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German street

If it wasn’t for a group of doctors celebrating a pre-GST last supper (huh?) – we would not have dined at the Mount Street Café.

This fetching little urban neighbourhood café doesn’t open for dinner during the winter months, but on nights when special functions are booked, chef owner Toby Uhlrich throws open the restaurant to others who may want to dine. His reasoning is that, as the kitchen has to serve the function, why not allow the public to use what tables are left and make a little more money along the way.

Toby Uhlrich is something of an institution in Perth. He has cooked and catered and fed the people of this city for nearly 30 years since taking charge of the kitchens at the (then) Parmelia Hotel, now the Parmelia Hilton, in 1972. It’s interesting to see how his cooking has remained relevant and contemporary over three decades.

European-trained chefs of Toby’s generation often find it difficult to adapt classical skills to modern Australian cuisine and end up cooking solid nosh in mining camps while dreaming with nostalgia of coquilles St Jacques (with piped mashed potato garnish), steak au poivre and lobster thermidor.

Toby Uhlrich’s food, while hearty and Eurocentric, is as modern as digital TV. How about lemon pepper chicken open sandwich, Balkan chargrilled cevapcici with rice and relish, pasta arrabiatta or Singapore mee hoon noodles with choy sum and chilli.

Toby loves his offal. In fact he’s famous for it. His devilled kidneys in particular are reputed to be the apotheosis of devilled kidney cooking.

The Mount Street Café breakfast is available pretty much all the time. It is not unheard of for customers to amble in at 4:00pm on a weekend afternoon – presumably after a big night out – and request breakfast.

Eggs benedict, omelettes, congee (a Chinese porridge made on rice and flavoured with fish, but in this case with chicken), poached dried fruits and the requisite kitchen sink style fry-up round out the brekky menu.

The lunch menu changes from time to time. The food is all solid stuff and includes corned beef on rye, German smoked sausage with potato salad, bacon pancake and some salads and lighter dishes.

The food on the evening of the doctors’ ‘last supper’ party was indicative of that which is available during normal trading hours.

The Sicilian bean soup ($8.50) was excellent. I can’t say how Sicilian it was. But it certainly tasted of Italy’s south with strong tomato flavours and a mild chilli finish rounded out with a first rate vegetable stock foundation, firm white beans, a variety of typically Italian vegetables and a well

structured broth. Hearty, but with a light finish.

Toby’s Margaret River smoked salmon ($13.50) is exactly that. Toby’s mate catches the salmon and together they’ve created a smoking technique that is quite remarkable.

It is deeply floral with the sweet tang of an Australian bushfire and a slight acid finish. With no artificial flavourings or colourings, it remains a grayish flesh colour but with lots of gloss and structure. Now for the bad news; Toby has just about run out of his smoked salmon for this season, so you’ll have to be quick or wait until next year. It is served on a maelstrom of salad greens, capers, sliced red onion and thick sliced grain bread.

The fettucini carbonara ($16.50) was pricey for what it was, but the serving was hearty and large. The sauce – a cream and egg mixture tossed with cooked bacon pieces and, in Toby’s version, sliced white mushrooms – managed to be creamy and rich, but neither gluggy, dry or cloying. Seasoning was on the money and the generous scattering of parmesan brought piquancy to the dish.

My steak and kidney pie ($18.00) was a de-constructed, post-modernist pie with strong roots in rural England. The meat ‘filling’ was rich, black and chunky with a large dice of kidneys and steak. It was not over-endowed with gravy but what sauce there was, was rich, thick and intensely seasoned with salt and, I think, Worcestershire sauce.

Presentation was superb. Rather than being plated up in a pie casing, the meat was simply ladled over two large, actually very large, slabs of flaky pastry which had been oven cooked separately before being laid on the plate to complement the meat. Simple, and good looking too.

An apple strudel (you can take the boy out of Germany, but you can’t take Germany out of the boy) was delivered with crisp, just cooked apple in a fine pastry with a somewhat watery custard.

Mount Street food is about as simple and hearty as it gets. There’s no rocket science here, no haute cuisine, but it is cooked with an assured, highly experienced hand (and it shows) and delivered with great confidence.

The woman who served us was knowledgeable about the food, business-like with the service and interested in the customer.

Yes, as you suspected from this description, she was older than eighteen.

Mount Street Café is BYO. Corkage is $1.50 per bottle.

The Mount Street Café is something rare in Perth – a small neighbourhood café in a city context, where one is treated to a passing parade of urban villagers, and where customers can even buy milk, bread or pre-cooked food for a dinner party at home.

Cafés like Mount Street abound in larger, older cities than Perth and create an entire subculture of urban life among the regulars, habitues and blow-ins who create the daily drama.

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