Billie H – Claremont – Tuesday 20 February 2018 – Dinner

Roasted grapes, labneh, radicchio, chive oil

If I walk into a restaurant, and Dan Goodsell is there, I am immediately comforted that the food and wine options are going to be top notch, and the service naturally great too.

Over Christmas I did just that with my Mum at Billie H. We were here for a quick wine, but I had heard good reports about the food too. When I saw Dan, and later the enthusiasm of John Lethlean of The Australian, I had it at the top of my Perth list to try. Mum was keen too, the slightly chilled Sagrantino winning her over at first try. This is a little known grape variety from Umbria in Italy that is being made by Jamsheed in Victoria, and it is luscious.

Braised octopus, paprika, almonds, orange, chilli

The next time I was in Perth I was true to my list. I made a booking at Billie H for my aunty Sher, Mum and I. This wine focussed restaurant and bar has the modern Australian share plates theme nailed.

Rainbow carrots, farro, puffed grains, honey & mustard

It did take us some time to narrow down our choices. We ended up starting with the braised octopus, which was lifted with the crunch of almonds and the orange segments worked nicely for some citrus. I had heard the roasted grapes with labneh and my favourite bitter leaf, radicchio, is excellent and it didn’t let us down. I love how a dish that would cost the kitchen next to nothing is so flavoursome. This is eating.

Braised pork jowl, apricot, fennel

Next was my choice go-to share dish in the carrots, which are combined with farro and puffed grains. I am finding this style of dish on a lot of menus, including cafes, and it is equally as good whether on its own, or as a side. The natural sweetness of roasted carrots make them so easy to combine with offsetting herbs, adding the texture of grains or nuts makes sense too.

At this stage we were finishing our bottle of Sang De Pigeon Pinot Noir, from the Adelaide Hills, and moving on to the Rayos Uva Rioja, a blend of tempranillo and graciano. The beauty about wine bars that really focus on their list is the diversity you can find. Sure, it is good knowing the old trusties, but having the confidence to explore a list is comforting in its own way. We were in good hands and the wines were both terrific.

To finish the savouries we tried the pork jowl. Again this is one of those dishes that are win win for the kitchen and customer alike. It is a cheaper, but glorious, cut of meat, and one that you feel much better about indulging when not in your own kitchen.

Panna cotta, red wine figs, roasted white chocolate

The dishes are a good size and we together are not huge eaters. We probably didn’t need it but I insisted on dessert so we shared the panna cotta with red wine figs and this brilliant roasted white chocolate crumb. Everything was well executed, but the crumb was something else.

The restaurant business is one of the most fickle. With such a strong history of giving diners what they want, Dan is on to another winner here. Claremont is the richer for it.

Billie H. Supper Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Canteen Pizza – Cottesloe – Sunday 24 December 2017 – Dinner

Idyllic sums up the scene at Canteen Pizza. Across the road from my favourite beach in the world, this addition to the Cottesloe strip is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Salame

Tonight is Christmas Eve and the Freo Doctor is only lightly wafting through the expansive open windows of this corner block. Transformed into a vibrant restaurant in an enviable position, the lessons learned from Il Lido down the road are everywhere.

There is the excellent translation of beachside casual comfort, a natural link between the feel across the road into the restaurant. You can be quite comfortable in boardies and thongs, but won’t feel out of place in jeans and a shirt too. There is the focus on the product offered, and plenty of well trained staff enjoying being part of something new and a little bit different.

Bufala

Before sunset it can be very bright in the restaurant, meaning there are lots of people in sunglasses looking like they might just as well be poolside in Italy. Not many meals offer sunset as a complimentary side and we are pleased to accept, along with a couple of pizzas, a baby cos salad, and a few choice summer beverages.

Both the Bufala and Salame pizzas are excellent. That traditional Italian thin crust that wasn’t heard of during my childhood, provides a crisp base that has been pulled from the oven just at the right time, before crispiness turns into charcoal. The San Marzano tomato base is fresh and properly seasoned, and all the various ingredients on both pizzas are classically combined. The only improvement would be a bit more topping near the crust.

