Getting back into cooking since 2009.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

The French Laundry

Yountville is almost creepily scenic. Imagine Margaret River if it wasn't full of franchises. So, imagine Bridgetown, only without a highway down the middle. It also feels a bit like Disneyland, except instead of Mickey Mouse the central character that the town revolves around is Thomas Keller.

Keller has three restaurants in this small, one-street town. The Michelin one-star Bouchon, the casual family-style Ad Hoc, and the world-beating reason we'd driven an hour and a bit north of San Francisco, the French Laundry. He also has the spin-off Bouchon Bakery, a little shop front that started off purely to supply the restaurants, but is now open to the public. They still deliver bread down the street in a little branded delivery bicycle, a twee touch that would make me retch and wince in disbelief if it was in an Audrey Tatou movie.

Keller has a lot going on, but the focus is very much the French Laundry.


We wandered up the main street from the little converted train we were staying in, hoping to stumble across The Restaurant, when we came across a farm. Rows and rows of cabbages, herbs, lettuces of all kinds, a giant persimmon tree, a greenhouse.




Then we looked a bit closer and realised...


That's not just a farm, that's the farm, the French Laundry's kitchen garden. We turned around and there it was, the culinary mecca.



A few hours later, we were inside, and ready to eat.

I'd love to describe each dish we ate, but I'm afraid I'd bore you. The menu is a nine course degustation plus assorted canapes, with a choice between an omnivorous menu and a vegetarian menu. Each menu gives a choice between two alternatives on several courses, giving you the chance to taste even more than the allotted number of dishes if you're willing to share (we did, although sometimes reluctantly).

We ate the signature salmon cornets, a foie gras terrine with hazelnuts and brioche, a dumpling with tripe and black truffles, two different fish dishes. Tiny rolls from the Bouchon Bakery were served with a French butter and one from Vermont that comes from a dairy farm with four cows. Soda raved about her tiny rack and saddle of rabbit. We had incredible lamb from Elsyian Fields Farm, the saddle wrapped in its own fat and cooked sous vide, tasting much more strongly gamey than the lamb we eat at home and the more subtle roast we had a few nights earlier at Chez Panisse.

There was a composed cheese course, a pre-dessert that took its cues from the Dark and Stormy cocktail  featuring a ginger beer foam and ginger tuile, a bakewell tart and chocolate cake (that of course didn't look like bakewell tart and chocolate cake), some mignardises including a sublime salted caramel truffle.

You can see some fairly average photos of these incredible dishes on my Picasa, but I really need to rave about two courses in particular: Oysters and Pearls, and the "Caesar Salad".

I almost wish I hadn't eaten Oysters and Pearls, because now that I have there's no turning back. Oysters and Pearls set the bar so high, I'm not sure any other restaurant will be able clear it. This is a dish with aims so far beyond sustenance that it deserves its own category as a pleasure-delivery vehicle: to call it it "food" feels woefully inadequate.

Oysters and Pearls consists of lightly poached oysters, all briny and sweet, in a delicately chive-scented sabayon studded with tapioca pearls. On top goes a hunking great wodge of unspeakably good caviar. That's it. It builds and builds, subtle at first, but then the delicate, salty roe start to work their magic, popping in the mouth, the tapioca spheres a textural echo of the caviar. The oysters themselves tip it over the top into pure hedonism.

I have to eat this again someday. Perhaps, someday, Per Se. Until then, I'll just have to dream about it.

Oysters and Pearls, as you'll have gathered, was a very good way to begin a meal. Things got better from there.


I have no hesitation in naming the French Laundry's "Caesar Salad" as the greatest single dish I've ever had the pleasure of eating. The dish bears very little relation to any Caesar salad you or I have seen before, instead using classic Caesar dressing as a jumping off point for a dish that is based around Keller's famous butter-poached lobster tail.

On the base of the plate is a generous but inadequate mound of Caesar dressing (I would drink two litre cartons of "Caesar Chill" if it existed), with bottarga playing the role of anchovy. Bottarga is sun-dried mullet roe, and shares a similar salty, intense, umami-laden deliciousness with anchovies, one of my favourite foods. The bottarga gives the dressing a light orange hue, which mirrors the butter-poached lobster tail perched on top.

Sitting next the lobster is a rectangular piece of cos lettuce ('romaine', to the Americans), caramelised on the outside and giving an extra nod to the salad that gives this dish its name. Perched atop it all at a jaunty angle is a little garlic crisp, a delicate tuile with the muted taste of roasted garlic.

Over the top, a waiter shaves another few flakes of bottarga tableside. Wow. From the first forkful, I went into a glassy-eyed stupour, something S tends to refer to as my "polenta face" after first encountering it over a plate of crab and polenta at Icebergs in Sydney a few years ago. The lobster is tender and moist, tasting of the sea, its natural fattiness reinforced by the beurre monte (butter emulsified with water) in which it was poached.

The lobster, in a nice fusion of the classic and modern techniques, is poached in a vat controlled by an immersion circulator, but isn't vacuum sealed first, so it's halfway between a sous-vide poach and a traditional poach. A nice summation of where the kitchen sits on the modern-traditional spectrum, I think.


