Special occasion doesn’t get much bigger than my Mum’s birthday. Tonight my Aunty, Sher, has told Mum she has a surprise for her, but unbeknownst to Mum it is not just the restaurant. I am sitting waiting, having travelled from over the other side of the country, at Pata Negra.
Mum is in a little bit of shock when she walks in to see me waiting, but a few sips of the Rioja later and shock has turned to excitement as we get to catch up for all our July birthdays. Surprises are nerve wracking, especially the “keeping the secret” part, which Sher did beautifully.
Pata Negra is a restaurant I haven’t been to for years since it first opened, but from that experience, and several times at Star Anise, I know David Coomer’s food is first class. It is a special occasion and that calls for something a little bit fancy. The BYO policy on a Wednesday night helps a fair bit too.
The restaurant is full with a good mixed crowd in small groups appreciating the intimate space. The separation of the rooms in what must have been originally a house helps create the intimacy, but there is also a lot of thought in the furnishings, and use of levels. I especially like the feel that is created with the different table shapes, motley of dining chairs, banquettes and benches. It is a neighbourhood restaurant in Nedlands that has a European feel.
Our waitperson has been called into work at short notice but lives nearby and is in good spirits. Although admittedly a little inexperienced having only been working here for a month, she does a nice job. The main suggestion would be for her to get more familiar with the food being served, and how to articulate its flavour, even if it is food that she doesn’t necessarily have at the top of her list. This all comes with experience.
We order the duck liver pate, scallops in a half shell, Portobello mushrooms, and harissa lamb as our savoury courses. I had been told by a good friend that the mackerel was a must try, and while our waitperson doesn’t have an affinity with this type of fish, I took the advice of my mate and ordered it anyway.
The duck liver pate came out first and was one of our favourite dishes. The pate, with Madiera jelly was incredibly deep in flavour, and the sliced baguette it is served with is fresh and crusty – the perfect vessel. It was gone in a flash and we were on to the mackerel.
Served in the usual presentation utilising the can, the mackerel are subtle with a texture that is softened by the oil. Served with thicker charred garlic bread, the softness of the mackerel are balanced with the char, and the chilli vinegar adds a medium level of spice that works well.
The scallops in their half shell, with a thin but generous crisp of Manjimup truffle on top, and delicious puree of sweet corn are my favourite smaller dish for the night. The scallops are incredible, and remind me of the ma hor that David used to serve at Star Anise. There is a lot going on in this dish, but with only two bites, you are left wanting to come back instantly.
The Portobello mushrooms are well cooked, with pecorino cheese topping, herbs, anchovies and chilli. They are great on their own, but I keep some for our main of harissa lamb. The lamb is served on bones a size I haven’t ever seen in a restaurant. Served nice and pink, my first bite is actually my chewiest and I realise that I’m going to have to be careful in the cutting, taking off as much fat as possible. While it is a carnivores delight, we needed some warning about the large lamb rack cut, which isn’t described on the specials board. In the end I really enjoyed most of the lamb, Sher loved it, and Mum disliked it having got probably the fattiest of the cuts.
Having enquired later with the restaurant I find out the lamb rack has been spiced with Moruno (a marinade made up of cumin, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and Spanish paprika, among other things). The harissa spiced pumpkin puree served with the lamb is amazing, and I liked the roasted parsnips too. It was one of those dishes that had us talking and debating. All the while Sher was demolishing the bones!
We still had some of the second wine I brought, a Brokenwood 2011 Shiraz, so we decided to look over dessert while enjoying the La Peral cow’s milk blue cheese. I like a simple cheese board. All you really need is some good quality bread, great cheese, and perhaps an accompaniment. That is what we got and the accompanying nuts and dried fruit were presented nicely.
For dessert, having ummed and ahhed for a while, we decided to share two between the three of us. The first was vanilla malt ice cream, bitter chocolate ganache, whisky caramel and hazelnuts. The second was cinnamon doughnuts with pedro ximenez ice cream and raisins. Both were fantastic. The doughnuts themselves the best I’ve recently eaten with that perfect balance between outer crunch and inside softness (but not doughiness). Both ice creams on these dishes were expertly churned, the bitter chocolate ganache just rich enough without dominating all other flavours.
This was a great meal. We had plenty of time to catch up and celebrate, finishing up when the restaurant was empty besides our table. While it is not a cheap place to eat, by quality standards I think the expense is worth it, and the space is especially appealing. It is a place that would be difficult to replicate, with a neighbourhood feel that makes you jealous of the locals.