Food is one of my favourite things. The odds were against me ever becoming a gastronome - my mum, God love her, raised me on the kind of recipes that always began 'open a packet of supermarket mince'. Her culinary career peaked with a dish of chilli con carne when I was about thirteen, but the unfamiliar praise from my brother and I that this generated went to her head and she served it for a week straight, at which point the traditional 'browned with onions' option was as welcome as anything Jamie Oliver could have served us.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, experiencing good, interesting food has become an integral part of how I like to enjoy myself. If I can get it in a place that's also appealing, then I'm a happy man.
With the warmer weather upon us, I'm going to search out Freo's alfresco dining to suit all tastes and budgets. Courtyards are the first stop on my alfresco dining tour. They are quintessential alfresco dining, often providing an enjoyable setting for meals and/or drinks in the outdoors.For the first in the courtyard series, let’s visit Gypsy Tapas House.
Gypsy Tapas House
The entrance to Gypsy Tapas House is distinctly unprepossessing. It is tucked into a low, eighties style building of sandy brick, surrounded by a random conglomerate of shop fronts that suggest the owners have realistically assessed the value of spending much time designing a window display and decided they're better off having a sleep-in.
However, the less-than-salubrious frontage just adds to Gypsy's charm - slipping through the brick pillars and catching your first view of the charming courtyard makes you feel like you've discovered a hidden treasure. Tubs of lemon trees and tangly herbs freshen the air; cleverly mismatched seating, colourful decorations, carafes of cool sangria, wait staff of the tie-dyed cotton and dreddies variety and live music create an unhurried atmosphere.
It's only on the surface that Gypsy is relaxed, though - make no mistake, these guys run a mean business and a very professional kitchen. The dishes are inventive and are full of fresh, seasonal produce and ground-up, unusual spices - mace, sumac and fenugreek, and come with huge amounts of turkish bread. You can select your own mix of tapas plates, which all go for $8 each, or opt to pay $40 a head and work your way through the menu, the idea being that you keep going till you're full. This second option is good if you're new to Gypsy, but be warned that you'll probably fill up on dips, nuts and turkish bread before a whole lot of the really exciting stuff comes out. Plus, with two covers per evening - 6.30pm and 8.30pm - you need to eat fast.
Being the type of wine connoisseur that makes selections based on what my wife says I will like (strangely always the cheapest bottle), I can't comment on their wine list, but I can say with confidence that a carafe of Gypsy's orangey sangria on a warm summer's evening takes some beating.
The service is fast, efficient, and for the most part friendly - although I did have an off-putting experience once when a pregnant friend was told she couldn't order separately but had to pay for the all-you-can-eat option along with the rest of our group, despite not being able to eat the vast majority of dishes that were brought out. It made me realise that the Gypsy's welcoming, hippyish vibe concealed a far less pleasant approach to money matters and soured me against the place for a while, but glimpsing those lemon trees in the courtyard on a summer afternoon put me in a forgiving mood and we've once again become semi-regulars.
Gypsy's is a great place for catching up with friends in the afternoon or celebrating in the evening (when the music gets noisier). There's something about the place that is distinctly 'Freo', which also makes it great venue for showing off how great a place this can be to newcomers.
Cnr of Queen Street and High Street.
Open Thurs/Fri/Sat for lunch and dinner and Wed for dinner only. (Cash only, ATM available on premises)