Northbridge food tour: Perth's surprising dining hub

In the past, if you walked through the Perth suburb of Northbridge you did so fast, without making eye contact. It was a rough-and-ready precinct of 24-hour pool halls, kebab shops and fisticuffs.

Now, there are people walking through this inner-city neighbourhood in groups, not for safety, but for a shared love of great food and drinks.

"The whole area has been re-invigorated. It used to be a bit seedy but now there is a lot better use of public space and the area is more friendly and more cosmopolitan," says Justin Blackford, tour guide and co-founder of Food Loose Tours. "And, in terms of the eating and drinking scene, the small bars are the big change."

In addition to bringing to mind a young Kevin Bacon dancing in high-waisted jeans, Food Loose takes small groups on specially curated tours of Perth's growing food scene and, when you are in the know, there is plenty of scene to find.

"There is so much good stuff in Northbridge now that we can't fit it all in to one tour," says Justin .

But you have to know where to look. I confess that on the night before our tour, left to my own devices, a colleague and I ended up … in a 24-hour pool hall, and eating kebabs (though no one came to blows). But on my walk around with Justin things improve considerably.

Our first stop is Darlings Supper Club, flagged by a red neon sign on Lake Street. The Asian-fusion bar's interior is red hued as well and we take a long table near the window where Justin orders peppered kangaroo dumplings with a spicy plum sauce, prawn and coriander root dumplings as well as a very spicy laksa.

I fight fire with fire by ordering the Heat of the Moment cocktail, a mix of Cointreau, lime, mango and habanero and Szechuan infused tequila topped off with a salt rim. Ouch, but good ouch.

One of the differences with Food Loose is they treat you more like a mate on a night out than a sheep to be herded from bar to bar. "Our model is that you pay for the food as you go along so it makes you feel like a customer not just someone being dragged around on a tour Obviously you are on a walking tour and it feels like one but we try and make you feel as at home as possible," Justin says.

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And being on a tour has its advantages, when we roll into Sauma, an Indian street food-inspired diner, chef and owner Gurps Bagga sits down for a chat. He talks while we feast on beer-battered onion bhajis and twice-cooked lamb ribs, and wash it down with a tamarind margarita (hold the chilli this time).

It's a warm welcome at No Mafia too, a Southern Italian wine bar whose speciality is the home-made limoncello that sits in a large glass jar on the bar. We are not eating here, which is a nice breather as no one goes home from a Food Loose tour hungry, it seems.

The final food stop is dessert, Superstar Waffles set in a small arcade off William Street. These are doorstop waffles with on-point flavours like Peanut Butter Mousse, Banoffee and S'mores served with pots of cream, fresh banana and whole Oreos.

This particular tour would end here but with a bit of a nudge, Justin agrees to take us to Sneaky Tony's, a bar so hidden that its employees have to pretend it doesn't exist if they are ever asked about it when they take a break in the back lane.

Named after rum runner and racketeer Tony "The Hat" Cornero, who helped found The Strip in Las Vegas, the decor of this password-protected house of rum lends itself perfectly to having a dark 'n' stormy - and it uses Gosling's Black Seal Rum and Gosling's ginger beer, the original combination of this now famous drink.

We settle in under a taxidermied elk head and join our fellow rum fans drinking from jars and shelling peanuts. This is Northbridge but not as you knew it, and that's a good thing for food fans.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

westernaustralia.com

foodloosetours.com.au

GETTING THERE

Qantas (qantas.com) Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair all fly to Perth from the eastern states.

STAYING THERE

The Alex Hotel is a simple-but-savvy boutique hotel from the team behind the Little Creatures Brewery and perfectly located for your walking tour of Northbridge. Doubles start from $255 per night, 50 James Street, Northbridge, Perth; alexhotel.com.au

EATING THERE

These stops on the Food Loose tour will fill up a night in Northbridge. Darlings Supper Club, 47 Lake St, Northbridge, (08) 9328 9883. Sauma, 200 William St, Northbridge; sauma.com.au. No mafia, 189 William St, Northbridge; nomafia.com.au. Superstar Waffles, William Street Arcade, Northbridge; facebook.com/superstarwaffles. Sneaky Tony's facebook.com/sneakytonys/

Paul Chai was a guest of Tourism Western Australia.

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