We even got invited to view the kitchen and meet the Chef de Cuisine, Tim Hollingsworth, a man who represented America at the last Bocuse d'Or culinary Olympics. The kitchen is shockingly small, with six stations managing to turn out food of such precision and quality, with two menus that are really more like four given the choices available, plus canapes, every night. Oh and the menu changes every day. These are cooks at the top of their game, at the top of the world, and I'm incredibly glad I got to eat their food.

French Laundry on Urbanspoon
The French Laundry
 6640 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Bazaar by Jose Andres (Restaurant - Los Angeles)

Alriiiiight!

Jose Andres is possibly the best known and most accomplished Spanish chef in America. He introduced the US to the whole small plates thing in the '90s and has been at the forefront of introducing molecular/techno-emotional/modern/whatever cooking to America, too. He apprenticed under Ferran Adria in the late-'80s, he's a TV star in Spain, has an English-language show on PBS called Made in Spain and is a certified Friend of Bourdain. He also owns a restaurant called Oyamel in Washington DC that opened my eyes to how brilliant Mexican food can be. What a guy.


Photo: Luis Magán

The Bazaar in Los Angeles brings together the traditional and modern sides of Andres' cooking, with the menu split down the middle between traditional tapas and inventive small plates that are mostly in the key of Spanish.

It's a massive restaurant, with a huge bar, two tapas sections (Rojo and Blanca) that serve the same menu with different decor, and a "patisserie" that serves dessert to restaurant customers and others wandering in. The restaurant has a  fun, Alice in Wonderland atmosphere, although the indifference of some of our fellow diners astounded me. The table next to us was filed with two jaded early-40s power couples who had apparently been to the restaurant before, yet seemed not to care for the food. They played with their BlackBerries the whole time, and seemed to be disinterested in the food and each other. Why would you bother?

Anyway, other than some questionable customers, the Bazaar is an incredible restaurant. I'm not usually a fan of long blog posts that walk you through a meal dish by dish, but... here's a long blog post that walks you through a meal dish by dish. Sorry about that.


Olives: Modern

"Olives, modern and traditional" is a kind of thesis statement for the restaurant, uniting the "modern" and "traditional" halves of the tapas-based menu. The modern olive is Ferran Adria's spherified olive, pure olive liquid bound in itself with sodium alginate and calcium chloride like a raviolo without the pasta. If you've got a few olives and a stash of chemicals, you could make them at home!

The modern "olives" are ladled from a jar and set next to a tin of more orthodox green olives, stuffed with orange zest, piquillo pepper and superlative anchovy. You're instructed to eat the traditional olive first to get a sense of the texture and then to try the modern version.


Olives: Traditional

The spherified olive must be one of the most famous and defining dishes of this decade. I thought I was prepared for them, but they still shocked me. They flood your mouth with olive juice with a bang, and it's so completely strange that it forces you to focus on the flavour of olive, something that you're so accustomed to that it usually wouldn't be remarked upon. That's what's great about these modern techniques, cliched though spherification has become. This isn't flashy manipulation for its own sake, it's just a modern technique used to draw attention to a fantastic ingredient.


Shrimp cocktail

"Just a shrimp cocktail (yeah right)" is 3 large prawns, each skewered on a plastic syringe of sorts. You bite the prawn and squeeze the end of the skewer to fill your mouth with the shrimp cocktail "sauce", a spicy tomato water. Yes, it's actually called "Just a shrimp cocktail (yeah right)", but I can forgive that kind of tweeness when the result is this tasty and surprising.



On the 'traditional tapas' side, "papas canarias" was a surprisingly humble revelation. It's a simple dish of potatoes served in the salt they were cooked in. They're roasted 'til wrinkled and served with a Mexican mojo verde as a dipping sauce. The tangy sauce is somewhat reminiscent of an Italian salsa verde, all acidic zing and herbs. The potatoes themselves were incredible, with a concentrated, almost sweet earthiness, and somehow the salt dusting and the acidic salsa completely balanced one another. We're planning to start growing some potatoes just so that we can try and recreate this incredible dish. One of the very best dishes we ate in the US, and so basic!

We tried a few other traditional tapas, including rich, gelatinous braised beef cheeks and a rustic salad of egg, tuna belly, carrot and peas with pristine olive oil called "The Ultimate Spanish Tapa". They were fantastic, but it's the more inventive end of things that really sticks in the memory.


"Philly Cheesesteak"

"Philly cheesesteak" is a re-constructed ode to a low-brow American classic. Andres' version consists of wagyu carpaccio atop cruncy, hollow "air bread", filled with warm cheese foam. Delicious and fun, although the strong cheese slightly overshadowed the thin wagyu slices. If I'm paying for wagyu, I want to taste wagyu.


"Miso linguine"

This linguine isn't linguine at all. Instead, it's "miso linguine", made by pouring a shallow miso broth gelled with agar agar and then cutting the set jelly into ribbons. The strands of "linguine" melt in your mouth and reform the broth. It's served with smoke trout roe.


