AS I drove up to Perth on Tuesday lunchtime, the sky was battleship-grey and the wheelie bins were lined up like plastic sentries.
Things weren’t much better when I arrived in a moribund Northbridge – most restaurants on James Street were shut and the few that were open had very limited or no seating.
There was a strange atmosphere and as I walked up William Street; a man across the road made a noise like Chewbacca getting a root canal.
I was ready to call it a day, when I saw Little Willy’s cafe was open and ducked inside.
A sanguine lady behind the till, Huon, greeted me with a beaming smile.
“Come in, come in and sit down.” She chaperoned me through the chalkboard menu, which had a nice range of breakfast and lunch dishes, including raspberry porridge with rhubarb and banana, frittata with salad, and omelette with corn salsa.
Huon told me the lunch and breakfast burritos ($15) were a favourite with locals and backpackers.
She was so friendly I nearly forgot about the pandemic, before she asked me to fill in a form with my name and time so the state government could keep track of who was coming and going.
It was amazing she was so up-beat as the cafe had lost power from 7.15am to 9am, meaning she couldn’t sell any coffee or breakfast in the morning rush.
After all the economic drama of Covid-19 it was another kick in the teeth, but she wasn’t giving up.
“What can they throw at me next?” she laughed.
I took a seat at the window with my complimentary pitcher of water.
The cafe felt like a cosy nook with quirky art lining the walls and rustic wooden tables.
It wasn’t looking before I was drinking my creamy cappuccino ($4.50), which had a mellow flavour but was still piping hot.
Too often I get tepid cappuccinos that are like bastardised flat whites with extra shots, but this was nice and smooth. It also looked the part with a leafy swirl on top.
My towering, freshly-made bagel was layered with smoked salmon, avocado and lettuce ($14).
There was no skimping on the salmon and the avocado, and they hadn’t overdone it with the rich cream cheese.
Just when the flavours we’re getting a bit mundane, a caper zinged my taste buds back into life.
The accompanying wedge of lemon helped to cut through the rich filling and keep things on track.
The bagel itself had a nice chewy texture, and was far superior to pre-made ones from display cabinets.
I’ve been to Little Willy’s cafe a few times over the years and their unassuming food is always filling and very tasty, and the service is second to none.
As I was preparing to leave, Huon tells me that she immigrated to Perth some 40 years ago, and the family-run cafe had remained open throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
She starts to get emotional as she talks about trading through the first few days of lockdown.
“I remember looking outside and Northbridge was just empty – it was so strange.”
267 William Street Northbridge