Depending on who you believe, it takes 18, 21, 66 or 254 days for something to become a habit. Regardless of which research you subscribe to, it's safe to assume that in the (nearly) nine years that Lalla Rookh has been open, this inner-city tavern has ingrained itself in the lives of many in Perth. As the CBD slowly returns to business as usual, these loyalists have been returning to Lalla en masse.
They crowd the bar and courtyard, downing tap beers, cocktails and wine while folding up triangles of Margherita and pork belly, 'nduja and kale pizza, likely unaware that the featherweight pizze they inhale are among Perth's finest.
They hide out in the enoteca-style wine bar to lunch on superb house-made pasta (spaghetti with hunks of crab and shellfish butter) and pork cotoletta. And if they're lucky enough to be part of a workplace with liberal attitudes towards drinking during office hours, they'll be leaning on charismatic sommeliers Jeremy Prus and Michael Memeo for their picks from one of the city's finest collections of bottles and glass pours.
But most of all, they fill the new-look dining areas to eat and drink well, either in the intimate lounge, or somewhere in the glam dining room beautified with heavy burgundy curtains. Both spaces verily whisper "this is a restaurant for grown-ups" closely followed by "you should really order the Il Capo", Lalla's six-course chef's menu that's dominated by seasonal, off-menu dishes à la chubby cannoli with snapper mousse, and smoked ice-cream crowning figs soaked in Amaro Montenegro. While the fluid, spontaneous nature of Il Capo makes for an exciting ride, ordering à la carte remains the best way to admire chef Alexandra Haynes's freewheeling, big-flavoured take on cucina Italiana.
She'll char-grill frilly ox tongue that's been brined, slow-cooked, smoked and thinly sliced before being skewered like a beefy accordion. She'll sear kingfish loin in the style of Japanese aburi, then sharpen the two-toned tiles of fish with mustard cream and a spring onion oil. And she'll jazz up chicken pieces with chilli, oregano and sumac to create TFC, Tuscan fried chicken, a bar snack to be reckoned with. All are dishes you'd happily spend an evening playing kiss-chasey with around your table. Together with the menu's pizza, pasta, large plate (smoked bistecca alla Fiorentina) and dessert offerings, you're looking at an all-day carte that ticks the boxes for taste and user-friendliness.
Just as likeable are the staff that make this 500-person space hum. Warm and clued-up, team Lalla has a knack of making every guest feel looked after. And at the end of the day, isn't that all any of us really want?