Busselton’s newest pub is a welcome addition to the coastal city’s burgeoning food and drinks landscape

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When an ambitious publican opens a pub and kitchen run by an Avengers-style team of hospitality pros, good things happen.

Roast chicken is a winner.
1 / 4Roast chicken is a winner.Olive Lipscombe
Beef tongue is “life-changing”.
2 / 4Beef tongue is “life-changing”.Olive Lipscombe
Whole squid is roasted to order.
3 / 4Whole squid is roasted to order.Olive Lipscombe
Roast chicken roll is a retro-leaning option for solo diners.
4 / 4Roast chicken roll is a retro-leaning option for solo diners.Olive Lipscombe

14.5/20

Modern Australian$$

Brendan Pratt wants to slip you some tongue. Let him.

The tongue, I should stress, isn’t his, but beef tongue ($23) that’s been brined, slowly poached, then shaved into slices that have the thickness and lush texture of sandwich mortadella.

These beefy ruffles then get threaded onto skewers that are blasted in the kitchen’s rotisserie to char the edges before being finished with a sweet, fermented tomato “XO” sauce. The real genius move? Having the good sense to serve each skewer with a golden scrunchy of flaky roti for all-important mopping purposes.

The tongue is startlingly good (a friend dubbed it “life-changing”), as well as a compelling argument for cooking and eating more offal.

The coastal city’s newest drinks and dining destination is a 500-capacity pub on the site of the old Target department store.
The coastal city’s newest drinks and dining destination is a 500-capacity pub on the site of the old Target department store.Georgia Hanson

It also exemplifies Pratt’s detailed, layered style of cooking: a style of cooking that, during Pratt’s six-year stint at Vasse Felix’s elegant winery restaurant, confirmed his status as one of WA’s most exciting cooking talents.

Now, as the recently appointed culinary director of the Parker Group (The Standard, Fleur, Dandelion), he’s able to share that excitement with more people, even if beef tongue isn’t something you’d expect to order at a 500-person regional pub.

Then again, Busselton Pavilion isn’t your garden-variety regional pub, largely because Parker Group founder John Parker doesn’t do garden-variety anything.

Parker, after all, is the man who opened a late-night lounge at the State Buildings proffering flash cocktails and bougie lobster and caviar toasties (farewell, sweet Halford); threw open the doors to a modern eatery at the art gallery (rest in peace, Arthouse Cafe); and spent $13 million restoring the CBD watering hole the Royal Hotel to its former Gold Rush-era splendour.

In the case of Busselton Pavilion, however, it’s safe to assume that management had zero intention of revisiting the space’s past life as the local Target department store.

Instead, when the doors swung open at Busselton Pavilion in January, guests discovered a breezy, semi-industrial aesthetic that might well have started life as a Pinterest mood board called “fancy douth holiday house”.

The decor matches Busselton’s beachside vibe.
The decor matches Busselton’s beachside vibe.Supplied

Cargo ship signalling flags and racing mainsails bring some salty seadog to the whitewashed space. Vibrant photographs and paintings speak to Busso’s coastal address without resorting to the usual life-by-the-sea clichés.

A similar thinking underpins the menu: a high-low mix of counter meal classics and restaurant dishes du jour that feels utterly pubby without having to offer guests chicken parmigianas and steak sandwiches. (Although let’s be real: a solid pub parmy or steak sanger is one of life’s real dining joys.)

If you had to pick a spirit dish to represent the pub, it’d be hard to go past the deeply seasoned roast chicken. Made with number 15 free-range Lilydale birds anointed with a tomato-based spice rub, these birds represent the bulk of the (French-built, gas-powered) rotisserie’s day-to-day, as well as the workload of head chef Josh de Caen, whose experience at high-volume kitchens such as Wild Hop and the Subiaco Hotel will prove invaluable in future.

In Busselton Pavilion, Parker and Co. are trying to (gently) introduce the town to a pub experience inspired by goings-on in modern-day restaurants and bars rather than (just) nostalgia.

The bird is sold by the half ($36) and whole ($58) and served with a salad of gently dressed cos lettuce canoes sharpened with slivers of shaved Parmesan ($12). A retro-leaning roast chicken roll ($22) ensures solo diners can also play.

Like many menu items, all these chicken-based options come with a heaving side of very good, very crunchy chips ($12; “Edgell supa crunch” for all you fried potato trainspotters) with either a Japanese-y gravy spiked with sake and mirin or – my pick – a loose ranch whose refreshing acidity helps temper all that salt.

Maybe seafood is more your speed? While there’s pan-fried fish of the day (goldband snapper, say) with whey and burnt butter sauce, it’s hard to resist the nostalgic pull of the prawn toast ($18).

Busselton Pavilion’s version is a joy and made with sourdough from local bakers Rise & Co (suppliers of all the pub’s breads) and dramatically encrusted with black and white sesame seeds. The whole squid ($28) is another winner from the rotisserie and sees a well-handled cephalopod roasted to order and dressed with lemon juice along with a chunky XO sauce made using dried seafood and jamon, as per the luxurious ideals of the original Hong Kong condiment.

Also from the department of good times: the dill-spiked marron sanga ($21), a re-energised prawn cocktail served in a chewy potato bun.

Although restaurant reviews focus primarily on food, Busselton Pavilion’s thoughtful drinks offering – a cornerstone of any pub, no? – deserves shouting out. The beer taps are almost exclusively West Australian and independent; group beverage director Elise Godwin has turned in a cocktail list that delights whether you’re drinking full-strength or non-alcoholic versions (that verdant Tijuana Cartel!) while the attached South West Wine Shop is a destination in itself. A combined wine bar and bottle shop (guests can buy any bottle and add a $20 corkage fee to drink it in the pub), it’s home to a thrilling vino selection that smiley shop manager Hayley Ward (ex-Vasse Felix) is all too happy to introduce you to.

For now, the dessert selection is just two items-long, but the kitchen sticks the landing on both. A cube of sticky date pudding ($16) manages to be simultaneously dense and airy. The custardy lushness of a just-set, honey-spiked crème brulee ($16) is played off against its brittle, toffee-like crown. I hope this duo never come off the menu.

Some observations: the food sits at the salty end of the seasoning spectrum, although I accept that’s par-for-course when it comes to pub dining. (“A bit too much umami in that parmy, eh?” isn’t anything I’ve ever overheard while shoehorned into the urinal at the pub).

But like I was saying, Busselton Pavilion isn’t your garden-variety regional pub. If you want schnitties and fish and chips, Busselton already has options for that.

In Busselton Pavilion, Parker and Co. are trying to (gently) introduce the town to a pub experience inspired by goings-on in modern-day restaurants and bars rather than (just) nostalgia. Locals and us visitors are lucky to have it.

I truly hope its arrival gets tongues wagging (and not to mention eating and drinking).

The low-down

Vibe: a modern pub and kitchen bringing cool new ideas to Busselton’s burgeoning food and drink scene

Go-to dish: beef tongue, tomato XO, roti; burnt peppers with ajo blanco

Drinks: A thrilling cross-section of wines, beers and cocktails including – hurrah! – lots of great non-alcoholic options

Cost: about $140 for two, excluding drinks

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Max VeenhuyzenMax Veenhuyzen is a journalist and photographer who has been writing about food, drink and travel for national and international publications for more than 20 years. He reviews restaurants for the Good Food Guide.

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