Another long('ish) review, this time a dinner for four at The Precinct, a trendy bar set among Perth's land of the car yard, Victoria Park.
The Precinct 'does not take bookings for small groups', which straight off the bat I don't like as it implicitly says that I could have a booking if only I had a few more friends to bring with me. So immediately my experience with The Precinct is one of 'you're just not quite good enough for us to accommodate you'. Now obviously that's a bit extreme and not what they intend, but it's something I think they should reconsider.
In any event we got in without any hassles and were shown to a table upon arrival.
As a general comment, our meal at the Precinct was very 'fluid' and hard to break into any kind of obvious structure (e.g. starters / mains / desserts etc.). In my view, the structure of a meal can be important, as it allows everyone some loose understanding of where the night is at. Saying it's important is not the same thing as saying it's essential - I'm sure many people can think of great meals where there was nothing more than a loose plan (e.g. 'this place looks good') and plenty of fun times in between walking in and tumbling out - but a restaurant that does away with the standard expectations of what's to come when dining there has added an extra degree of difficulty to its game and needs to make sure it can deliver.
On reflection, I think The Precinct didn't quite get there.
The first thing we ate was some rosemary popcorn and beef jerky. These were quite nice to eat but totally out of place for a Saturday night dinner. They're the equivalent of fancy beer nuts. They were nice, but took forever to finish and were the same taste throughout, which meant at the half-way point you look at them as more of a chore you know you need to get through to be able to see what comes next. I could see them being a great hit while settling in to The Precinct for an afternoon with beers and friends and maybe a sports game on tv - but they have no place on a dinner menu.
To be fair - we did order these dishes, perhaps on recommendation by our waitress but it's not like they were forced on us. I think though that we ordered them out of interest and keen to see how the kitchen might jazz up popcorn and beef jerky to make them into a meal. Turns out: they don't do any of that. The Precinct really will just serve you beef jerky and some popcorn (for $12.50) and hope you enjoy.
In hindsight and something to remember for the future, the plastic wrapping was a dead giveaway - if the meal comes out looking like it has been prepackaged and ready to be used for trail mix in case of emergency - something hasn't gone well.
After we finally got through the beer nuts some other smaller dishes came out. We ordered some bread, some greens and some zucchini fritters. The bread was worth mentioning in that it came out in pre-cut cubes along with a lemoney butter. It was very nice. The greens were a bit boring, although the two vegetarians seemed happy enough with them.
I managed to sneak half a bite of one of the fritters (you see, we gents had meat dishes on the way and it seemed rude to take the little food the vegos had available - but I have a blog to write and it's their fault for being vegetarian!) and they were satisfying, almost lovely when combined with the sauce they came with.
The meat dishes came out separately after we had mostly finished the vego food which, again, makes no sense, as it meant that Mr Macaron and I mostly watched while Madam Rabbit and Ms Pregbot ate, and then Madam Rabbit and Ms Pregbot watched while Mr Macaron and I ate. It was akin to some strange Pride and Prejudice dance where one gender displays itself to the other, and then sits back to watch the other gender reciprocate.
However, weird lack of meal structure aside, god damn these meat dishes were good. I would go so far as to say they may have been the best two 'smaller' dishes I've eaten all year. Both dishes seemed sweet'ish, which is not something I'm usually a fan of with my meats, and they were truly wonderful. The Lamb Rump was combined with some sort of chutney and feta cheese and the taste was amazing. The meatballs were cooked rare in the middle and came out with a sweet salsa. Supoib.
To summarize: These two meat dishes were amazing - visit The Precinct. Order them.
About half way through the meat dishes we mentioned to our waitress that we hadn't yet received the mac'n'cheese we had ordered. Shortly afterwards the waitress came back to say that there had been a bit of a scorching incident in the kitchen, and said there would be a slight delay while they redid another one, and asked whether we still wanted it.. I replied that Ms Pregbot was both vegetarian and pregnant and if the lady didn't get the mac'n'cheese she had wanted since she first set eyes on the menu there might be trouble.. the waitress obliged.
Again, though, this resulted in a very weird meal, where at the very end when they brought us the dessert and cheese menu they also brought us our late macaroni and cheese dish - which was lovely - cheesy, crispy in the right parts, really lovely - but a very weird vibe to end the night on.
Also - what's the expectation there when it comes to complimentary food? In my view, if we have to ask where the meal is, and you come back to us to say there has been a stuff up and there will be a delay and would we still like it - there is enough there for us to expect at least some gesture when it comes to the bill. The fact that you're asking us whether we still want the dish we ordered should be enough to establish that something has gone wrong, and perhaps it would have been a better option to simply bring it out and let us know we won't be charged, rather than apologetically asking whether we still want it (i.e. do we still want to pay for it).
It turns out we did still want to pay for it because pregnancy brain, but still..
We asked our waitress to choose some beers for us and I was mostly happy with what came out. I didn't note them down or take photos though. I must get better and paying attention to drinks when we do these things.
Service was pretty good. The waitress we had was very friendly and walked us through the menu. The only two complaints were that she didn't steer us clear of ordering the jerky / popcorn (for the reasons noted above) and obviously there was a stuff up with the macaroni and cheese. She was very friendly though and nice to speak to.
The amenity of The Precinct is pretty cool and I'm annoyed at myself for not taking some better photos of the place. There is a bar up against one side of the restaurant and with a half-height divider running through the centre. There is a lot of glasses and various bottles (wine and beer both) neatly lined up everywhere. It's an edgy space but not too pretentious - I quite liked it.
The bathrooms were a bit boring, though.
What would I say about The Precinct.. Well, I think overall our meal there was a bit confusing. The meals we ended up with and the order they came out in just didn't make a lot of sense together, and it has me frazzled. I remember leaving that night feeling pretty pleased with the experience, but I wonder now whether that was me still basking in the afterglow of that delicious, delicious meat.
I can't get past the jerky/popcorn starters, and the fact that we were eating our mac'n'cheese once we were already pretty stuffed from other food, and were half thinking about dessert.
In fact, I remember now that in the end we didn't order dessert as I became acutely aware there was a Baskin and Robbins right next door, which does one thing and does it just as you would expect - unlike the Precinct, where things are all a bit out of left field and while some things work (meatballs and lamb rump wowsers) some things simply don't (kale salad, popcorn, jerky). Generally if we leave and plan to get dessert somewhere else, the restaurant hasn't done a good job.
I think I would like to go back, though, and perhaps take a bit more control over what we ordered rather than allowing the waitress to guide us. Also, it should be said they also run set menus which might have been a better option (though set menus are always a risk for vegetarians - so who knows how that would have ended up).
Overall, I think it is probably a good place that we happened to catch on an off night. I'd go back again and I think you should give it a go too.
6.5 delicious balls of meat out of 10
Edit: I wil note also it looks like The Precinct website coincidentally uses the exact same website theme as this blog does. So they clearly have wonderful taste - I'm now doubly sure they just had an off night.