Cotton candy foie gras


This dish, cotton candy foie gras, plays off the tradition of serving foie gras with sweet accompaniments (or at least a sweet wine) to cut the fattiness. Here the cube of liver is seasoned and then wrapped in cotton candy that has been lightly accented with vanilla. I love the idea of presenting one of the ultimate fine dining ingredients in a way that is more reminiscent of a circus. I suppose that sums up the Bazaar, in a way.

The important point is that almost all of these dishes are extremely satisfying. All the whimsy and fancy technique just enhances the experience, it isn't a crutch or a smokescreen to disguise substandard food.

After our tapas feast, we moved through to the patisserie for dessert. It was a nice change of pace and a cunning strategy to turn tables faster for the restaurant. I'm fine with that when it's done this well.

We wandered around looking at the cases of mignardises, the open pastry kitchen, the massive stacks of candles that look like macarons, the art and arty objects. All for sale, all a fun multicoloured jumble.

Dessert itself was ever-so-slightly disappointing. My "nitro floating island" was flash frozen meringue atop caramelized bananas and vanilla. Very tasty and inventive, but featuring too much meringue perched on top of not enough sauce. A minor quibble with a great meal.

The Bazaar is surprisingly cheap for those of us from Perth who are used to cowering in fear at the sight of a tapas menu. I think (from memory) we spent around $125 per head for food, and we ate a lot of food (as you can see) and took a few things home from the patisserie.

A good start to our trip.

The Bazaar By Jose Andres on Urbanspoon
The Bazaar by Jose Andres
465 S La Cienaga Boulevard
Los Angeles CA USA

Coming up: The French Laundry!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fruit and vegetables in Perth


We have a lot of good quality produce in WA. Fantastic lamb, great seafood, even our own rapidly developing truffle industry.

Eating my way around California, though, has opened my eyes to the sheer range of ingredients we can't buy.

There's the range of fruit and vegetables used in Central and South American cuisine: jicama, hominy, fresh tomatillos. Limes are perplexingly expensive, despite our citrus-friendly climate and large South-East Asian migrant population. There's a whole bunch of ingredients starting with 'p' that you'll struggle to find: plantains, persimmons, pomegranate.

We've got a temperate, Mediterranean climate in Perth and the south-west of WA that can support everything from citrus to wine, and the interest in food is rapidly growing, but our choices are still fairly constrained.

I don't think I realised the limits we face until I visited San Francisco, in particular the farmers' market at the Ferry Building. The Ferry Building is a bit of a food mecca, and every Saturday it's surrounded by a massive market. There are dozens upon dozens of vegetable and fruit stalls, with so much specialisation. There's the berry guy, the potato guy. There's a mushroom shop with all kinds of fungi, including fresh porcini and chanterelles, as well as domestic and imported truffles. I saw a leek farmer advising a customer as to which of his leek varieties would be best suited for various modes of preparation. Have you ever seen any kind of leek in Perth other than... leeks?

What stunned me, though, is that it's not an isolated thing. Another market, a few miles away, had probably the second biggest range of produce I've ever seen (after the Ferry Building market, of course). Even corner grocery stores had a staggering range.

There's just a lot more choice. In Perth we can usually buy maybe three different kinds of chilli (long red, long green, and short 'Thai' varieties), with the occasional habanero if you're lucky. The array of chillis and capsicums (all "peppers" in the confusing American nomenclature) contained every degree of heat, colour and size you can imagine.

Why do we have relatively few fruit and veg choices? Is it a quarantine thing? Is there really not enough Perth food enthusiasts to support small producers? Is Perth too far from agricultural regions now that the city market garden is more or less a thing of the past? Do we just have lower expectations, or less competition?

I don't want to overstate things. As I said at the top of this rant, we have a lot of good quality produce in WA. I just wish we had more of it.

COMING UP: Photos and breathlessly enthusiastic praise for the French Laundry, the Bazaar, and other restaurants I can't stop thinking about!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

California!

Hello internet!

We're off to California for a couple of weeks, so no posts from us for a while.

We're going to plenty of restaurants including The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Chez Panisse (home of Pol Pot in a muumuu), Ad Hoc and... THE FRENCH LAUNDRY. I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about when we get home. We will also eat our weight in tacos.

Vamanos!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Change of address

Hello!
The address of this blog has changed to http://www.palace-foods.com

The RSS feed and all of that stuff should still work, and any links to http://palacefoods.blogspot.com or individual pages should work too, but please let me know if you have any problems.

Thanks!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Restaurant Amuse (East Perth)


I don't think I'll ever lose the feeling of being out of place in restaurants more expensive than Red Rooster.

Childhood special occasions were celebrated in suburban Chinese restaurants, and throughout my early twenties a meal that cost more than $20 was an unimaginable luxury. I've always loved food, but spending a substantial sum of money on a meal always felt like something that other, richer people did, like listening to classical music or voting for the Liberal Party.

