Spending an afternoon wandering round the Café Quarter, it’s easy to see why Perth earned its title of ‘Food Town of the Year’ at the 2018 Scottish Food Awards. The variety and quality of eateries in this area, all wrapped around the beautiful architecture of St. John’s Kirk, plays a big role in what makes the Perth foodie scene so special.
From freshly baked scones to moules mariniere, the perfect flat white to award-winning wines, Perth's Cafe Quarter offers up an array of dishes, drinks and snacks to satisfy every possible foodie whim, from morning through to night.
Quite apart from the oustanding array of menus, you can also choose to enjoy a table in the Cafe Quarter's famed outdoor seating area, where you can partake in a side of people-watching alongwith your breakfast, lunch or evening meal?
And it's not just me who thinks so - we asked Graeme Pallister, Scottish Chef of the Year and owner of the award-winning 63 tay Street, to spend his day off chatting to the owners, staff and people who bring this wonderful area to life.
At the beginning of the Quarter with its glossy exterior, Brown & Blacks gives an air of high quality, which is further confirmed upon stepping inside to its modern, sleek decor. Everything is cooked to order using quality British produce and their menu has everything from hearty homemade soups, to specialities such as sweet chicken chorizo, and a particularly good Gluten Free selection.
They are famously known for their prosecco lunches - a hot favourite with groups of girls getting together and nervous first daters meeting for the first time. Top tip - order their gorgeous seafood platter – you won’t regret it!
Moving through St John's Place, if you’re after some punchy tex-mex flavour, or some outrageously fun cocktails – jam and gin anyone? – Monterey Jack’s is the place to be. Serving up hearty American tex-mex fusion, pizzas, and eye-popping sizzling burgers fresh from the grill, Jack’s has the novelty of being a place you can drink the night before, and enjoy a hearty hangover cure meal the following day!
Next door, a staple of Perth’s foodie scene for 27 years, Willows is a family run restaurant with a strong heart. There’s a casual, relaxed atmosphere, and the reassuring aroma of warm, comforting foods greets you as soon as you step in the door. You’ll always recognise a friendly face here – some of the staff have been here for around ten years - and Michael, who has now taken over the reins of the family business, first ran around the tables as a toddler!
These established favourites sit easily alongside exciting, new choices - opened in April 2017, Hinterland brings a taste of the friendly, carefree vibe of the Australian and New Zealand coffee scene to Perth, Scotland. Their menu is made with an emphasis on making the simple classics, very well.
They are mindful to be inclusive too, with vegans and those with gluten allergies well catered for. Chatting to their knowledgeable barista Emma, I learn that they blend arabica with robusta beans in their blend – in her words, a little bit of the salt with the sweet. So, if sampling an authentic Australasian flat white is high on your bucket list, then you won’t have to go all the way to Perth, Australia to tick it off!
Next on your world tour is Café Tabou. A French gem in the heart of Perth, this hugely popular restaurant is a romantic date spot for locals in the know. Indeed, Café Tabou has a bity of a cult following with many declaring it offer some of the best food they’ve sampled in Scotland. Every six weeks a new menu is prepared, keeping a spirit of creativity at the forefront and allowing diners to expand their palate during every visit.
Along with the international, there’s plenty of Scottish charm residing in the streets of the Café Quarter. The Kirkside - known locally as The Kirkie - dates back to the 1800s, and brings a straightforward, old pub appeal to the area. Everyone knows one another, the staff are lovely, and always down for a good old chat.
As an out of towner, I heard stories of regulars’ grandads who had worked behind the bar and some other less printable tales! Once a month they do live music on a Sunday, making for a chilled out end to a weekend.
Where else but Perth would an Australasian coffee shop exist next to a French eatery; a florist coffee shop just down the road from a quintessentially Scottish karaoke pub?If large portions and gastronomic delicacies make your heart beat faster, Cridos will cater brilliantly to your foodie desires. A steakhouse serving both European and Mediterranean delights, Cridos is the second restaurant from the team behind Broth3rs on George Street.
Highly recommended is their Sunday roast, followed by a slice of their signature ‘Crido’s cheesecake’. Along with their warm, inviting interior is a charming outside seating area, where you can watch the world go by as you enjoy your meal.
