28/02/2006 - 21:00

Soda puts some fizz into cafe dining by the sparkling sea

28/02/2006 - 21:00

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Ben Andrijasevich stands at the kitchen window in his new cafe, Soda, prepping ingredients for lunch service. Just outside the front door are the Indian Ocean and the relaxed surroundings of North Beach.

Ben Andrijasevich stands at the kitchen window in his new cafe, Soda, prepping ingredients for lunch service. Just outside the front door are the Indian Ocean and the relaxed surroundings of North Beach.

It’s the kind of view every chef in town would give their favourite paring knife for.

Mr Andrijasevich recently left inner-city fine diner Balthazar after six and a half years at the helm and has found a new home at the old Beachcombers cafe, now Soda – a fairly significant sea change.

Facilitated by a solid working relationship with two partners and his wife, Bridget LeGrove, Mr Andrijasevich describes his move as “the natural progression” of his career.

A quick tour of Soda gives the impression of an upmarket, casually elegant beachside cafe, featuring big windows filled with expansive ocean views and an open alfresco floor plan that can seat 100 when the sun is shining, which makes it is about as far removed from Balthazar as you can imagine.

The inner-city fine dining establishment, cherished by the city’s stockbroking and legal elite, set a benchmark for urban modern Australian cuisine in Perth.

Close to the geographical heart of the CBD, Balthazar’s dark, almost moody surroundings make it almost the opposite of Soda’s bright, light, airy ambience.

But there’s more than a touch of the familiar when it comes to Mr Andrijasevich’s food.

It seems appropriate to describe the construction of his menu here, and also to characterise his time at Balthazar and at Leederville’s Duende, where he also served, as ‘smart food’.

Spanish, Italian and French influences have been evident in his menus past, but they all bring a sensitivity to the seasonality of produce and a generous regard the balance between food and wine.

With his new surrounding, a return to the beach brought with it new challenges for the ocean-orientated Mr Andrijasevich, who once served an apprenticeship on Rottnest Island.

“For me, it was important to tie the food in with the surroundings, and what facilitates that is fresh, light and interesting produce,” Mr Andrijasevich says.

“Stepping in and evolving the food style at Balthazar, food had to stand up to a great big shiraz or be drunk with champagne. And at Duende, it was a lot funkier and more casual.

“Here I had to work out how I was going to incorporate flavours and textures into dishes without going down a fine dining road because I’d be missing the point.”

Soda’s menu is polished cafe chic. The easy-to-share entrée list and char-grilled sandwich menu offer casual dining and also, very subtly, pay homage to the hamburger tradition of Beachcombers. The mains list is simple yet inventive and there is not a Thai chicken salad or reheated lasagne in sight.

Among other things, Mr Andrijasevich offers crispy duck with apple glaze, Jamaican pork belly, and salt and pepper calamari with watermelon, chilli and mint.

As for the wine, Soda’s list certainly isn’t as big as Balthazar’s hulking collection, but it could never be.

“It should never be a big-name wine list,” Mr Andrijasevich says. “Just one that is about diversity through the wines.”

And it’s nice to see a cafe in Perth that prints the vintages of its wines on the list.

But with feedback from locals encouraging, Mr Andrijasevich says he feels happy with the way Soda is dealing with a diverse and different market

“It’s not like I’m starting again, it’s another challenge,” he says.

“Even with something new, I don’t lose sight of basic philosophy that has helped me over the years. Perseverance is a big part of finding your direction rather than flipping backwards and forwards.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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