Since finishing uni a few years ago I've made up for lost time by eating in as many restaurants as possible, but I still feel like an imposter waiting to be found out. I start to panic and feel as if everyone in the restaurant has figured me out. Can they see the small rip in my jacket, did they hear my car backfire as it limped around the corner? Can they tell that I don't know the difference between sauvignon and savagnin?

Restaurant Amusé puts me at ease.

I think that's because Amusé (I'm going to drop the slightly poncy 'é' now) is all about the food. That sounds like it should be a given at a restaurant, particularly a 'fine dining' restaurant, but it's not. This is not the sort of place you come to be seen (gross!) or to gaze at the river. Amuse is stuck in the armpit of East Perth, and the exterior looks more like a suburban accountant's office than a fine dining restaurant.

Once you're inside, Amuse couldn't be more welcoming.  The dining room is mostly chocolate and beige with the occasional unfortunate splash of bad art on the walls, and the service is attentive and precise yet warm and friendly. The front of house staff are led by Carolynne Troy, wife of chef Hadleigh Troy.

I was stunned on our second visit that all the waiters welcomed us back... they remembered us! A few months later it happened again, despite all three occasions being booked under different names! How do you teach that? They never remembered me at the Red Rooster drive-through window.

Amuse serves a nine-ish course degustation menu for $115 with no a la carte menu. It builds from an amuse bouche (duh), through a number of small savoury courses, culminating in a couple of meat-centric dishes. There is a vegetarian tasting menu too, if you must. After a palate cleanser the degustation finishes with a couple of desserts and petit fours. It's a marathon, but you won't feel as if you'll need to roll out of there.

Matching wine courses cost an additional $65. Get the matching wines, it's worth it. I particularly appreciated the sommelier's descriptions of the wines and her rationale for choosing each wine. I'm not a wine guy. I know next to nothing about the subject, except for the fact that I like drinking it. This makes me keen to learn more, but I'm also wary of wine speak that is too jargony or assumes a high level of knowledge. The sommelier's descriptions are refreshingly bullshit-free.

The degustation isn't a tasting menu composed of slimmed down a la carte plates. The degustation-only format means that the menu is conceived of as a complete experience. Recurring themes emerge, different treatments of the same ingredients are explored, similar techniques are brought to bear on very different ingredients.

"Smoke, tomato and ash" could have been disastrous, with an astringent smoky smear, sprinkling of ash and tomato sorbet. It packed big, bold flavours, and was a pungent start to the meal. Like almost everything here, though, it was well balanced. It's an intriguing dish, and one that makes you sit up and take notice.

Two variations (on separate menus) on a coddled egg were not quite as successful. Coddled egg with marron was too texturally one-note. The slippery marron pieces covered in the unctuous yolk needed some crunch. "Chicken or the egg?" delivered some texture and salty balance in the form of fried chicken skin pieces, but it was still too much for me and could have benefited from some acid to cut the richness of the egg.

The egg dishes were the only slight stutters in three near-perfect meals eaten at Amuse (two degustations and a three-course classic French meal for Bastille Day).

The kitchen's skill at cooking seafood is nearly as impressive as the creativity underpinning the more complex dishes. A lone mussel in a refined bouillabaisse was the briniest, plumpest mussel I've ever eaten!

The meat dishes are even better.

Two slivers of blushing pink squab breast were accompanied by a spring roll of shredded squab meat and a line of granulated coffee and cocoa that hinted at sweetness. On another menu, quail got a similar treatment, with a tiny confit quail drumstick rivalling the squab breast for sheer deliciousness.

"Beef, bacon, butter" was a cube of medium-rare wagyu with a breaded parcel of molten Cafe de Paris butter that pleasantly exploded with the impact of a knife. It was precisely targeted to the pleasure centre of my brain. The next day I got a text message from my friend Nat that just said 'beef'. I understood. The uniform medium rare (and the fact that diners are given no choice about the degree of doneness) suggests that the meat is cooked sous vide, but it's so well seared on the outside that you're not left craving a simple grilled piece of meat.

The playfulness doesn't let up with dessert. "Carrot cake" is a completely deconstructed plate of crumbs, salt, dehydrated carrot shavings and smooth carrot sorbet that slowly melts in your mouth to reveal a sweet, pure carrot flavour. "Jaffa" is a similarly deconstructed play on chocolate and orange, tasting just like the lollies, which is no bad thing.

I wish I'd taken photos, but my restaurant anxiety prevents me from being comfortable taking out a camera. I'll get over that.

There is very little that's 'safe' about this place; no crowd-pleasing classics or 'signature dishes' to fall back on. If you rave about a particular dish to your friends they won't be able to try it. The menu changes completely each month in line with the seasons and the chef's whims.

We don't see a lot of this kind of boldness in Perth, but I wish we did. I love it.

Restaurant Amuse
Unit 1, 64 Bronte Street
EAST PERTH WA 6004
08 9325 4900

Restaurant Amuse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Georgia Style Braised Pork Shoulder (& other Top Chef recipes)

Last week's episode of Top Chef was Restaurant Wars and to celebrate (geez we are so lame?) we had some friends over and set the mild challenge of each cooking something that had been featured on Top Chef over the last 6 seasons. For the record, the recipes on Top Chef vary pretty greatly from easy to ridiculously complicated, and 'this is a michelin star quality dish' to making-Tom-Collichio-spit-food-into-the-desert, so this didn't actually mean much more than there being a massive range of recipes to choose from and an excuse to say dumb stuff like "flavour profile" and "execute the dish".