Half-a-Tanner is just a short walk up - let me sell this pub to you in two words: Karaoke. Nights. From Wednesday to Sunday singing to your heart’s content is strongly encouraged! A cosy bar with a good-humoured atmosphere, this is the kind of place you’d pop by for a drink and end up staying and chatting all night to all sorts of folk. From the young to the old, this pub attracts all different kinds of people, all with stories to tell.
Next up is The Venue - you’ll never find another place like this, and there’s so much on offer here that it could fill an article alone! A effortlessly cool, bohemian venue, every room you step in is a self-contained place to explore.
Downstairs boasts three specialty areas: a rum, wine and whisky bar - with over 250 whiskies on offer; Perth’s only specialty gin bar - with over 350 different gins; and the newest addition, a prosecco bar set within a super-kitsch garden theme.
Along with drinks you can enjoy quality, local flavours as The Venue is also an a la carte restaurant with excellent food made fresh to order. If you’re anything like me and would be content to socialise into the late hours at a bar instead of a club, you’re in luck – upstairs is their late opening bar which also has a dancefloor where you can easily groove into the wee hours.
The entire venue has a distinctly bohemian, artsy vibe with deliberately mismatched furniture and artworks by local Perth artists adorning the walls. There’s plenty on too throughout the week – from chilled out painting classes enjoyed with a glass of wine in hand, to pub quizzes and live music.
Next door we have another unique offering with Rose House - half florist, half coffee shop, wholly beautiful. There have been many studies showing that being around plants provides you with a general sense of wellbeing, and it’s hard to dispute this - sipping fresh coffee amongst the carefully arranged greenery in-store provides a calming refuge amidst the city streets.
Owner Audrey’s enthusiasm and knowledge of plants is impressive too – this is the place to pop into if you’re looking to take some greenery home for your own surroundings. The interior is elegant but fresh and airy, and the café is pet friendly.
Cocktails, wines, tapas and fresh food from the grill – oh my! Tapavi is a must visit for lovers of fresh, authentic Spanish cuisine. #TeamSmallCity happened to enjoy a top night out in Perth here earlier this year and we can confirm that their tapas blend together in a unique Spanish/Scottish fusion. Offerings on their current Autumn menu such as their goats cheese bon bons with beetroot puree and their croquette of the week are among the enticing options on offer.
Their cocktail menu is enviable too – a stand out is surely their lemon meringue martini with a real mini meringue topping! We all know that wine goes down a treat with tapas and paella, which is why their large wine curation on offer means you can find a divine pairing. With a friendly atmosphere, delicious tapas, and finely selected wines this is definitely a place to check out.
Make sure you try a Sub Rosa brioche bun, made fresh every morning and described as 'so light, it's like eating a cloud'A short walk away is the community oriented hub, Sub Rosa. This independent bakery and coffee lounge which has been a part of Perth’s coffee scene for around four years now boasts homemade baked goods made in small batches, coffees and teas.
And you’ll know that you’re sampling skilfully made goods – owner Alison travelled the U.K, Canada and Australia as a chef and her skill and enthusiasm shines through. Make sure you try one of her brioche buns, made fresh every morning and described by fellow Indie, Linda Byers of Byers & Co, as 'so light, it's like eating a cloud'! A popular choice for morning coffee, the roomy, airy interior is a lovely place to catch up with friends, or just chill out with a nice book.
And at the close of the quarter is Café Biba. A cute little spot, ideal for whether you fancy a fry up breakfast or a lovely light lunch. On rainy days their freshly cooked, homemade soup is a comforting must-have, and they are particularly well known for their fluffy, moreish pancake stacks – a sweet indulgence whatever time of day. On Mondays students enjoy discounted rates, while OAPS enjoy the same on a Wednesday.
And so you see, it's not only the wide array of cafes, bars and restaurants that makes this area so special – it is the unique character of every one. After all, where else but Perth would an Australasian coffee shop exist next to a French eatery; a florist coffee shop just down the road from a quintessentially Scottish karaoke pub?
Sharon Colburn started her business, Arabesque Dancewear, as an 18-year-old just trying to find out what she wanted to do with her life. Thirty years on, she's still going strong.
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