The head of WA’s best restaurant says the state’s poor showing on national top eatery lists were a result of isolation rather than bad food, but the scene still had to work hard to get a bit of “soul” back.
At number 63, Subiaco pasteria Lulu La Delizia was the highest-rated WA restaurant in the Australian Financial Review’s top 100 Australian restaurants list announced this month.
There were only three other WA restaurants in the peer-reviewed list but Lulu La Delizia head chef Joel Valvasori-Pereza said it was because fewer Australian chefs visited WA.
“Being from Western Australia we’ve got less opportunity for people to vote for us because, quite simply, fewer chefs from around the country that are eligible to vote have eaten in our restaurants,” he said.
“I never believe we’re going to get any higher than 60, we came close this year, but that came on the back of good national recognition.”
It’s no secret the WA restaurant scene, like many other industries, has struggled in the resources downturn, and high-profile closures such as Ku De Ta’s raise questions over the viability of the industry and comparisons to the east coast.
Mr Valvasori-Pereza worked 10 years as a chef in Melbourne and said from his perspective his restaurant’s food absolutely stood up to east coast offerings; and there were plenty of talented WA chefs and restaurants doing the same.
However, he said WA restaurants needed to stop trying to please everybody.
“We have certain aspects that connect with people and I think that’s what WA restaurants need to look at more,” he said.
“I think more people just need to focus a little bit more on their particular offering, don’t try and be everything to everyone because that dilutes what you’re doing as a business.
“You’ll just end up bending and bending and bending until there’s no real soul to what you’re doing.
“We make handmade pasta, that’s what we do, we have a few complementary things to go with it, but what we’re really here to do is make pasta.
“The guys I know who cook really bloody well, I encourage them to back themselves in what they’re doing and have some beliefs in their own product. That stuff comes through to the customer and that creates better restaurants.”
Mr Valvasori-Pereza said the scene was changing for the better.
“I think we’ve been through that whole big restaurants opening with no conviction over the last sort of eight years,” he said.
“Those days are hopefully past us and people will start to see what we’re doing here with our small little place and look to open restaurants with soul that allow chefs to work to their strengths and beliefs.
“I’m positive we have a good five to 10 chefs that we will see a lot more of in the next five years.”
Perth restaurant stalwart Russell Blaikie is chef and partner at Beaufort Street dining institution Must Winebar and agreed with Mr Valvasori-Pereza that east coast chefs didn’t experience the WA food scene enough.
Must didn’t make the top 100, but did made the top 500 list.
Mr Blaikie said he didn’t have an issue with not being in the top 100.
“It is voted by your peers so the population of chefs is going to be heavily weighted to the east coast, that’s just the way it is,” he said.
He said WA had plenty to be proud of about its restaurant and food scene despite the often negative media.
“We’re possibly dwelling a little too long on what’s failing rather than what’s good,” he said.
“I think we have what’s becoming a highly developed restaurant culture and bar culture. We’ve grown out of what I would call the cringe period of 10 to 15 years ago.
“I’m proud to be a restaurateur in WA and I really think there’s some great stuff happening in WA. I’m not just saying that to beat-up WA, I’m saying it because it’s true.
“Go into the city, go to the Como Hotel, the food offerings there are world-class.
“Go down south. I’m a surfer, I can go surf some of the best waves on the planet in the Margaret River region and get in a car and drive 10 minutes and I’m eating in one of the best winery restaurants in Australia, and you have a bunch of them to choose from.
“There is vibrancy in the scene and I look to the light, I don’t always look into the shadow.”
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