First up Nat brought Season 5 Jamie's Red Curry Carrot Soup with Raita and Smoked Paprika Oil. It was delicious! Once more a Jamie soup (with flavoured oil) is a win (see also Chilled Corn Soup that I am hoping will get another run this summer).

Then the television took over our lives for 50 minutes. We all hated on Toby Young, and were relieved with the decision made by judges at the end. Also Padma rolled her eyes a few times.

Main course: Georgia Style Braised Pork Shoulder, from (everyone's favourite) Kevin of current season.

This was from an episode where they had to cook at an air force base, for a bunch of air force officers, hence the recipe says it serves 125 people. I cooked a quarter of the amount, and we had amazing pulled pork sandwiches the next night for dinner so in the end it probably served about 6-8 full sized meals.

It all seems like a lot of mustard, but it worked really well. Kevin wins again!

We served the pork with Mustard Potato Salad, the dressing for which Matt made up because somehow I couldn't locate Eli's recipe, although now I have very easily. What's up with that? Was the internet playing tricks on me? Maybe. But the made from scratch mayonnaise that Matt created was probably better than Eli's anyway. To be fair they had to work with what they had in the airforce base kitchen (lots of cans) so I suppose he is forgiven for all the ingredients involved. But keep egg out of my potato salad please.

Again, more mustard? Yes, more mustard. I made the addition of some finely sliced up apple for colour and lightness which worked obviously because apple and pork are friends. There was going back for seconds. Hooray.

For dessert Helen made (DJ?) Hubert Keller's Gingered Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse with Toasted Pistachio! Firstly, bonus points for cooking from Top Chef Masters. Secondly this too was delicious.  Apparently there were slight changes (less cream, more ginger?) to the recipe but I don't see why it would be done any other way, it was awesome.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cured Salmon, Blood Orange and Fennel Salad


Goddamn summer. When the temperature gets above 30 degrees or so, a lot of the things that I like to cook and eat stop being quite so attractive. No more long, slow braises, no more soft polenta spiked with handfuls of butter and Grana Padano.

The last few summers I've tried to force myself to try new things and be as excited about warm-weather cooking as I am about dishes that need to sit in the oven for four hours. That's a struggle.

The main problem? Salad is boring.

OK, so obviously salad can be just as inventive, exciting and memorable as any other kind of dish. It just usually isn't.

Cured fish has those intense, concentrated flavours, so it makes a completely non-boring base for a salad. The citrus in this salad also helps lighten things up and keep it refreshingly acidic.

It's extremely basic to prepare. Curing salmon or trout is all kinds of easy. Do it!

Cured Salmon, Blood Orange and Fennel Salad


Ingredients
500g salmon fillets (around two small fillets), pinbones removed
50g seat salt flakes
50g white sugar
One lemon, zest removed
One blood orange, zest removed
30ml gin or vodka or limoncello or something along those lines
Fennel bulb, with lots of herby fennel tops (you might need two bulbs worth of herby bits)


Method
1) Combine the salt, sugar, zest and a handful of herby fennel tops in a bowl.

2) Place your salmon fillets in a plastic or glass container (I use a square Pyrex baking dish) and cover all over with the salt-sugar mixture.

3) Wrap with plastic and weigh down. I loosely wrap the Pyrex bowl, then place a small plate on top and stick a couple of beers on top of that. Works for me. Soon your dry cure will turn to a liquid brine as it sucks the moisture out of the fish.

4) Leave your salmon in the fridge for about 36-48 hours, until it's reasonably firm and cured through. Every 12 hours or so, take it out of the fridge and flip the fillets, making sure they're covered in the brine.

5) Slice all the pith off your blood orange and cut it into thin wedges (supremes). Arrange on a plate.

6) Shave thin slices of your fennel bulb with a vege peeler or mandolin. Arrange on top of the blood orange and squeeze a little bit of lemon juice top stop them browning.

7) Top with slices of your salmon and some more fennel tops. Finish with a little drip of good olive oil.

I guess summer is not that bad.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Slow-braised octopus


When it's cooked well, octopus is meaty and savoury and briny. When it's cooked poorly, it's rubbery and fibrous and unappetising. 

I've stumbled across a technique for cooking octopus that results in perfectly tender tentacles with a lot of that deep-sea flavour. Result: this is going to be the summer of octopus. I got the technique from a column by Harold McGee, the author of the legendary On Food and Cooking. 

Basically this method just involves slowly cooking the octopus in its own delicious juices for 4 or 5 hours. Warning: your house will be filled with a strong octopus smell after the first hour or so of cooking. It's not unpleasant, but it is quite strong.

Slow-braised octopus, McGee style
Ingredients:
Whole adult octopus or octopuses.
 
Method:
1) Preheat your oven to 95c, and bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

2) Cut the tentacles away from the body of the octopus. Discard the body. 

