A new Perth food offering fired up last month at the well-established Universal Bar, which has revamped its recipe with a barbecue twist.
The “House of Jazz and Blues” has been slinging drinks since 1993, but I was told the plates now reflected a fresh focus on food.
And the slow-cooked US vibe did seem appropriate for the soundtrack and the surroundings, as well as the cocktails served up by the friendly and attentive bar staff.
A “Smokin’ Aces” involved a pyrotechnic presentation courtesy of flaming orange rind, which was extinguished by Johnnie Walker and Dom Benedictine. The results smelled good – slightly spiced, Christmassy – and would please those who like their drinks smooth and sweet.
Universal’s Long Island Iced Tea would satisfy anyone on a booze-per-buck basis, with tequila and Cointreau both in the mix as well as vodka, gin and white rum. I’m told the end product was tasty, though you should probably pack a designated driver or write your address on your hand for the taxi.
In need of some alcohol absorption, we sidled up to some sliders, where the fried chicken stood out thanks to the tenderness of the bird.
Appetites engaged, the table’s collective ears pricked up at the clatter of platters. These sharing boards appeared to be the centrepiece of the new menu, and staff told us much of the meat was slow cooked for up to 24 hours before it was served.
The beef short ribs were unquestionably the highlight; dark sticky meat heavy with flavour. Chicken drumsticks sported a pleasantly distinctive seasoning rub, while the pulled pork – a dish I feel has been done to death – was undeniably moreish.
Crisp fries ably fulfilled their role as sauce scrapers, while barbecued sweetcorn was infused with a pleasing smokiness. But elsewhere amid the mounds of meat, the brisket and fried chicken tenders were unremarkable, while the bacon – an ingredient that’s almost always disappointed me in Perth – was floppy and bland.
As you’ll probably have perceived by this point, non-carnivores might have struggled with the menu we sampled, though I’m told there are vego options available. A slightly under-appreciated side salad did look fresh, and was propped up by a generous scattering of tangy cheese.
I think the barrage of barbecue restaurants and food trucks over the last few years means it’s harder for superficially similar arrivals to really stand out. So, fair play to Universal for committing to cooking up something which fits their existing brand.
I understand the menu makeover also meant a new set of kitchen equipment, which I guess involves some getting used to if we’re talking painstakingly smoked meats. While some of the dishes had room for improvement, others suggested the food is headed in the right direction. It will be interesting to see if this new Northbridge option has people ‘cueing up over the coming months.
Universal Bar (221 William Street, Northbridge) is open 3pm to 1am Wednesday and Thursday; 11.30am to 2am Friday; 4pm to 2am Saturday and 4pm to 12am Sunday.
Disclaimer: foodie cravings was invited as a guest of Universal Bar. See disclosure policy for further details.