I’d heard that Bill’s Bar and Bites is a popup project designed to last nine months until the Leedy’s eventual complete overhaul. Strangely, the bartender I chatted to had no idea – as far as she knows, Bill’s Bar and Bites is here to stay and I hope (at least for the sake of her job security!) that she’s right.
Having said that, I think Bill’s works much better as proof of concept than it will as a long term venture. It’s essentially aiming to be a small bar in a huge venue and this means it scores some hits, but also some misses.
The refurbishment was done under the eye of Cale Mason (who also worked on El Publico, Ace Pizza and Uncle Joe’s) and the interior by project BLAK. The similarities are immediately obvious in the exposed brick, warm lighting and dark green plants. Which is great! I love that aesthetic. The refurbishment has also done a great job of making a huge space seem pretty cosy whilst keeping plenty of distance between tables. We didn’t feel cramped, and we didn’t feel like we were rolling around in an empty room either. The one area where the refurbishment has fallen through is the noise control – Ace and El Pub also suffer from a serious lack of noise dampening and that problem is ratcheted up to 11 in a space as big as the Leedy. At one point we had the following fantastic exchange:
TBP: I think I could take R’s parents here
Me: I would never take my parents here, it’s way too loud
TBP: WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU
Noise aside, the food was solid, verging on great! My favourite dish was the duck and manchego cigar with green tomato salsa – basically a crisp, cheesy, duck filled spring roll and big enough I felt quite comfortable with the $6 each price tag. I could definitely see myself curling up next to the fire with a pile of these and a glass of red wine – perfect comfort food, not earth shattering but very satisfying.
The pulled pork ($10) was subtle and juicy. I have a weird bias against chilled cooked tomato anything – I fundamentally don’t understand why bloody mary’s don’t come warm – so the chipotle salsa felt like a strange compliment but the flavour worked nicely with the pork, and R and TBP tell me it tied together nicely with the pickled onion.
Everything we ordered arrived impressively, almost scarily, quickly especially considering the size of the kitchen. If the two metres of bar space they’ve wedged out are all they’ve got then it’s really a fantastic effort. Jamon serrano, kipfler potato and piperade aioli ($12) showed what a good product you can make with limited time and resources. Honestly though, I felt I would have preferred $12 worth of Jamon on a plate and a vegetarian potato dish – the piperade aioli was great but the capers already had salty and savoury covered and the Jamon got a bit lost.
TBP and R also tried the chili con carne ($10) and the chocolate marquis ($8), but the last thing I tried was the special, a “Hellfire tagine spiced half chicken” ($22) piled high with fresh parsley and pickled onion. It feels Bill’s Bar and Bites is looking to El Publico and Ace for inspiration on more than just the interior decorating front.
Drinks wise, there’s something for everyone and cocktails are all priced the same at $15 which makes it nice and easy, and fairly reasonable for Perth. R tried the Rogue Juniper Pale Ale (god I miss beer), TBP tried a tangy gin-based cocktail flavoured with creme yvette, and I tried to try the hibiscus-smoked sazerac but unfortunately wound up with a dopey bartender and a regular sazerac. After waiting a really long time to order (so long that TBP worried I was lost and came to find me), I didn’t fancy lining back up for a do-over. Yet the rest of the service was great – the venue manager Dwight was warm and attentive and on our second round of drinks there was virtually no wait at all for the bar and the service was impeccable.
Food is ordered at the bar and that system had its hits and misses too. The tab card was very easy to use and each time you order you’re given a tin containing your cutlery with your dishes penned on the outside, which was a neat way of handling things. It works great for helping waitstaff keep an eye on where you’re up to but becomes irritating as your table gains another tin every time you go and order more food. You could definitely minimize that by ordering everything in one go, but doesn’t that kind of work against the whole casual, snack-as-you-drink-with-friends concept? And while we might have just picked the wrong staff member again we felt they were expecting shorter orders from the way they ducked off the to the till presuming we were done ordering every time we drew breath.
The small portion sizes (and satisfyingly small prices) felt like the food was supposed to be a casual compliment to a longer night where the drinks took centre stage, but the noise levels and the stress of ordering didn’t encourage me to linger – maybe I’m getting old and bitter but if I can’t have a conversation I’m going back home to watch iview. Ultimately, even after a few months, Bill’s Bar and Bites doesn’t seem confident in its identity yet. As a proof of concept it’s lovely and it will be interesting to see where it goes – with more consistent service and a lower noise level I can see this being a great place to go for cocktails and nibbles. For now, though, I can’t see myself rushing back – except for those duck cigars.