It is becoming more accepted for restaurateurs to completely change their restaurant at the same location as they, or their customers, become tired of the current offering. It is not to say that the product in these situations is average, in fact the opposite is often the case.
One example is David Coomer changing Pata Negra to Fuyu for no apparent reason other than he felt like a change. The other recent example is Ace Pizza becoming Highgate Drink and Dine. More or less the same staff, at the same location, doing food that is almost completely different, in a restaurant that even has a different entrance. The fitout has changed enough to be almost unrecognisable, with the wood fired oven still used to full effect, but the kitchen now being hidden by a funky old school wooden bar.
Ace Pizza was initially a place I really enjoyed, but each visit was not as good as the last, until I stopped going after three meals. So it is not unreasonable that a freshen up was undertaken. The only critique of the makeover is the continued very dark lighting which is really just unnecessary. We all like low light but this must be the darkest restaurant I have been to in many years. Anything visual is a struggle, but most importantly, you cannot see the colours in your meal, meaning both the subtle and vibrant identities of each dish are impossible to detect.
Luckily, there is flavour and taste in the dishes that counteracts the loss of visual perception. The Jerusalem artichokes are beautifully roasted with za’atar, and work with the harissa yoghurt. The spiced carrots are just as well roasted, and work perfectly with the cooked-through dates, carrot leaf tops, and seeds, to form a delicious side or a meal in themselves.
The hogget (described as teenage lamb) has been smoked and roasted and is delicious. The belly in particular is the perfect balance of fatty flavour, and tender meat. The loin is still good, but the belly shines. The cabbage is a natural accompaniment, equally comforting as the hogget.
Serves are generous meaning that our reasonable attempt to completely finish the three dishes renders us unable to try dessert. Thanks to the helpful floorstaff we didn’t venture into the potatoes with ricotta and jamon, but I’m sure this dish would have been excellent too.
There are some weaknesses though. The glassware (stemless) is left over from Ace Pizza, and just doesn’t fit the new undertaking. The tables are not adept at sharing several plates, and feel like an afterthought. On the plus side, the wines are reasonably diversified, keeping interest to a broad palate. We try the Garagiste Chardonnay and the Tomfoolery Tempranillo which are both great with the food.
On the whole, Highgate Drink and Dine is a great place to share some quality food. The bar area is bigger than before, but the “Drink” part of the name seems a touch misleading given the venue really is more of a restaurant than a bar. Nonetheless the dining room is one of my favourites in Perth with the broad front windows holding your interest whether you are dining, or just passing-by.