Baby cos salad

The baby cos salad is simply served in collections of full leaves, dressed with vino cotto (sweet and balsamic like) with parmesan scattered in between. To wash it all down I try both the WA brewed Gage Roads Single Fin, and the Victorian craft Stomping Ground Pale Ale from Collingwood, with the latter my preference. Really I should have done the Italian thing with an Aperol Spritz like Catherine did!

As we walk out of Canteen Pizza packing a couple of delicious Sicilian cannoli for later, the night sky is taking over. This is a fabulous addition to the dining scene in Cottesloe, with reasonable prices making it a regular proposition for locals, and large gatherings.

Canteen Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wildflower – Perth – Thursday 28 December 2017 – Lunch

Whipped Bahen & Co chocolate, river mint, wattle seed cream

It was the best of food, it was the worst of service. Sitting four floors above St Georges Terrace, the main question I have is how does this happen? That, and “can we please leave now?”

Normally in situations like this I would describe how brilliant each dish tasted, and looked, to begin. This is one time where the level of uninspiring service cannot be tolerated when you are in one of the best restaurants in the country, Wildflower. The reason we want to leave isn’t because of the food, which was outstanding.

The reason is our friendly, but inexperienced, and ill-hired, waitperson, has taken all of ten minutes to correct the bill. It must have been a big problem; now he has then brought it back and I’ve found another mistake. He has disappeared for another ten minutes in a restaurant with two tables left. When he comes back he comps our tea and coffee due to the second mistake, which is a nice touch so I still leave a small tip hoping it gets split amongst the staff (including the kitchen) evenly. We say thank you and begin to leave.

Artisanal Western Australian cheeses with pink lady gelee, oat cakes & lavosh

However, the restaurant manager cannot work out how to use our Australian Gourmet Traveller vouchers (not the plastic card, but paper vouchers that we paid hard currency for through my work benefits program), so she asks a bar person to make us complimentary kir royales while we wait. At this stage of proceedings this was not an off-moment; it was a theme.

Wood grilled Arkady lamb, Jerusalem artichoke, salt bush, dripping emulsion, peppermint tree leaf dressing

Mistakes happen. It was the demeanor of the restaurant manager that was the issue, not her ability to try to smooth the matter by providing a drink while we waited, or the fact Mum saw her visit most other tables during our three hour sitting (but not ours or any of the other tables further to the west of the restaurant). And once she rectified the problem and used the vouchers to pay the remaining $550 of our bill, she didn’t come over and apologise and say “it worked now, thank you”. No, I had to come to her fifteen minutes later to see how it was going.

Strawberry gum cheesecake, candied outback lime, raspberry, coconut charcoal & bottle brush

This sounds like a rant, but anyone who has read my reviews more than a few times would realise I value food far more than service, and rarely have significant critiques. There were so many mistakes at this beautiful, expensive restaurant, that it really needs to be discussed. So many that only a list can be used without going to another page.

1. Sher’s water glass had lipstick on it. The sommelier didn’t apologise, left the water glass on the waitstaff table for most of the meal, and didn’t offer a new bottle of sparkling water (since the first glass of the Cape Grim bottle had to be removed).

2. Our waitperson was new to the restaurant (and we think to hospitality, which is not his fault, but is a mistake of the restaurant’s hiring policies). He was very nice and friendly, but just not up to scratch. Simple things that you take for granted in fine dining restaurants (like grabbing the menus as people ordered for example) were not done. Harder aspects were mismanaged as a result.

3. When my Mum asked him what jelly came with our first dish he had to be asked again an hour later, and still didn’t come back immediately to reveal it, but did eventually come back. It was the only ingredient we asked about the entire meal (we were not asking constantly in other words about everything, or being annoying customers in any way).

