Perth can be a pretty small place. Sure, we’re a population of over two million people – but somehow in certain circles you tend to run into the same people over and over again. Never has a truer sentence represented the hospitality scene for our little slice of the world. And to be honest, since starting my alter ego as a blogger, I’ve met some pretty wonderful people who are immersed in this walk of life. Chefs, bartenders, wait staff or devoted eaters like myself.
So when you see people you know opening up a venue of their own, it’s natural to get giddy with excitement for them. No doubt at all that owning a small business is hard. Excruciatingly so I am 100% sure, but the satisfaction, the drive and the rewards that can be reaped must make it all worthwhile.
Recently my friend Bryony and I dropped by Panda & Co on Bulwer Street, a relatively new opening which includes a guy Andy I know from a lifetime ago. See what I mean about Perth being such a small place?
Location wise it’s not a place that I would normally associate with having a high footfall but it sits conveniently between Northbridge and the Highgate strips.
Inside is a bright and airy cafe with you guessed it, lots of pandas decorating every nook and cranny. A little kitschy perhaps but I have to admit they’re pretty cute (and I may have considered taking one home for my dog Hugo – if only they’d had some for sale!).
While I’ve seen many a photo of Panda & Co’s mocha, I’m not a coffee drinker so I decided to order a lemon handcrafted soda with goslings ginger ($5.00).
Similar presentation and a nice bubbly offering to cut through the richness of our dishes that would follow.
The bao offerings on the menu are simple but have a playful twist to them. You can see that it’s not traditional cooking but rather a fusion approach. So while my family hails from the land of bao (aka Taiwan), I tried to put that at the back of my mind when I tried their offering.
Bryony chose Grandpa’s seven hour pork belly bao ($7.00) while I opted for something a bit more left-field: the soft shell crab bao with sweet chilli mayonnaise ($9.00).
Knowing I was jetting off to Taipei in the coming days to see my grandparents I wanted to steer clear of the pork version. After all, gua bao is something I grew up on and something my mum completely slays. Everyone’s family has a different variation but I hate comparing!
My soft shell crab bao was more expensive than the pork but the filling was about two to three times the size! A whole crab sat between the pillowy soft bao folds, well seasoned and crispy. The sauce was probably not quite as plentiful as I’d have liked but I’m a sauce kinda girl. It also melted easily from the heat of the crab so it dripped down onto my dress (insert sad face – every time I wear my favourite wine coloured Grana dress I spill something on it. Every. Single. Time.).
Both Bryony and I knew that we had to order the reuben’s rolly pollies with panda’s big m sauce ($14.00) after doing some heavy stalking (and heavy breathing) on Instagram. They’re a reuben flavoured spring roll, which sounds pretty damn delicious.
It’s playful and so fun! I thought this was a standout, but it’s also not for the faint of heart. Decadent, oh so rich and just the right amount of crunch. I don’t think in any universe I could tackle this on my own but as a share dish it was delicious. A real standout but proceed with caution.
We only tried a few dishes at Panda & Co but so far, so good! Fusion food often can go too far in one of the other direction so I’d love to see how they continue to push the boundaries and evolve. But as far as what we tried on the day, I liked it.
Watch this space!