3) Once your water is at a rolling boil, blanch the tentacles for 30 seconds. Do this in a few batches, so that the temperature doesn't drop too much.

4) Remove the tentacles from the blanching water with a slotted spoon or a pasta spoon, and place in a pot with a tight-fitting lid that can go in the oven. I use an enameled cast iron casserole. Don't add anything else to the pot, not even salt (otherwise it will get too salty as the natural 'sauce' reduces).
 

5) Place your covered pot of blanched tentacles in the pre-heated oven and cook for 4-5 hours, until very tender. 
 

6) Allow the tentacles to cool in their liquid.  

That's it! You've now got beautifully tender, yet still meaty, octopus tentacles. You can just season these and serve them warm, or allow them to cool completely and serve them in a salad. McGee suggests straining and reducing the braising liquid and serving the tentacles with this natural sauce.
 
I like to allow them to cool, cut them into chunks and then dress them like a salad. You can then either serve the tentacle pieces as a salad, or as part of an antipasto platter, or thread them on the skewers and quickly barbeque them. The BBQ method is probably my favourite.
 
Barbequed octopus skewers 
Ingredients  
-Two octopuses, prepared as per the recipe above and allowed to cool to room temperature
-Juice of one lemon  
-Handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped  
-Good quality extra virgin olive oil
-One long red chilli, chopped (deseeded if you must)
-Red wine vinegar (optional)
-Sea salt
 
Method
1) Add the olive oil to the lemon juice, roughly 2 parts olive oil to one part lemon juice. Stir vigorously until emulsified. This is a bit more acidic than a standard vinaigrette, but the octopus benefits from aggressive seasoning. I like to add a dash of red wine vinegar too, but you don't have to.

2) Pour the vinaigrette over the octopus, adding the mint and chilli and a few generous pinches of sea salt.

3) Toss well, then taste to check your seasoning.

4) Thread onto skewers.

5) Heat on a hot BBQ or pan for about 30-60 seconds, just enough to slightly crisp the outside and warm the tentacle pieces through.

6) Pour over any left over dressing.

Like I said, this is going to be the summer of octopus.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Small Bars and the Town of Vincent

What does the Town of Vincent have against small bars?

Small bars have started to spring up in the couple of years since the license came into effect, but very few have been in the Town of Vincent. The council has approved a few (like The Cabin in Mt Hawthorn and Double Lucky in Leederville), but they've also knocked back several for spurious reasons.

The council's stubborn recalcitrance has become a bit of an obsession of mine, and I've developed the deeply nerdy habit of scouring the council's minutes looking for something to piss me off. This is not normal behaviour, I know, but I just can't help myself.

One of the worst cases I've found relates to a small bar that was proposed for Oxford St. The applicant wanted to open a small wine bar catering for up to 80 patrons, focusing on up-market wine and food.

The council received a petition in favour of the application, signed by 104 people. It also received a petition opposing the application, signed by eight people. Eight. The council refused the application.

Bear in mind that the building had already operated as a cafe. It's on Oxford St, near the Re Store, there's a lot of traffic. The Leederville Hotel is a few hundred metres away, as is Leederville Oval. TAFE is over the road. This isn't the middle of suburbia, it's a busy inner-city suburb. The place was going to be a small wine bar, not a rowdy pub.

Then there's another case, relating to a place just a few metres away on the corner of Oxford and Richmond Streets. This bar, Bar Rosso, was intended to be "a premium wine bar and cocktail venue with associated gourmet food". Again, not a rowdy pub. Fifteen people signed a petition against the application. It was refused, too.

I must admit that neither of these bars sound like places I'd be particularly interested in, but that's not really the point.

Why did the council refuse these applications, and a whole bunch of others? Two reasons. First of all, parking. Second, the objections of a few local cranks.

Parking

On the issue of parking: uh, what? Shouldn't people be discouraged from driving their cars to a bar?

Why does everything need to be planned around the car? David Byrne said it best: "the policy of infinite accommodation to the car needs to stop and be reversed if our cities are to survive as more than clumps of offices and parking garages."

Also, several of the proposed bars have already operated as cafes or restaurants or pool halls. Presumably people drove to those. Why does the council require more parking for a bar than for a cafe? While we're at it, where is the parking for all the big pubs (the Queens, the Leederville) that already exist?

Not in my immaculately manicured backyard

My personal favourite objection came from the guy who thought that one of the wine bars mentioned above might lure young people from the TAFE over the road (I'm not making this up, it's here). Yes, your typical 19-year old TAFE student will definitely go buy an expensive glass of Bordeaux instead of getting a jug from the Leedy a few hundred metres away.

The other objections generally amount to the time-honoured cry of "not in my backyard", to which I would reply: you live in an inner city suburb. You probably moved here because it's more "vibrant", more alive than far-off suburbia. Why try to suffocate the little glimmer of activity that is trying to poke its way to the surface?

I've never voted in local council elections. It seems a bit pointless, and I can never tell what the candidates actually stand for (it's always "the community" and "small business" and "sunshine" and "motherhood"). Maybe I should vote next time.

