The Merrywell has brought dude food to Crown Perth. It’s simultaneously comforting and indulgent: salty verging on over-seasoned, deep-fried and gloriously fatty, more suited to being eaten with fingers than cutlery.
It’s a trendy pub with striking looks, plenty of dark timber and the warm glow of orange lamps. There are beers on tap, a sprawling beer garden and bright fruity cocktails available in 1-litre jars. It’s an appealing watering hole but the style of service at The Merrywell will be irksome to many diners, especially considering the prices. Waiters clear dishes and deliver food, but it’s up to you to line up at the designated area under a neon sign to order and pay for your food, and it’s also up to you to get your drinks at the bar and carry them to your own table. You’ll need someone in your party to remain at the table to ensure you don’t lose it (Malaysians and Singaporeans, someone must “chope” the table!).
On hindsight, we should have gotten the drinks first, then food. The bar was three or four-deep and moved at snail’s pace; so slow, in fact, that the first dish arrived before Jac made it back with our first round of drinks.
Take bite-sized portions of a comfort food classic, coat them in crumbs and deep-fry them. Voila, Mac & Cheese Bites. They’re served with a tangy House HP dip.
The cheese was melted and stretchy but there was more Mac than Cheese, making the bites quite dry and not as gooey or molten hot inside as we’d have hoped. Still, they’re very easy to eat.
The Merrywell Chips are skin-on potatoes, roasted, ‘ripped’ into rough wedges by hand, then deep-fried to dark and crunchy on the outside (still fluffy on the inside), seasoned well and served with bacon aioli. Like the Mac & Cheese Bites, we forgot about forks and dug in with fingers.
This is the taste of pleasure and guilt – crispy bacon chunks in a creamy, paprika-spiced sauce that will make you fret about your diet and joke about the food babies in your belly. Next time I’m at a pub eating potato wedges with sour cream, I know I’ll be secretly pining for bacon aioli.
I’m a big fan of salty-sweet combos – I have raved about Toast’s corn fritters and bacon with maple syrup and The Milkbar by Cafe Ish’s miso caramel milkshake and I’m a proud serial dipper of fries in my McDonald’s hot fudge sundae. But for me, this twist on the soul food classic of fried chicken and waffles didn’t get the salty-sweet balance quite right.
There were four pieces of chicken on the plate. The batter was a fried chicken lovers’ dream – golden-brown, craggy and crunchy – but the heavy glaze of honey, topped with real honeycomb would be heavenly on buttery crumpets, not fried chicken. “But you like Chinese honey chicken,” Jac said quite reasonably. “What’s different about this honey chicken?”
Usually when we eat honey chicken, we’re eating it with savoury items like fried rice. But instead of a savoury accompaniment, the beautifully deep red chocolate waffles were also sweet and dusted with icing sugar, dolloped with lemon cream and drizzled with honey. The honey, gorgeous as it was, touched everything on the plate, and the chicken was dripping with it. After just a few mouthfuls, I found the sweetness overwhelming. It wasn’t savoury-sweet at all; just sweeeeeeet.
Jac ordered the BBQ “JD & Coke” Ribs, Mexican corn on the cob, watermelon (AU$36). The two Flintstonian racks stood tall and proud on the plate, with meat that fell easily off the bones.
Smothered in cheese and spices, the Mexican corn on the cob is a substantial snack on its own. And who needs salad when you can have a wedge of watermelon instead? Again, there’s no need for cutlery.
We were looking forward to trying one of the desserts in a jar, but by the end of our meal, Jac was too full and I felt like I’d already eaten dessert, thanks to the too-sweet chicken and waffles.
The Merrywell doesn’t take bookings. We anticipated and avoided the pain of waiting by eating early. We ordered the Mac & Cheese Bites from the All Day menu before 5pm, then ordered the rest of the meal after 5pm once the menus were switched over to Dinner. It’s not so unusual these days for a restaurant to not take bookings, but The Merrywell makes this even more frustrating by having no one at the door assigned to the crucial role of greeting and managing the arrivals. This “sit where you like” approach becomes an issue during busier times because a good start to your evening is largely reliant on the sensibility and courtesy of your fellow diners… as well as luck. Some like a gamble and Crown Perth is a casino after all, but getting the service right will save diners unnecessary hassle.
By the time we were halfway through our meal, new arrivals were circling and hovering, desperately seeking a free table, shamelessly coveting ours.
Being forced to turn up without a booking and wait for a table is something many Perth diners still object to, and this is the worst way to (not) manage it. I’ll be interested to know if The Merrywell persists and succeeds with this free-form style of seating.
With all the buzz around town about Perth’s hot new dude food pub I had really looked forward to dining at The Merrywell, but it wasn’t quite love at first bite. I’m prepared to give it another go with another early dinner – I don’t have the patience to join the table stalkers at 7pm. It’s clear that a lot’s been invested to bring The Merrywell to Perth; it would be a shame if the seating/service issues are allowed to drag it down.
Great Eastern Highway
Burswood WA 6100
Telephone: (08) 9362 7777
Sunday to Thursday 11.30am to midnight
Friday and Saturday 11.30am to 3am