Prego Restaurant

Prego. Love the name, and the way Italians say it. Would the restaurant live up to the welcome of its name?

It’s a fairly austere environment with muted decor and little in the way of adornments. While aesthetics don’t determine your dining experience,  they can certainly enhance it. Our group of 5 was here to celebrate a birthday, and the birthday girl assured us her old favourite Prego would deliver the goods as far as quality dining goes. Many a good thing comes in plain packaging, right?

We opted for glasses of Prosecco all round, followed later by various wines by the glass at reasonable prices. A limited selection, but with some good options.

We were given a complimentary plate of Mediterranean falafel to start with. Covered with a creamy garlic mayo type of hummus and a tomato onion salsa, the falafel was moist and tasty and a well received starter. The salmon carpaccio was a hit at our table too, with its avocado salsa and strips of tender octopus adorning the plate.

Hooray for duck! Prego’s version was crispy skinned and slow roasted, and accompanied by green beans, a jus and baked polenta. Succulent meat inside and crispy, mild-spiced skin outside, the duck was lip smackingly good.  Oh my wordy lordy. There’s not much I love more than a superbly cooked duck dish, and this one met all the criteria.

Two of our group opted for the huge meaty plates of roast lamb shoulder and roast duck, which neither of them could finish.  Murmurings of approval for the slow cooked duo, but the protein overload on those massive plates had them wanting something green or orange to break up those hunks of meat. There’s only so much protein you can eat, especially when you’re ladies 🙂

Chocolate fondant was the unanimous choice for dessert. Accompanied by vanilla bean ice-cream, the fondant was appropriately oozy and a fitting end to a fine meal.

Service at Prego was uniformly charming and efficient. Italian accents always add charm to the occasion, and you’ve got to love that Italian waiters take their craft so seriously. Food, after all, is a serious matter. Prego is about traditional Italian ingredients cooked with love and pizzazz, served with pride in a simple setting. Prices aren’t cheap here, but the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds true. I can’t see this sedate establishment attracting the hipsters, but for the more mature patrons (of whom there were plenty the night we dined there), it’s pure gold.

 

Prego Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato</

Red Cabbage Food & Wine

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It was a long awaited visit to Red Cabbage for a birthday celebration with  five friends. We chose the 3 course menu for $59, courtesy of the Entertainment Card. This included a glass of prosecco. The decor is rather old world with lots of wood, dark carpet and dim lighting, but lightened by quirky wallpaper featuring rows of human faces.

My choice of entree was fire-roasted baby Manjimup marron with lemon curd. I don’t exaggerate when I say it was the tiniest entree I have ever had. At 2 minuscule forks of marron meat albeit fresh and beautifully presented, I wondered why they bothered. A perfect sized amuse bouche perhaps, but not nearly enough to whet the appetite.

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Friends who chose the scallops fared much better. They were beautifully moist and well presented, and  much more substantial and satisfying than the marron.

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My main course of smoked duck breast with cauliflower and garlic puree was disappointingly chewy. I devour duck at every opportunity but this wasn’t the usual tender  flesh I love.  I know that with slow cooking duck normally fares much better, so  the quality of this dish would likely have been improved with a different cooking method.

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The four of us who had the duck concurred, but two friends who opted for the fish dish (trout) were happy little Vegemites.

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For dessert we had the option to choose an individual dessert, or share a taste plate (called A Little Bit of Everything) between two. The taste plate with four different desserts was substantial and essentially 4 full size desserts. I’m often too full to have dessert, so this was an indication of how small the other course sizes were. Between 2 of us, we polished off our entire plate of desserts. The pumpkin pie was the standout, with the others being pleasant but not memorable. Presentation was somewhat lacking as you can see from the plate – nothing delicate or visually pleasing to the eye.

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I had been anticipating a visit to Red Cabbage for some time, and sadly I was disappointed by the  experience. Whilst the service was good, the food was average; certainly not the gourmet meal expected of this establishment. I also have a bugbear with restaurants charging $5 for a small bread roll when places like Must Wine Bar provide the most amazing French bread and butter free of charge.  I doubt I’ll return to Red Cabbage with so many other better dining experiences in Perth. Although some of the dishes were of a higher quality, it’s reasonable to expect uniformity in a 5 star establishment.

 

Red Cabbage Food + Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Perugino, West Perth

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Perugino was the setting for a recent birthday dinner with a few friends. JS has dined at Perugino many times and loves it. We’d heard several intriguing comments about how the proprietor of Perugino has upset patrons with her brusque manner, but she was the perfect hostess and our experience was positive from start to finish. We loved the glass domed ceiling which gave the room a feeling of expansiveness, the single stem roses on the tables, and the tall potted leafy plants.

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Frau K suggested we try the Gourmet set menu for $100, and we decided we were up for it. Several hours and courses later we weren’t as confident we could manage it, but that’s a story for later. We started with a crispy flaky pastry roll filled with mozzarella cheese and served with a creamy truffle sauce. Dieters beware – if you’re counting kilojoules you can forget coming here.

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We wondered at the lack of occupied tables on a Friday night. Could be that everyone was across the road at the Brown Fox, where we’d popped in earlier for an aperitif. Noisy and bursting at the seams, this was obviously the happening place in West Perth on Fridays. On the quieter Perugino side of Outram Street we were able to chat in peace and quiet, sipping on our glasses of Aravina Estate Rose and waiting for our second course of calamari. Whilst a teensy bit chewy, the pan fried calamari was nevertheless enjoyable with its lemon and pepper flavouring, and was a welcome light course following the heavier pastry dish.

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Seafood was dominant on the menu which made me very happy. Juicy garlic prawns were served next, lightly crumbed and seasoned. I think I enjoyed this dish more than my friends, who felt that the prawns could have been a bit fresher. They’re big meat eaters, so I secretly think they were hanging out for the real carnivore’s food.

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But wait – woo hoo! – the next course up was seafood. Another big plus from me. The risotto with chunks of fresh red emperor was my favourite dish of the evening. Bursting with fresh fishy flavours, the rice was fragrant, starchy and perfectly cooked. The flavours in this dish were beautiful and I could have licked the darn plate clean.

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Just when we thought that fish had bowed out for the evening, out came the next course of swordfish, rolled and stuffed with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella. Naturally I was happy as a crab in a tidal pool with this, whereas The Prof and JS were wondering where the heck their meaty four-legged friends were hiding. The fish was moist and tasty, but the other gals barely made inroads into their plates. This prompted another visit by the chef, concerned that we weren’t cleaning up our plates as good diners should. We assured him that all was OK, and that we were ensuring there’d be enough room for dessert. This seemed to placate him somewhat.

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Are we there yet? Not quite. Whew… Two ravioli parcels filled with shredded duck meat, sprinkled with fresh parmesan and on a bed of sweet carrot puree was our sixth course,  and it was a pleasant and light dish, without being outstanding.

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We hadn’t been keeping count of our courses, and were surprised to learn that the biggest course was yet to come. Slow braised goat was the start attraction apparently, but three of us had to admit defeat and tell the waiter that we. simply. could. not. eat. another. course. Except for dessert; that goes without saying. So Frau K was served the goat which she tucked into with alacrity, only to throw her hands up after two mouthfuls. She was offered a doggy bag which she gladly accepted. JS and The Prof were somewhat cheesed that they were too stuffed to even consider the meat they had been hankering for all night. Frau K said the goat was superb; incredibly tender and worth waiting for. If only she had the room in her stomach to eat it. I often wonder why they save the biggest courses for last – as for me it’s often the last course that is my undoing. I have been known to stay up all night with chronic indigestion, so this is why I tend to call it quits now with degustations when I know I’ve reached saturation point.

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I mentioned that we had strategically left some room for dessert, but when the dessert trolley rolled up we were inwardly groaning. Despite our protestations, our waiter Francesco piled up our plates with several types of sweet treats, obviously thinking we were protesting too much. We weren’t and sadly we made little headway into our last course. I did manage a few bites of the apple tart, and I loved the caramelised base and the slightly tart taste of the apples.

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Whilst the dessert trolley was replete with tortes, cakes and tarts, it was all a bit much after ploughing our way through so many courses. I don’t normally go for sorbets, but that actually would have been the perfect finish to the meal for me, instead of
the heavy sweets on offer. But then again if we hadn’t been so greedy and opted for the degustation, that wouldn’t have been an issue. ‘Nuff said.

We were given complimentary glasses of limoncello, and I confess to polishing off three of them because the gals couldn’t fit another drop of anything in. Well I wasn’t driving so I couldn’t possibly pass that up.

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Perugino is an old fashioned type of establishment where great pride is expressed in everything from the immaculate napery, the extensive wine and champagne selection, the attentive and professional service, to the quality food. Our charming waiter Francesco is the son of the owners and has worked at Perugino for 22 years. For him, the job and the family are one, and it’s obvious he loves what he does. Our experience was delightful and while this type of venue won’t win over the hipsters, it is perfect for those who enjoy a spot of fine dining with old world ambience.

http://www.perugino.com.au

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

Sandalford Estate Restaurant

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This Swan Valley stalwart was the scene of a recent birthday lunch with two friends. Despite having been to numerous Sandalford concerts over the years, I’d never before been to the restaurant. I loved the classic feel, the warm colours, the white tablecloths, the candles and the fire burning away in the hearth on this chilly Saturday in August.

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A dining reservation entitles you to free wine tasting, so we elbowed the gaggle of tourists aside and plonked ourselves at the tasting bar to sample a range of the Sandalford wines. We settled on a bottle of the Sandalford Margaret River Range Rose to have with our lunch. I do not exaggerate when I say busloads of tourists were coming and going like a production line. There was a constant stream in to the cellar door while we ate our lunch, but fortunately their presence didn’t impinge on enjoyment of our lunch.  Every dining table was booked, and there were several large tables celebrating various special occasions. Despite the hordes, it’s the sort of venue that feels special so I can see why people flock here. I loved this large sunny room overlooking the vineyards.

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Just to get the ball rolling, we ordered a charcuterie plate of duck rillettes with onion jam, chicken liver pate with Sandalera jelly, and pork terrine with cornichons ($28). Served with baguette slices, this was a small but pleasing dish to share.

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Frau K and I both settled on the entree size pan fried house made sweet potato gnocchi ($26).  I assumed that the individual gourmet elements of this dish would conspire to create something memorable. The sautéed mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, Persian feta and Manjimup black truffle failed however, to lift the gnocchi to the heights expected. Instead of toothsome caramelised nuggets of sweet potato, they were gluey and stuck to the roof of my mouth like gummy bears. A potentially amazing dish  rendered ordinary.

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The Prof resorted to her standby steak, and ordered the black Angus beef fillet, beef cheek, baba ganoush and fried onion rings ($45). That’s a whole lot of money for a few pieces of meat in my book. The Prof complained that her steak was cold, but she enjoyed the crisp onion rings. To be fair, she was suffering from a major hangover and I doubt anything would have tasted  appetising. She didn’t even try the beef cheek so I’m not giving her critique much cred.

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Frau K and I had decided early on that dessert was a given, and we both ordered the chocolate mousse with hazelnut and oat crumbs, morello cherries, bitter chocolate cookie and pashmak ($16). I was hoping that my finisher would compensate for my disappointing main course, and it did. I loved the contrasting textures, the mix of sweet mousse against the slightly sour cherries, and the crunchy biscuit base.

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The Prof opted for the trio of house-made sorbets with a vaniilla tuile ($16). Each scoop featured different fruits and Sandalford wines. This was a cool winner in her book.

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Despite my disappointing gnocchi dish, the overall experience at Sandalford was wonderful. Staff were uniformly obliging and efficient,  the ambience was delightful, the wine was excellent (I bought 4 bottles of the Margaret River Range to take home), and portions of my meal were perfect.  This would be the ideal venue to bring overseas visitors to, and you can take advantage of the excellent offer of one main meal free, courtesy of the Entertainment Card.

http://www.sandalford.com/Restaurant/restaurant.html

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Aravina Estate Restaurant & Cafe

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If the expansive lawns, lake and buildings look eerily familiar when you drive into the Aravina Estate, it’s because you’ve probably visited during its previous incarnation of Amberly Estate. Back in the day, a bottle of trusty Amberly Chenin appeared on the table of just about every dinner party around town.

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Arriving at midday, we took the advice of the friendly wait staff and sacrificed wine tasting in favour of securing a table before the hordes descended upon us. Sound advice, because within 30 minutes there was nary an empty table in sight. With white wicker furniture, sunlight streaming through the windows and views of the picturesque grounds as you dine, Aravina looks beguiling. Would the food be on par?

Dining in a winery means you simply must have suitable libation with your meal, and The Prof and I decided bubbles were in order.  We chose a glass each of the 2010 Vintage Sparkling ($12), and this set the standard for the meal that was to follow.

Aravina offers a two course lunch for $55 or three courses for $65, so we naturally went for the second option. No point faffing around and depriving ourselves of dessert. We hadn’t eaten breakfast, so we deserved to indulge a bit. Or so we rationalised.

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Our entree of ocean trout rillettes with fine crackers and herbs was bursting with fresh flavours and was simply exquisite. The subtly flavoured rillettes were presented on wafer thin house-made crackers, topped with orbs of fresh roe, and garnished with delicate herbs. You could taste the slight saltiness of the sea, and the combination of the trout with the lushness of creme fraiche or its closest relation, was nothing short of superb. A simple dish with simple flavours where the key lies in the quality of the main ingredient.

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My main course of barramundi with truffled beans and chicken jus lived up to the standard of the entree. The creamy white beans were infused with fresh Manjimup truffle and provided a glorious base for the fish. I can’t remember eating barramundi this.damn.good.before. The crispy skin and the succulent flesh, combined with the richness of the jus, created a match made in heaven. I wouldn’t have imagined the pairing of fish with beans and chicken jus would succeed so completely, but the combination of the fresh elements of this dish was outstanding.

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The Prof’s choice of the duck leg with braised lentils was another noteworthy dish. The puy lentils with white carrots, pearl onions and chicken jus, provided a base that showcased the wonderful rich flavours of the duck. The fall-apart flesh was juicy and the skin super crispy. I know The Prof did not exaggerate the merits of this dish because I naturally had to sample it.

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Dessert continued to captivate us. Not only did this concoction look incredibly elegant, but the soft chocolate with WA raspberries and salted caramel, tasted amazing. All of the elements of this dish were in harmony, from the slightly acidic fruity bite of the Albany raspberries, to the velvet silkiness of the soft chocolate to the chewiness of the wafer and the salty smoothness of the caramel. Oh my. This-is-so-good-I-must-be-dreaming food delirium ensued.

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Simply put, this was one of the best meals I’d eaten for some time. It’s a rare pleasure to enjoy all courses of a meal equally, but Aravina obviously runs a top notch kitchen with a chef who knows what good food is all about. Their secret is in procuring top quality produce, sourced locally where possible. We could not fault one area of our dining experience; the wait staff were exemplary, the setting picture-book perfect, and the food was a gastronomic orgasm. Add a vintage car museum, a gift shop and cellar door tastings to the already brilliant equation, and you have an all-round wonderful experience. And as if things couldn’t get any better, you can use your Entertainment card for a discount. As with our childhood icon Mary Poppins, Aravina Estate Restaurant & Cafe is practically perfect in every way.

http://aravinaestate.com/pages/about-us

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Chez Pierre

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Fine French dining without the price tag. That’s how Chez Pierre can be summarised in a few words, although the experience is so much more than that. White linen, sparkling glassware and vases of fresh orchids on each table create the old world ambience without the stuffiness.

Set in large but tasteful surroundings complete with a separate bar area and private dining room, this establishment provided our group with a pleasant evening of royal French fare for the not-so-princely sum of $59.90 each. The service was attentive and professional, complete with charming French accents. We were seated, napkins placed in laps, and drink orders taken. Wine by the glass was reasonably priced and I enjoyed my tipple of NZ Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($11) with my meal.

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We’d chosen to dine with the C’est Bon regional menu that focusses on a different area of France every week.

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Our week featured Nice, so fish and seafood were the stars.  We started with an Amuse Bouche of cumin-spiced pumpkin soup; a perfect little winter warmer.

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A basket of crusty bread with salted French butter had been placed on the table, and it was incredibly tempting to devour piece after piece of this. If you’ve been to France you’ll know that the French bake the most amazing bread and make the tastiest butter imaginable, and Chez Pierre’s versions were equally good. This is always the dilemma when served amazing bread in restaurants – you’re tempted to keep eating, but you fill up and can’t finish your other courses. A bit pointless  unless you just go to eat bread and soup.

Our entree was soupe aux fruits de mer; seafood chowder full of chunky fresh pieces of fish, mussels and seafood. This dish was rich, creamy and absolutely delectable.

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A fruity mango sorbet was served between courses. This palate cleanser was the perfect segue from entree to main.

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Our main course of fresh Atlantic salmon steak served on a bed of fettuccine with a beurre blanc sauce, was a beautiful piece of fish. Although the salmon was cooked a tad more than I prefer, the combination of fresh fettucine with capers, olives and a creamy sauce was a notch above very good. The French take their sauces seriously and these can make or break a dish.  This lush sauce was flavoured with a hint of tarragon, and was perfect for the salmon.

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At this point I was wondering how I was going to fit in dessert. It may not seem like much, but the entree and main were substantial and I was thankful I wasn’t wearing anything with a snug waistband. But one has to soldier on, right?  Termed Creme Catalan on the menu, it was essentially a creme brûlée, flavoured with orange and cinnamon. The custard was smooth and the top had the perfect ratio of crispy burnt caramel, but it was such a huge serve that I could barely finish half.

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Chez Pierre was a pleasant dining experience with quality food and excellent service. They even have a parking attendant who helps you manoeuvre your car into their little car park when you arrive. It’s the little touches that often determine how much value the owners place in their customers, and in this case it’s obvious the customer is king. If you choose a night with the C’est Bon dinner, you won’t have to part with a fortune to enjoy a quality meal. You could also try their three course business lunch for $45 or for those with bigger appetites, their 8 course degustation dinner.

http://chezpierre.com.au/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

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Heirloom

2015-04-29 21.13.05

Tucked away in the Fraser Suites at the beginning of Adelaide Tce, it’s a bit tricky locating the Heirloom restaurant. It’s even harder to find a parking spot, and one of my three dining pals overshot the Terrace and ended up on the Causeway. It’s worth persevering though, as our dining experience was well worth the effort.

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Don’t you love Groupons? The Heirloom ones enabled us to enjoy a superb lunch with a glass of bubbly for only $25 each. That will barely get you a toasted focaccia and a coffee  in Perth in 2015, so this was a particularly amazing deal.

Our first course was a generous antipasto plate, comprising fresh figs, pork terrine, mixed meats, olives, grilled eggplant, sundried tomatoes, sauerkraut and crisp pita triangles. There’s your $25 value, on that one plate.

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We didn’t finish our first plate as we sensibly wanted to leave room for the other courses, and we were glad we did. A little palate cleanser was presented next with watermelon, dragon fruit, goats cheese, pine nuts and dried kalamata olives. Sounds like an unusual combo, but it worked well, with beautiful colours and presentation.

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On with the big girls plates, starting with crispy skinned barramundi on a bed of subtly flavoured tahini, slivers of fresh sliced fennel and cubes of roasted beetroot. Barramundi is not my favourite fish, but these were delectable fresh fillets, beautifully cooked and presented.

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The remaining dishes were served together, and the Burmese beef cheeks were a bit hit with my gal pals. Now, I’ve read complaints from other diners about the beef cheeks, but as they are cooked Burmese style, the flavouring is deliberately subtle. None of the robust red wine flavours here, but  simple, slow-cooked, delicately spiced cheeks in a thick sauce. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender. You may or may not know that I don’t love red meat but I did manage a tiny taste in the name of reporting, and my friends were not exaggerating. One almost licked her plate clean, but our death stares were a sufficient deterrent. We’re ladies after all.

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For me, mains are only as good as their side dishes – I adore vegetables – and the two presented were Sicilian vegetables with pine nuts, raisins and gremolata, along with cauliflower rice. The Sicilian vegetables was a pleasant, mildly flavoured mix of vegetables including the under-utilised okra. Once again, the presentation of the dish was visually pleasing.

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I’ve wanted to try cauliflower rice for ages. I’ve heard about it from various friends who have eaten it in place of rice when they’ve been dieting, and it’s purportedly tasty, filling and a healthy alternative to heavy starches. The verdict? Cauliflower rice is one of those side-kick dishes that lends itself well to other richer dishes. It’s mild, soaks up other flavours, and is a perfect healthy alternative to rice or pasta, so with our lunch of several dishes, it worked really well. If I was ordering only one side or vegetable dish, I probably wouldn’t order it.

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As if we hadn’t eaten enough, we were presented with a plate of house-made chocolates. Now, dessert or chocolates were not included on our set menu, so this was a pleasant surprise and the perfect finish to our meal. And bless their little cotton socks, the serve was four chocolates of each variety, so that no-one would miss out. Don’t you love that?

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Our experience at Heirloom was positive from start to finish. The service was attentive and friendly, the restaurant blissfully quiet and comfortable, the food delicious, the use of ingredients innovative, and the cost an absolute bargain. Even at the full price of $50 each, we would have been more than happy. Heirloom has received a bit of a drubbing on dining sites, but I can only tell you that our dining experience was wonderful. This restaurant has undergone recent changes and it is trying hard to present good food and provide a high level of service in a competitive environment. It’s a shame if its location at the far end of Adelaide Terrace deters would-be diners, but it’s well worth the effort. Even without a Groupon voucher.

http://www.heirloomperth.com.au

Heirloom on Urbanspoon

Friends Restaurant

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You know it’s truffle season and the cooler weather is looming when Friends restaurant, a familiar and loved face on the Perth dining scene, offers its signature truffle degustation dinner.

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Entering Friends is akin to entering a restaurant of yester year; you feel like you’ve arrived at an establishment in Paris or Prague, complete with carpeted floor and white linen, and a centrepiece piano. There’s nothing contemporary about the atmosphere or decor at Friends, but that’s what makes it special. We sit in the bar area and enjoy a glass of sparkling wine before our meal.

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The five course set menu showcases truffles from Italy or Australia, and there are several alternatives on the menu for an additional charge, if you have special dietary requirements. The meal as is without any changes is a very generous $65, courtesy of Groupon vouchers. After my truffle degustation experience here last year, I didn’t hesitate when a friend asked me to join her and two other friends to see what culinary delights French chef Frederic had created this time around. House-baked bread is offered once we have placed our orders.

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First up is the corn, leek and truffle soup with parmesan puff stick, and it is a smooth mild-flavoured starter featuring a mere hint of truffle.

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Three of us elect to have the chicken roulade for our second course, although The Prof is captivated by the sound of the caramelised beetroot and apple tart. Her dark purple tart with goats cheese ice-cream looks wonderful, but our chicken roulade is nothing short of sensational. The chicken is so tender it melts in the mouth. The subtle infused truffle flavour is perfectly partnered with the mushrooms, rocket, roasted walnuts and piquant baby bell peppers. This is my favourite dish of the evening.

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Throughout the evening our host extraordinaire, Clyde Bevan, entertains our table with his banter and his repertoire of card tricks. Clyde knows how to connect with his customers and I recall visiting his Dear Friends restaurant in Caversham many years ago and being similarly captivated by the wonderful food and ambience.

Our main course arrives and three of our four have opted for the 120 day aged Angus beef cheeks in a red wine reduction. This dish has my friends in raptures with its rich flavours and tender slow-cooked beef.

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Preferring fish to red meat, my choice of the Barramundi fillet arrives with truffled polenta and seasoned vegetables. This dish is missing the ‘wow’ factor, but I have to bear in mind that the pairing of fish with truffle is unlikely to match the partnering of beef with truffle. However the flavours and presentation are good, and I love the crunch of both the Barramundi skin and the truffled polenta sticks, and the simple elegance of the vegetables.

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Throughout our meal, the wait staff are attentive and professional. This establishment knows how to pamper its customers and the little touches, like the wait staff wearing white gloves, really adds to the occasion. Orders are taken, chilled water topped up, wine poured, and plates cleared with quiet efficiency and minimum intrusion.

The cheese course consists of Tarago River Brie layered with truffle and mushroom, and accompanied by a pear crisp, a walnut and a pear puree. This small course is a wedding of a few choice ingredients and it works well. What I love about this degustation is we don’t feel cow-heavy or saturated with food. The course sizes are perfect for our group.

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Our final course is a chocolate and tonka bean mousse infused with truffle, paired with a vanilla and truffle ice-cream. We enjoy the contrasting mousse textures of crunchy and smooth, and the flavour combination of the chocolate and tonka. We find the truffle infused ice-cream a bit overpowering. It’s an interesting idea but I guess I just like my desserts to taste like desserts. I can’t remember specifically what dessert we had last time we dined here for the truffle degustation, but I do remember that it had salted caramel flavours with just a hint of truffle and tasted amazing.

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Friends is a wonderful dining experience, without the pomp and formality that often comes with fine dining. With attention to the minor details, friendly hosts, an excellent wine list, attentive staff and high quality food, it’s easy to see why this restaurant is still thriving 16 years on.

http://www.friendsrestaurant.com.au

Friends Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Co-op Dining

2015-03-22 09.04.54

Not sure if I can do a 10 course degustation these days I thought to myself, but I was prepared to give it my best shot. Didn’t eat anything all day; kept the tummy empty so I could cram as much in as possible. The last time I attempted such a meal was at Guillaume’s in the Opera House in Sydney several years ago, and as magnifique as it was, I could barely breathe for three days afterwards.

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Fortunately as I soon discovered at Co-op Dining, the courses are small in size and are spread over a long period; in our case this was four hours. Co-op willingly accommodated a few adjustments to the menu, and swapped the pork and red meat options for me.  All the wait staff were brilliant – friendly, amenable, professional and it was obvious that they really wanted us to enjoy the occasion.  My first course was slow dried onion shells with different salts, herbs and fillings. Don’t ask me to name the salts and fillings – this is what comes of chatting away and drinking wine and forgetting to pay attention to detail! Such a simple idea, and tasty and inventive at the same time. There were cumin and smokey flavours, and I thought this was something you could easily try at home and experiment with.  The other seven at my table had a charcuterie board with bresaola and another in-house cured meat. I wasn’t paying much attention to the meat starter to be honest. I had dried onion shells to focus on!

2015-03-22 09.06.54

I may have blurred the order of some of the courses here, but the barramundi cheeks and skins were also in the entree category. The soft cheeks were lightly battered and fried, and served on a piece of crispy barramundi skin. You had to eat the skin in one go, as there was no way this chewy little sucker was going to be bitten in half.  Interesting idea, and served with the Co-op version of a rollmop.  See what I mean about the size of the courses?  Nice and small for the ladies who don’t want to stuff down 10 massive sized courses. One cheek and one rollmop each.  Perfect. The men were starting to get a bit antsy but that’s another story.

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Fish appeared again in the form of dried Esperance sardines. Crunchy, tasty and complete with heads, these were enjoyed by all but one of us (who is fish-head-averse).  They were served with a mild sauce and a salt which complimented the sardines well.  Co-op work at introducing different textures and tastes, and only use fresh, seasonal, local produce.

2015-03-22 09.10.12

Mild buttermilk curd with fruit and basil was next up, and its cool, mild flavours complimented the stronger taste of the dried, spiced chicken skins. Who would think to pair chicken skins with buttermilk curd? It was an offbeat but successful combination.

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Delicate crab meat starred next, nestled with sea-salty samphire spears in a rye-bread roll, topped with a creamy garam-spiced sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Most of us felt that the lovely Shark Bay crab meat was overtaken by the strong-flavoured rye bread. Perhaps something a bit more understated would have showcased the crab to better effect. The samphire was a novelty – who knew that this glorious green stuff grows wild on our northern coastline?

2015-03-22 09.08.44

When I conjure up images of fine dining, cornflakes and eggs don’t generally feature, so our next course came as some surprise.
On a bed of garlicky mashed potato sat a glistening egg yolk surrounded by….corn flakes. Well, certainly not Kelloggs, but the Co-op version of super-crunchy, savoury, hearty, house-made corn flakes. Yup. When polled about their favourite dishes of the evening, most people gave this dish the big thumbs up.

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Our next course featured lightly seared duck breast on a bed of sauerkraut spiced with caraway seeds, and accompanied by a salted plum sauce. Whilst the contrasting textures of the cabbage with the duck worked very well, most of us felt the mild flavour of the duck was overpowered by the strong flavours of vinegar and caraway.

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The men rejoiced when the next dish of hogget with coconut yoghurt and mild Indian spices was served. It was a generous slab of meat that seemed to fill the protein gap that the poor loves were suffering from. In lieu of the hogget, my course was a delicious potato and cauliflower version that was creamy, mildly spiced and sprinkled with crunchy fried garlic and onion slivers.

2015-03-22 09.13.24

A welcome palate cleanser appeared next in the form of ginger kombucha popsicles. The strong flavour of the ginger was quite different to the expected mild flavours of lemon or orange, but it worked a treat.

2015-03-28 16.02.31

Our first dessert course was a light-as-feather sponge served with poached apricot, some deliciously smooth yet slightly acidic cream, and orange rind that had been toasted and sweetened. You really will have to excuse my lack of detail here – after all these courses and three glasses of wine, my attention was waning. It had been a long, enjoyable evening but my motivation to record the minutiae seemed to evaporate at some point.  At least I remembered to take photos!

2015-03-22 09.14.22

And finally – drum roll please!! We all scream for ice-cream but who in their wildest imagination would have believed that ice-cream could taste so wonderful with baby carrots? But indeed it did as everyone in our group concurred. Sprinkled with liquorice dust and surrounded by pistachio crumbs, this exotic little creation was superbly finished off with ultra creamy ice-cream and little mounds of orangey apricoty sweetness. Oh my. Kudos to the chef for expanding our ways of thinking about what constitutes an amazing dessert.

2015-03-22 09.15.08

This 10 course degustation at the princely sum of $125 is not your standard weekly dining out experience. For an extra $75 you can enjoy wine pairing with your meal, or you can simply buy by the glass which is on average, around the $15 mark. This intimate restaurant ticks all the boxes for me; it is staffed by passionate chefs and wait people who are proud of the food and wine they serve. There’s no rushing you through your meal, no obnoxious noise levels, no problem with people who need or want to change menu items. There is innovation, excellence and professionalism. What a brilliant way to sample all the fine WA produce we have on our doorstep.

http://co-opdining.com.au

Co-Op Dining on Urbanspoon

Next Door @ No. 4

2015-03-16 22.08.15 Next door to the long established Blakes in North Perth – well so close next door it’s actually an adjoining room – this new eatery recently invited customers to try their “Trust the Chef” degustation with 50% off the usual price of $50.  The restaurant calls you first to ascertain if you have any special dietary requirements, and then you really   do have place your trust in the chef . This intimate dining area with seating inside and in the small courtyard entry at the front, specialises in fine wines and small plates of fine food. Never one to pass up on a foodie bargain, Scotty and I decided we had to try it. The bargain price went out the  door of course when we ordered our bottle of wine, as the cheapest on the menu is $45.

2015-03-16 22.09.03 Seated with wine glasses filled, we were immediately served our plate of superb      house-baked sour dough  bread with salted butter.

2015-03-16 22.09.59 This was followed quickly by our course of duck and taleggio croquettes with hazelnut marmalade. The croquettes were crisp and tasty and oozing with silky taleggio, while we thought the chunky orangey marmalade was a bit overpowering for the delicate croquettes.

2015-03-16 22.11.04 Our next course consisted of marinated sardines with capers and dill, pickled red cabbage and goats cheese.  The rich cheese worked well with the crisp cabbage, but the full flavoured goats cheese dominated the delicate flavour of the sardines.  Perhaps some soft feta may have worked better here. The sardines though, were a delightful change from the usual oily-fleshed variety served, and overall, it was an interesting mix of tastes and textures.

2015-03-16 22.12.56 The chicken terrine with liver parfait was a hit with both of us. Decorated with delicate sesame seed wafers and slices of sweet red plum, this beautifully presented dish consisted of a slice of terrine, with a swirl of liver  parfait on top. My photo unfortunately doesn’t really capture the beautiful presentation of this dish.

2015-03-16 22.14.12Mildly flavoured Puy lentils with saffron cream and smoked onions were served next. Puy lentils are the rich relatives in the lentil family, but they are still lentils and I don’t equate them with fine dining. Maybe a bed of Puy lentils showcasing something fabulous, but not a plate of dahl as a course on its own. Having learned how to make dahl many many years ago from my Indian (then) mother-in-law, I have adapted and experimented with it over the years. It’s a comfort dish, an everyday dish, a typical wintry day dish, but for me, it’s not a degustation dish. Scotty was equally uninspired so we didn’t make much headway with this dish.

2015-03-16 22.16.11Grilled Eggplant with peanut praline and yellow curry was our final dish before dessert. With chunky slices of just-tender eggplant, it was an interesting mix of tastes and textures, but not something that made us scream for more or enticed us to clear the plate. 2015-03-16 22.17.11 Both desserts arrived at once, and proved a pleasant finale to our meal. The champagne sabayon with rhubarb and strawberries atop a scattering of cakey crumbs was light and refreshing.

2015-03-16 22.18.26 Our other dessert of Tonka pannacotta with burnt orange, malted chocolate and persian fairy floss, was our favourite though. Sinfully creamy and perfectly complimented by the layer of burnt orange on top, this was our favourite dish of the evening.

This tiny venue has many things going for it. It is a perfect, intimate spot for a romantic evening. The wine list, albeit expensive, is varied and good. The food is innovative and the chef gets to experiment with different ingredients and food combinations. The service is excellent and attentive. Some of the menu items, like the smoked cod croquettes, cauliflower risotto and grilled haloumi, sounded delightful and we wished we could have sampled them. When you place your trust in the chef however, not all things are created equal and inevitably there will be some hits and misses. That’s what happened on this occasion, but we still enjoyed the experience and would be happy to reprise it.

http://no4blakestreet.com.au

Next Door @ No4 on Urbanspoon