Brothers court the diners

A NOSTALGIC feeling comes over me when I visit the new crop of winehouses around town, because this is where I come from – where my hospitality bent began.

In the early 70s (I was but a wee babe) winehouses were perfect for people needing refuge from the big, characterless pubs of the day.

Despite being severely handicapped with limited licensing restrictions, these small places gave patrons an alternative with personality, a cosy, character-filled place to wine and dine.

History proves beer was king. The pubs genuflected to the hop-brewed emperor and most were reluctant to apply the full extent of their overall licence, the bulk were sans food unless you stayed in-house.

Some still maintained the ugly little rooms known as “Virgin’s Parlours” where women were segregated to drink.

Even bottle departments were underdeveloped, all but ignored and where customer service hardly went beyond the front bar and unsophisticated beer gardens.

Labor MP Herb Graham broke the back of WA’s moribund liquor laws by bringing in the tavern licence and insisting food service be a part of such a licence.

Meanwhile, successful winehouses had a heyday with many switching to the attractive tavern licence.

It seems enlightened liquor laws and an unmistakable swing in wine’s popularity has fostered a new crop of winehouses.

These include the Subiaco Wine Room and the new Grape Skins in Northbridge.

But, who could ignore the long established icon, The Court Winebar – a winebar that sells as much beer as it does wine.

Two of the State’s best hosts, brothers Trayn and Phillip Andonovski, operate this classic and have cleverly surrounded themselves with good staff, most who know their stuff and can provide advice about wine.

My two visits in as many days meant the Court Winebar had to be reviewed.

The first occasion down in the cellar dining room, known to me as Perth’s wine cathedral, was to farewell coffee guru Trevor Beutell. The second was a lunch to taste the latest Coonawarra Leconfield wine releases. It seems more wine companies are choosing this venue for that purpose.

More characters per square metre than a film set inhabit the Court Winebar and this cast appears from a wide spectrum of the city’s professions, factions and political scene.

Physically, the place gushes a great flood of atmosphere from the footpath dining area to the busy bar tended by the incorrigible bar manager Stephan Myer.

Arguably, the best food is served up top, in the form of huge steak sandwiches and snacks. Much of the lager served is imported and locally Carlton seems to outweigh Swan.

Downstairs is a brilliant cellar-room. Wine racks loaded with stock surround the subterranean dining room while the kitchen overlooks this restaurant from above like an aircraft carrier battle station.

The mood encourages you to order a bottle of wine and join in the fun. Maitre d’ Honi Adolfson boasts a fine wine palate and good knowledge of the vintages that surround her workplace. Most importantly, she exhibits a solid sense of humour and a warm smile.

If you are a food presentation perfectionist, I suggest you wear a mask or at least dark glasses. The cuisine down below is home-style Macedonian. Deciphering that culinary message almost requires a full-bodied red wine to begin with.

This is heavy, full-flavoured food where rich wet dishes are the go.

The cuisine champions beef cheek stews, goulash of chunky beef cubes, ox-tail soups and stews so wealthy in flavours they put hairs on your chest.

Mixed grills of offal and sausage and a garlic-laced roast lamb ensure you go home reeking of garlic in addition to the wine. It’s difficult to disguise a full-on meal at the Court Winebar. The evidence is overwhelming.

Vegetables served with these dishes are basic, dollops of potato mash, served here before it became trendy. I had on good authority the grey beans were green before they underwent an intense cooking process. Orange pumpkin chunks were not classy but delicious.

Of course, you will find some lighter dishes.

There is a delicious soup of lemon chicken with small pasta flecks and like all the food it features broad, but refreshing, flavours.

I enjoy the triangular puff pastry parcels called zelnicks that are almost samosa-like and are filled with immature, soft cheese and spinach.

Common with most dishes are roasted capsicums, peppers and chillies. Olives are always served.

I love a scruffy entrée of smoked salmon served in the traditional manner of onion rings, capers and iceberg lettuce, but the presentation was far from artistic.

So there is my portrait of the unique Court Winebar, where the price simply depends on the quality and quantity of wine you drink.

It’s all there from simple vintages to Penfolds Grange (in many vintages). Leave the local gourmet at home, but do go – you deserve the experience.

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