Matt Stone’s reputation precedes him. The star chef at Perth hotspot Greenhouse featured in two Western Australian food and lifestyle magazines that I’d hungrily consumed on route from Sydney. It turned out that his culinary digs – the outside walls of which are an eye-catching vertical garden of small, leafy, terracotta pot plants – was a short walk from my hotel. I skipped the buffet deal included in the price of my room and made a beeline to what sounded like a garden a Eden for breakfast the next morning.
“We had Neil Perry here last week,” a waitress casually informed an office worker to whom she was serving takeaway coffee through a hatch in the wall (an ingenious way for Greenhouse to tap the daily coffee trade without takeaway customers queuing inside). I doubted Perry – famed Sydney chef and food aficionado – had stumbled upon this joint by accident. And they were doing a brisk coffee trade with the on-the-way-to-workers. I took both – as well as Stone’s celebrity status in the local food media – to be good signs.
A squat, square building adorned externally with hundreds of small pot plants and a roof-top veggie garden is a rarity amidst the concrete jungle of office blocks and high-rise towers. Greenhouse’s unique attributes continued inside.
The Greenhouse’s eco-friendly food philosophy is not particularly unique on today’s culinary bandwagon, but the passion with which it is conveyed by the Greenhouse brigade is. From the small, polished, aluminum watering cans from which water is poured into glasses, to the quaint jar of sugar and wooden spoon on each table, and small brown bottles holding native flowers, there is a Little House on the Prairie homeliness and rusticity that is often missing in the cafe-cum-restaurant sector. It is the antithesis of the trucked in, sugar sachet sterility that diners have come to accept.
Greenhouse appeared to be the default breakfast meeting spot for business people. A man in a suit with a mobile phone pinned to his ear gesticulated wildly in the courtyard area.
I ordered the house-made muesli with strawberry, passionfruit and yogurt and immediately berated myself for being boring. Served in a large, silver, hand-scoop it was anything but boring – both to look at or consume. Ample strawberries (slightly under-ripe) were strewn on top and a whole, halved passionfruit waited to be de-pulped.
Packed with various grains, whole almonds and pistachios, flecked with sunflower seeds and curls of toasted coconut, and served with a jar of thick, natural yoghurt, every mouthful was an adventure. House-squeezed orange juice arrived in a brown bottle with a straw.
The tapas dinner menu had the same trademark Greenhouse rustic thrust. I returned that evening, alone again, and was seated quickly despite the venue being packed to the rafters. I had to vacate my table within 45 minutes, so I ploughed into roasted baby carrots slathered with chermoula, served on a wooden board smeared with labne, and a generous handful of coriander leaves and slivered almonds. Like sticks of dynamite they delivered a spice explosion that was pleasantly warming and balanced by the creamy, sour undercurrent of the house-made labne.
Braised beef cheeks in a puddle of polenta were intensely rich and tender and uplifted by a zing of gremolata. The staff generously offered a taste of wine before I settled on a drop. A 2008 Austrian nigl kremser freiheit gruner veltliner was a mellow accompaniment.
This hip little hive of activity lured me back for a third meal in two days – a light dinner the following day. I opted for the chorizo, fried bread and poached egg salad. When it was smashed and sloshed through the salad, the egg became a creamy dressing which tied together a salad of contrasts that comprised liberally oiled sourdough croutons, the sweet, scorched strips of a red capsicum, barbecued chorizo, and generous scattering of parsley.
What i love about Greenhouse is its innovative take on simple dishes, the attention to detail, the off-beat vibe. What i hate is that it’s located in Perth, approximately 4000 kilometres from my doorstep. Fortunately for me, and other Sydney-siders, a temporary Greenhouse cafe has opened at The Rocks, which is entirely appropriate because, frankly, Greenhouse rocks.