4. I asked for a 2015 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay and got presented with a Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, which was a fine error. But then the sommelier came back with the chardonnary and explained that only 2016 was available (fine again). Then we were charged $10 more for the Curly Flat 2014 Pinot Noir on the bill and it was blamed on the wine list changing (so check your bill). It took ten minutes for the wine list to be checked to confirm it was an error, in an empty restaurant at 4.30pm.

5. Three courses was $88. Because you order dessert after mains, the first two courses were correctly shown as $68 on the bill. However, underneath this item showed “4 @ $20” for dessert, but then had below it “$30… $120”. We were the last to leave the restaurant so it is quite possible that everyone who had the three courses got charged $10 extra per head because the error was automatic.

6. Catherine’s tea cup had pronounced coffee stains on it, which were blamed on “the finely made cups are difficult to clean” which would be fine at a dinner party, but seemed odd at a fine diner.

7. The sommelier seemingly refused to fill our wine glasses after the initial pour. This meant we had to ask our waitperson (the bottle is not on the table), which meant he was a bit torn (knowing he shouldn’t be pouring, but realising it had been forever since sommelier even batted an eyelid at our table).

8. It wasn’t until the end of our meal that we realised the restaurant manager was not the person who greeted us. The restaurant manager was not the person who led us to the table, and the person who greeted us walked to the opposite end of the restaurant at a brisk walk, leaving my aunty Sher and Mum literally 15 metres behind. It didn’t dawn on me until later that it was not the best way to open proceedings, but the issues across the board brought it out.

There’s no justification for these issues in totality. It has simply not happened at a Gourmet Traveller top 100 restaurant that I’ve ever visited. So, besides company, what saved our experience?

Shark Bay Blue Swimmer Crab, avocado, kohlrabi, sea blight (blite), native basil dashi, finger lime

The food was inventive, beautifully presented, exquisitely executed, and absolutely delicious. Shark Bay blue swimmer crab is generously served under thinly sliced kohlrabi, in a gazpacho style of native basil dashi, and given zing with finger lime, and mild sweetness with a limey tomato jelly. Sea blite adds bite, and the avocado pairs with the gorgeous texture of the crab, which shows off as the star of the dish against the backdrop of competing, but balanced elements. It is absolutely superb.

Berkshire pork is incredibly tender considering the perfectly executed crackling, that somehow balances its salt content. While a little more jus could have been warranted, the soft sweet white onion, scattering of quandongs, and sides of bitter greens, and Paris style mashed potato, were all excellent.

Berkshire pork, sweet white onion, sour quandong and mustard

As if the savoury courses being perfect was not enough, the kitchen’s take on an after-dinner mint includes the best mint gelato imaginable. Sitting next to whipped Bahen & Co chocolate, and atop wattle seed cream, the combination is unashamedly classic, but still innovative, without breaking the modern movement in plating desserts.

Once we eventually received the right bottle of chardonnay, the 2016 Cape Mentelle was outstanding with restrained use of new French oak, and a refined palate. Just as spectacular was the 2014 Curly Flat Pinot Noir; an expression of this variety that seems to find the right part of the spectrum between fruit and game.

Food first. It is the reason I go to restaurants instead of staying at home. But there are natural elements you expect when paying $610 for lunch. I wouldn’t normally mention the amount, but it brings into view the importance of providing service that is fit for the food. I haven’t read other reviews (I rarely do before going to a restaurant to keep my own perspective) but if there are any themes here they need to be rectified quickly at this flagship of Perth restaurants that is thankfully not at the all-too-dominant Crown. Go for the food and all the best with the service. Did I mention the view?

Wildflower Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Modern Eatery – House of Aburi Sushi – Richmond – Wednesday 16 August 2017 and 18 November 2017 – Lunch

Omakase Nigiri – including salmon, tuna, snapper, kingfish, omelette

After an unsuccessful attempt by a burger chain, a new Japanese restaurant has taken up residence on Swan Street in a part of the street that has almost completely changed in recent years. The Modern Eatery – House of Aburi Sushi is a sister to two restaurants in Perth, and that foundation might be part of the reason that a few months on it is already more successful than the previous tenant.