Anyway, apologies for the slightly off-topic rant, normal service will resume shortly. I've got an awesome recipe for slow-braised octopus that I want to share.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Zapata's (Restaurant - Northbridge)

Mexican food has a bad reputation. It's been marred by association with packet crap, and there are few decent restaurants in Perth to offset the dark side. Imagine if all we knew of Japanese food was the dodgy 4-pack nori rolls they sell at servos, or if Italian food in Australia was just sharehouse-style spag bol with those Kraft shakers of dandruff masquerading as parmesan cheese. Mexican food deserves better.

Of course, Tex-Mex and Mexican are not the same thing, but that doesn't mean you should just dismiss Tex-Mex food. Genuine Tex-Mex food is more like a regional variation or adaptation of Mexican food than a worthless Western bastardisation (see the Homesick Texan blog for some great Tex-Mex recipes).

We approached Zapata's in Northbridge hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Tex Mex can be done well, as I've mentioned, but it usually isn't. It's most often a convenient ruse to mask low-quality ingredients with acres of tasteless processed cheese, washing it all down with the obligatory cheap margaritas. I'm also deeply sceptical of any restaurant on James St in Northbridge. I assume all of those places are terrible until reliably assured otherwise.

Unfortunately, Zapata's restaurant in Northbridge confirmed our fears. The food they serve is a lazy, cynical insult to a great cuisine.

The margarita was pleasantly and surprisingly strong; everything else was depressingly poor.

The guacamole, which should be vibrant, tangy and well-seasoned, instead had the gelatinous, blended texture of a supermarket avocado dip with a near-miraculous lack of flavour. The guacamole was served as part of a trio of dips with "Chilli con Queso", which apparently translates as "Utterly Tasteless Molten Fat that May Have Once Been Cheese" and a 'salsa' of unripe diced tomatoes. These were served with cheap, semi-stale, shop-bought corn chips. Not a good start.

It did not get better from there. My beef burrito was tough, as if it had been pre-assembled and cooked and then reheated. A tortilla should not have the texture of leather. The taste hardly made up for the chew, with a metric tonne of bland burrito filling needing a heavy hand with the hot sauce to lend it any flavour at all.

The dismal food should not have been a surprise. The place ticks all the boxes for cliched awfulness. We were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I wish we hadn't.

Zapata's
155 James St
Northbridge WA

Zapata's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mondo Wholesale Butcher (Osborne Park)

I like meat. I like small family-run businesses, sharp knives and watching professionals who know what they're doing. I have a bit of a thing for quality butcher shops.

Our little neighbourhood in the inner suburbs of Perth is blessed with several great butchers. Torre on Lake St is maybe my favourite, with steaks cut to order and any cut minced on request. Princi on Fitzgerald St is old-school Italian, with beautiful lamb, capretto, offal meats and an abundance of pork. Princi is also next door to my favourite Italian deli, Di Chiera Bros.

Meat the Butcher (top name) at Dog Swamp shopping centre and Meat @ The Mezz in Mt Hawthorn also know their stuff. They both make top-quality sausages (I think Meat the Butcher has won some awards for theirs), give good cooking advice, and have a decent range of raw, prepared and semi-prepared meats.

Perhaps the most well-known of all Perth butcher shops is Mondo di Carne on Beaufort St in Inglewood, owned and operated by the gregarious and generous Vince Garreffa. His shop isn't just full of good meat but has well stocked shelves of various 'gourmet' ingredients that you might struggle to find elsewhere. They also have on hand a lot of cuts that you might need to order ahead of time elsewhere, like beef cheeks, veal tail, wagyu steaks and the like. According to Vince, the only pork product they don't get in is the uterus (but apparently some butchers in Northbridge sell that).

Everyone in Perth who cares about food knows about Mondo di Carne. What you might not know is that there is a Mondos wholesale outlet in Osborne Park that also sells direct to the public.


View Larger Map

The outlet sells a pretty wide range of cuts, from game birds (frozen, unfortunately, but we can't get fresh anywhere anyway) to premium wagyu to shoulders of pork. The only potential catch is that everything is sold in packages of about 2kg and up, but that isn't much of a problem if you like to cook. It's also not the sort of place to go if you would like to get things cut to order, or if you need to ask the butcher for some cooking tips. It is the sort of place to go if you want to buy big chunks of the best value meat in Perth.

I recently got six deboned quail, two big bags of chicken carcasses, a free range pork shoulder butt and a pack of six osso bucci for around $75 or so, which is pretty stunning value (especially given the fact that the quail took up about half that amount). A copy of their pricelist is here.

Osborne Park isn't that far to travel for cheap, good quality meat. I've posted the map above. It's in a little industrial unit (number 5) down the back on the left, behind Craft Decor.

Mondo Bulk Meats
5/41 King Edward Rd
Osborne Park WA 6017, Australia
(08) 9446 4778

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Churros!

