Is it a bar? Is it a nightclub? Is it a restaurant? Despite being open for two years, Si Paradiso – picture a European-style beach club, only minus the beach – continues to defy pigeonholing.
The thirsty flock here for sharp cocktails, local beers and lo-fi wines while partygoers come to disco and sway to live nu-jazz. Others, meanwhile, drop in to eat, either in the courtyard – washed aggregate, amphitheatre and all – or in the smart-casual dining room, a vision of 1960s Italo-cool starring parquetry floors, laminate tabletops and timber panelling.
Initially, the food was limited to puffy pizze, antipasti, tinned fish and other aperitivo staples: not especially groundbreaking, but it suited Si Paradiso's Italianate ambitions as well as a clientele that, truth be told, spent longer with the drinks list than the menu. Following the arrival of chef Paul Bentley, guests might want to rethink their priorities.
You can tell a lot about a cook by the way she or he serves raw meat. Using pickled red onion and ginger oil to sharpen kingfish in the Si Paradiso crudo? Clever. But the real power move is kombu-curing the fish to season and firm up its flesh. Bentley frequently references Japan with pleasing results, from teaming barbecued octopus with a zesty chilli and blood orange paste – an analogue of Japan's yuzukosho – to lifting flash-grilled squid with a punchy salsa of seaweed, capers and shallots.
The chef is equally open-minded working with turf as he is surf. Fish sauce gets slipped into the tonnato used to dress raw beef. A cucumber juice vinaigrette brings creamy local burrata and pickled green tomatoes together. Nutritional yeast renders schmaltz-roasted pink mushrooms extra-meaty. The globalisation of cucina Italiana continues apace – to a point.
Purists have little to complain about when it comes to the featherweight Naples-style pizze. Slow of ferment, puffy of lip – the cornicione to diehards – and sparse of topping, the pies remain among Perth's finest. Size-wise, they're more meal-for-one and less edible table centrepiece but still have their place in a communal setting: recast the pizza as an elevated bread course, split one between two or three, then continue charging through the menu.
As European as it might be to dine alfresco in the courtyard, dinner is best taken in the dining room. The menu indoors is longer, the volume is softer, and floor staff have the time to focus on guests rather than look for a silver table number holder in a '90s streetwear haystack. (That's not to say the service in the courtyard is wanting: far from it. The crew here is uniformly friendly, even the bouncers).
Si Paradiso, while well-versed in the art of showing guests a good time, hasn't necessarily been considered a food destination. Consider that changed. Paul Bentley and his crew are, for our lira, cooking the best food on Beaufort Street. That Roman – or Milanese or Florentine – holiday might still be a while away, but a night out at Si Paradiso is a fine way to keep the fantasy alive.