The aspects I like about TME speak volumes of what I don’t like in many casual Japanese restaurants and cafes around Australia. Those behind this place have put some thought into the menu, and the fitout. It doesn’t feel cheap, but it is still casual. The space isn’t plain, with some nice high tables to make it feel like a place to eat, and not a takeaway joint or foodhall.

Love Me Tender – deep fried chicken tempura, cucumber, sliced avocado with house made tartare sauce and seared panko on top

Most importantly, the couple of times I’ve been for lunch I have found some good quality food, that is reasonably priced. The omakase nigiri consists of fresh sashimi, that goes beyond the usual tuna and salmon to include some kingfish and snapper. The rice is good, and the wasabi is about right.

Chicken katsu bento

The handmade sushi is well constructed, although the size is a little too large in my opinion. It is a reasonably classic combination (in these parts), with the ingredients all well prepared. The chicken katsu bento is again good value, though the star of the bento is not far above average.

With so many average Japanese outlets across the city and the suburbs, any place that is marginally better will get some attention. The combination of nicely prepared food with some diversity, a comfortable and good looking space to eat, and some friendly service, should see this push from Perth over east see some degree of success.

The Modern Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

No Mafia – Northbridge – Thursday 19 May 2016 – Dinner

IMG_5217 People eat early in Perth. This means that if you are able to defy the norm, you can easily get into popular restaurants simply by arriving after 8.30pm.

Earlier tonight a couple of mates and I had a few beers and wines at Shadow Wine Bar. The Austrian Veltliner I tried was impeccable, but the initial greeting left much to be desired. That alone left me very open to moving to another venue for dinner, though I must say for the rest of the evening the staff were actually quite good.

No Mafia is only a short walk further down William Street towards the Perth CBD. Having heard great reports about this place I had no hesitation in being guided by Haaron’s suggestion. When we got there it dawned on me that a lot of tables must have finished a good time before we had ordered our last drinks at Shadow.

Continuing on a wine sandwiched with beer theme we began with a terrific bottle of Montepulciano (which incidentally ruined the poor waitperson’s corkscrew), before finishing with a delicious cleansing Bassendean Stout by Nail Brewery. We needed a wine with some versatility and this worked well with a number of the chef’s selected dishes.

The service here is certainly suited to informal dining. We had a waitperson with the right amount of attentiveness and humour, without going too far. She even allowed us to have the $35 chef’s selection even though it is supposed to be for four or more.IMG_5218

We started with some fried baccalau that was excellent and some zucchini fritters that were passable, but I wouldn’t order them again. Then things started to get serious with some Napoli squid, capers, fried leeks, and lemon, which for the most part stayed tender, and had a good flavour profile.

The heavy hitters were my favourite dishes though with the comforting triple cooked potatoes bathed in garlic, chilli & aioli, something to go back for, and the Black-pig prosciutto, red-wine poached pear, ricotta, and almonds, being a dish that was delicate and glorious, even if styled on some classic combinations.

In between the pan-fried gnocchi was well executed with the semi-dried tomato pesto and rocket an aside on how good the gnocchi really was. Finally, the braised lamb leg with baked ricotta, peperonata, and green olives worked classic ingredients in another dish that is spot on.

I know my review sounds like everything was good to very good, but I will say I wasn’t sure about the ordering of the dishes, and also the overall decision on the menu. It felt a little disjointed put together and next time I would order a la carte. In isolation however, almost everything worked, and the menu is more than reasonable being this close to the city. No Mafia provides an interesting modern take on Italian near the arts precinct of Northbridge that is getting better and better.

No Mafia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Varnish on King – Perth City – Wednesday 27 January 2016 – Dinner

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

It is overwhelming walking through the Perth CBD and noticing all the changes in the seven years since I left. Places that had stories I attach to them – some special, some weird, some quite intoxicated. Many of these places have changed in huge ways.

