Nothing in Perth screams 'Mining Boom' to me like the Print Hall family of bars and restaurants in Brookfield Plaza. Many people would argue I simply don't spend enough time among the high-vis at the domestic airport, but, to me, it's Print Hall that embodies the transformation Perth has come through in the early parts of this century thanks largely to the expensive red dirt of the Pilbara.
Chances are if you're from Perth you know about Print Hall. Rob Broadfield wants to get married there and it's won every award under the sets-over-the-ocean-sun.
For those not from Perth, Print Hall is built out of a lovely heritage building in the centre of Perth: the old Newspaper House. This is where the West Australian (i.e. a newspaper) was originally printed out of back in the early 20th century, before they moved out to the burbs (and before traditional print-media began its slow, painful death).
Print Hall includes a bar/restaurant within the centre of the bottom floor (with a sprawling bar in the middle, including an Oyster shucking dude to go with your fancy-pants Friday-afternoon bubbles), a second restaurant on the first floor terrace (this is Apple Daily, named after the Hong Kong tabloid magazine of the same name (i.e. another newspaper)) and Bob's Bar at the top, named after Western Australia's famous prime minister, Bob Hawke - a larrikin bloke who made good such that even most of the folk from the other side of his politics would find nice things to say about him.
So with all the background I was quite excited to be able to visit one of Print Hall's restaurants with a party of eight, cashed up and ready to be wowed. Apple Daily does not take bookings, but were easily able to accommodate us into a cozy booth. We were there at about 6.00pm on a Thursday night and had no troubles, though I know there can be a bit of a wait at prime times.
How did Apple Daily do? Well, I think the headline would read something along the lines of,
Given the size of our group we were happy to be led by the waiter, who was happy to choose for us things from the menu and allowed us to sing out if there was something we saw that we were particularly keen to try. I'm a big fan of this method. I generally dislike scouring over menus as I never understand what any of the ingredients or cooking methods really are anyways (... "hmm I simply must try the sous vide because it sounds so delightfully elegant..").
The short version is, the food was wonderful. Truly excellent. We had high expectations going in and they were met and exceeded. Well done, team kitchen.
More detail below:
- The Kingfish was served raw, with a selection of colorful flowers. The menu describes it as Gochujang, picked daikon, sesame but, as I note above, this means nothing to me and it really did look like colorful flowers. The difference between this dish and the colorful flowers served at Bread in Common is that this dish actually tasted good. The fish and the sesame combined extremely well and although there wasn't a great deal there for the price the table was quite happy with the experience.
- The Barramundi Dish was truly wonderful - we ordered a second one after devouring the first. It's described as being 'crispy smoked', and I'm not sure what that is, but it tasted like it had been deep fried in sex. Want more.
- Another favorite of the table was the Saltwater Duck, which came out with a chinese-style bun and some sauce, meaning you take yourself a bun, some duck, dip it in the sauce and make a duck-bun-creation for yourself. A creative challenge akin to ABC favorite Art Attack, but with scrumptious hoisin duck. We ordered a second of these also.
- The last of the standout must order dishes was the Pork Spare Rib Dish. You simply must order this if you ever visit Apple Daily as they were perhaps the best ribs I've ever eaten. They were so well cooked I could eat them with chopsticks and not get sticky fingers all over my phone while trying to take photos of all the other delights that were presented to us. The meat fell away from the bone and gravitated towards my mouth. Do not visit Apple Daily without ordering some wonderful wonderful spare ribs.
- There were many other dishes we ordered, some of which were good, very good, or just ok.
- The Soft Shell Crab dish was quite nice and I had not tried the combination of fried crab with grapefruit before - it worked well. It was also a good sized dish compared to some of the others.
- The Rendang Dish was good also, full of flavour and hearty (i.e. not chewy and cheap) meat - unfortunately I didn't get any photos. Generally I was able to take photos of those dishes that started their journey on my side of the booth, and missed photos of those dishes that started at the other end (as by the time it got to me it was already decimated). This is, again, another problem with tapas style food. However, the food was so good (and by two dishes in the wine was doing its job) that it didn't put a dampener on the evening.
- I didn't try the Wings, unfortunately. Some the group (i.e. Coconut) said they were very nice, whereas others didn't really mention them.
- The Char Kway Teow was also quite good. Flat noodles with seafood in them. Nothing to gush over but a solid meal nonetheless.
- The pineapple rice was a disappointment, and not worth $20. I think Apple Daily is perhaps taking the piss with that one.
- Unfortunately the desserts were all a bit of a letdown. 'The Fried Ice-cream dish was a bit bland, and not easy to share at a table. Once you broke it open the fried batter became something to avoid, which ultimately turned into a fun 'don't touch the lava' challenge - although I doubt that's the intention.
- The Pandan Custard, with 'uby Grapefruit Ice' (no idea what that is - do they blend ice with grapefruit? Are they pouring grapefruit juice into ice cube trays?) was just plain bad. The booth almost unanimously didn't want it, which became awkward when 8 people are trying to share three desserts as there was always one end of the booth that became the loser Pandan end.
- The Crunchy Sticky Rice Dish was nice enough. Not knowing what the crunchy stuff was at the time, I would have bet it was some sort of honeycomb or candied nuts or something. The ice-cream was pleasant and made a nice combination with the rice. It was good, but not great.
- Overall the desserts were a bit of a weird way to end an otherwise delightful meal - the mains were simply so good, we were all a bit surprised when the desserts turned out to be just plain bad. For $14 a piece, it's not good value either.
The waiter plied us with wine and it did the trick. Broadfield regularly rates Print Hall as the wine mecca of all the West, and he knows more about wine than I do so I take his word for it. The wine was good and it didn't run out - that's my summary.
The team all agreed the service was very good. I was perhaps a little bit harsh on the night, thinking he was a bit difficult to summon when we needed something (due to the nature of the exoskeleton booths around the terrace) but no-one else agreed with me. The consensus was he was excellent, very attentive, friendly, funny.
He was even willing to put up with Rosebud's drunken-aggressive argument over some stupid 'love is a social construct' philosophy. He held his own and seemed to enjoy it while the rest of us tried to slink out of our leather seats.
The team at Print Hall have done a wonderful job renovating the building, and placing subtle reminders of its history. I'm in awe of some of the work they've done. Wallpapering the stairwell with old newspapers, stacking newspapers above the booths, even choosing typography on their menus and receipts reminiscent of bold type newspapers.
In some ways I wish Print Hall wasn't so popular so that I could claim the place as my own meditation cave a la Fight Club.
An excellent experience, but still some room for improvement. For one, there were a few misses on the menus, the most obvious being the desserts. They weren't good. Secondly, the prices are steep. I suppose I didn't mind that so much as I knew what to expect going in and had psychologically braced for the impact. This meant that I was expecting that much more from their meals and, for the most part, they delivered. It's hard to say Apple Daily is good value given you can quite easily get a nice meal for probably 60% of the cost (we paid $29 for flat noodles with seafood, for example) but even then, I'm not bitter about what we spent because, hell, it's Print Hall, it's a brilliant building, wonderful service, an impressive menu and a good time.
After our meals, Rosebud, She Who Convenes, the Irish Hawk and I wen't up to Bob's bar and had another bottle of wine on the rooftop. We wouldn't do that unless we had enjoyed our experience. Granted, by that stage we were probably all drunk enough to be speaking like Hawkey, but I do think back to our night at Print Hall fondly and to me that says they did their job.