stars under the umbrellas is called for, I think.
As we had arrived a little early, we decided to have a drink in the wine bar before going to our table. A 3 Drops Riesling from the Great Southern was a wonderful expression of a cool climate style; floral aromatics, followed by lovely crisp acid and lime notes on the palate; while a rosé from La Linea in South Australia exhibited tropical fruit nose and a very dry finish. Both were just the thing to spark our appetite. With our wines we given an amuse-bouche consisting of two small squares of Turkish style bread topped with sliced mortadella – a nice gesture but a little lacking in presentation, although it was a tasty morsel. However it does indicate the direction for which the owners are striving.
Moving into the bistro we were seated at a table for two – the tables are well spaced so that you are not close enough to have the next table’s conversations interrupting but close enough to have a good look at your neighbour’s food.
The bistro menu is quite small with only 3 choices of starters and five mains– but there were two blackboard specials and you can also order from the downstairs lounge bar and counter meal menu. We ordered one entrée from the bistro menu and one from the tapas selection from the lounge bar offerings. We chose both of our mains from the bistro menu.
The first entrée – from the bistro menu – was a selection of vegetables cooked in various ways. Observing that three of the four nearest tables also ordered this starter led us to think they may have been repeat customers who had enjoyed the dish before. Anyway, it consisted of a cone of vegetables – broccoli, eggplant, and zucchini – cooked quickly in a light tempura batter. The vegetables were firm, well seasoned and not at all greasy as often can be the case when batter is involved; accompanying them was a small stack of eggplant, tomato and goat’s cheese – well cooked and tender, flavours complementing each other – however it may have benefited visually if the eggplant had some browning or grill marks to enhance it. Finally were small cubes of roasted pumpkin; beautifully browned on the edges and delivering that particular sweetness roasted pumpkin brings. It was a light and satisfying dish.
The second entrée was creamed baccala, the wonderful salted cod. This came as dollops of creamy, well seasoned cod on small squares of polenta which had been fried to give it a crisp and crunchy exterior and a moist, flavoursome interior. A small boat of pickled yellow capsicum completed the dish. Again, it was light and successful offering.
The gnocchi with a lamb ragu was the first of the mains. This came as a large plate of light pasta dumplings, liberally doused in a rich meat sauce made of ground lamb, tomato and herbs. It was a substantial and hearty dish and ticked all of the boxes.
Our second main was a seafood medley – three or four medium sized prawns fried in the shell were well cooked, the crunch of the shell complementing the sweet flesh; two or three baby octopus and a similar number of squid slices were tender and tasty; and a number of nicely cooked small fish fillets rounded out the seafood element. It was served on a green vegetable purée which, unfortunately, lacked in seasoning, to my taste – it could have been so much better with the addition of a little salt and pepper. However, overall the dish showed evidence of sound culinary execution but with some room to improve. Again, it was a substantial serve.
With our meal we enjoyed a Dukes Magpie Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. This was an excellent wine – black fruit and cedary oak elements on the nose, with hints of dark chocolate and silky smooth tannins on the palate, with a long finish; a wine of great elegance and finesse. (I intend to review the range of wines from this great little vineyard soon).
The Bassendean Hotel under the new owners has set sail in a new direction – it retains the friendly, neighbourhood pub downstairs but aspires to more than pub grub in the bistro. From our observation on our first visit it is succeeding. The wine bar in particular is a wonderful addition to the area; the staff are attentive and friendly, the ambience of the hotel very good indeed. It has moved the old place towards its rightful spot as an attractive centre for the Bassendean strip (and throws into stark relief the shameful neglect of another pub icon of the Eastern suburbs, the Guildford – with a little commitment and panache that, too, could become something special). Recommended.