Perth has definitely improved as a city and continues to. Some of the boom might have faded, but the underlying base is enhanced in its wake. There are too many changes to mention, and while it had started before I left, even just walking down King Street there is no longer its namesake cafe, Hudson’s is gone and has been remarkably changed, and there is now a beautiful basement room across the road at 75 that is Varnish on King.

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

I was told about Varnish a while ago and tonight I get to half cross it off the list. Half because I am dining alone, precluding me from ordering several good looking larger dishes.

First cab off the rank is the Brussel sprouts. They are nicely presented and the combination is great, especially with the maple not dominating and just giving a hint of sweetness. It’s naturally a large serve as this is food to share, but I don’t mind coming back to it while I enjoy the two other dishes I order.

Next comes the cholesterol – a large serve of bone marrow. It is awesomely fatty and luckily there is a bit of balance from the crumb. I’m glad I ordered it, but my next check up will be interesting! Ask me whether I ate all three pieces and I’d have to plead the fifth.

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Last I try the jalepinos with black pudding. Each element is excellent and put together this is a fantastic dish. Topped off by the sauce (which can be added to with three different chilli sauces), this is another fun dish that is surprisingly not too hot, though I was warned not to go too close to the stem.

There is a great deal of risk putting out some of these combinations. Each one needs to hit the mark. There would be many punters having a snack with their whiskey, or other beverage of choice, and the likelihood of returning could depend on one dish. Here the skill of the chefs and their technique averts that risk. Each dish was excellent and these are not your usual suspects.

The enthusiasm, and obvious knowledge of my waitperson almost convinces me to order a whiskey, but having walked here on a warm day I go for the tried and tested. A glass of the Vasse Felix Chardonnay followed by the Delinquente Vermentino from the South Australia Riverland shows equal care in the selection of wines. It is nice to have such skilled service. Across the floor and behind the bar the staff are genuinely enjoying themselves and are doing a terrific job.

Walking though the intimidating door, down into the intimate basement was the only time I felt self-aware here. After that, even though I was dining alone, this was a very enjoyable experience from all angles. I’ll be back with a crowd.

Varnish on King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brika – Perth – Wednesday 30 December 2015 – Dinner

IMG_4502There is definitely something comforting about Greek food. Like most cultures, food plays an important role in everyday life, with a style of dining that easily evokes convivial memories from places like Santorini, through to places far closer to home.

The script at Brika casts the Greek style beautifully as a first impression. Open air, making use of the famous Perth weather, with lots of dishes on each table, being shared by large groups of families and friends. Tonight we have a table of eight celebrating a friends’ birthday.

Leaving ourselves in the hands of our host, we were happy with the variety and amount of everything being ordered. If you have an idea of what the table loves, likes and dislikes, it appears to be a much better idea to order from the menu, rather than taking the banquet option.
IMG_4503
We tried a lot of dishes during the evening, starting with some pita and hummus, zucchini fritters, wood fired sausage and the village salad. From the more substantial dishes we tried the chargrilled octopus, swordfish skewers, pork belly and lamb; and to finish we had the Greek donuts, and baklava with halva ice cream.

Everything we ate was good, or much better. The pork belly was a highlight as it was perfectly cooked, and the honey glaze added to the flavour without overwhelming. The lamb was equally impressive. My dish of the night was the halva ice cream and baklava combination, showing the kitchen has some innovative flair.
IMG_4507
While the more substantial dishes and dessert were the highlights, the starters were not merely dishes to whet the appetite, though they were not noticeable different to what other Greek restaurants offer.

Looking around at a full restaurant both inside and out, there is huge enthusiasm for what Brika is providing. More than that, the leg work to get the space looking attractive, using the outdoors to full effect, is something that oozes confidence in the eventual end product. Perhaps that is why we finished with a bottle of ouzo to cheers the birthday girl!

Brika Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato