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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.