As part of the long weekend/small plates deal, I took on dessert. Churros with Spanish style hot chocolate, to be precise. If it weren't for the bad idea of making it all a-la-minute (I had unfounded fears of making both parts ahead of time, and them not reheating properly) then I would count it all as success! Unfortunately it stressed me out a little, I got oil splatter burns up my arm, broke my cookie gun, and we didn't eat them til 11pm.


1. For the Churros: I followed this recipe, but it proved too tough to push through the cookie gun, who's fault that is I don't know, but if I was to use that thing again I'd make the dough a lot softer and hope that it still all holds together once it hits the oil. After breaking the gun I ended up just rolling some out into rough looking tubes by hand and crankily throwing them in the pan. They still worked! I should've done that from the start. Something to watch out for - exploding churros! This is how I got splattered with hot oil :(


2. For the Chocolate: I had a few recipes I tried for this, none of which were particularly great so it ended up being a bit of a mongrel in the end. A delicious mongrel, though. Something along the lines of:
  • Bring milk to a boil & stir in chocolate, add a cinnamon stick & split vanilla pod (this isn't necessary really but it always feels nice to use a real life vanilla.)
  • Stir in a mix of corn flour + water (so there isn't lumps of flour) over a low heat until it thickens to be something you can dip your fried things into.
  • Ladle into cups, wonder what you are going to do with such a massive pot of leftover hot chocolate, make a mental note to not make so freakin much of it next time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Long weekend, small plates

This weekend was another one of those meaningless public holidays, which really meant an excuse to spend hours in the kitchen. 

We cooked a tapas-ish feast for a few friends. It's tapas-'ish' because the dishes aren't all Spanish. I can't be bothered with scrupulous authenticity.


To start we had some spiced almonds, which were blanched almonds pan-fried with cayenne pepper, salt, oregano and paprika. Delicious. I can definitely see myself snacking on these all summer. Soda also made a Cava cocktail with Licor 43, vanila extract and orange peel which was pretty great.

Our first wave of dishes included some ugly-but-satisfying jamon croquettes (pictured above), from this easy recipe. We also had a salad of white anchovies, parsley and shallots. I love white anchovies. I like to think of them as gateway anchovies, because they're not hairy and not too salty, so they'll hook anyone who's not already an anchovy fiend. It turns out that all our friends already love anchovies (we know good people), so this was just preaching to the converted.  

We served things in threes, with the third part of the first wave of dishes being chickpea pancakes with onion confit and creme fraiche. I'm not sure what I was thinking with that one.

The second wave included some slightly disappointing shoestring fries with smoked paprika salt that were a bit soggy, but also the spectacularly successful salad of home-cured salmon with blood orange and fennel, pictured above, and these quail egg, chorizo and romesco bites (pictured below).

I got the idea for these little bites from an old Manthatcooks post in which Mr Spice Magazine made an apéritif thing of chorizo, aioli and sliced soft-boiled quail egg. Soft boiling and peeling quail eggs seemed a bit fiddly to me, so I fried them and cut around the yolks (messily, as you can see), and sat them on top of romesco rather than aioli. I'm not sure what everyone else thought (I think they were confused, mostly) but I was quite happy with these. I made the romesco extra acidic to try and balance the yolks, which worked well I thought. Someone did mention that it tasted like bacon and eggs, which was true and a pretty big compliment in my book. 


The third wave of dishes included albondigas (aka meatballs) with a sauce of blended piquillo peppers. The sauce was incredible and vibrant, one of the highlights of the night. It was just a tin of Spanish piquillo peppers, blended, with salt. Nothing else.


We also had some slow-braised octopus that I dressed in a lemon vinaigrette. This was another highlight. I'll post the recipe for this later. Unfortunately both the albondigas and the octopus were not particularly photogenic, so I don't have photos of those dishes. 


The third wave also included some beautiful thin new-season asparagus with an anchovy dressing. I just quickly grilled the asparagus and tossed them in the dressing. Lucky everyone was an anchovy fan.
 
The final set of savoury dishes included oxtail rillettes with a Pedro Ximenez reduction, which was one of my favourite dishes of the night. I braised the oxtail for 3 or 4 hours in tomatoes and white wine with smoked paprika, then shredded the meat off the bone, blended with a few cornichons and capers, spooned it into a ramekin and baked in a bain marie. Once it was warm and semi-set I turned it out onto a plate alongside some sherry that had been reduced to a sticky syrup with a star anise and some blood orange peel. We served this with some thin slices of baguette, so that you slathered a bit of meat and a bit of sauce on a crostini. Holy hell this was flavourful. This is another that I'll write up later with a proper recipe.


The final course also included some squid with a chorizo and sherry vinegar dressing. Tasted great, though I overcooked the squid slightly. 


Finally we had little capsicums stuffed with manchego cheese. The butcher at Torre on Lake St saw me eyeing off a can of piquillo peppers (which I ended up using with the meatballs), and offered to get me some little peppers that would be better for stuffing. He came through with the goods, these were delicious.


We finished with churros and pots of chocolate. Delicious.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Am I a foodiot?

This week, another ridiculous buzzword seems to have entered the food world: "foodiot".

The NY Observer posted this article a few days ago lamenting the rise of the foodiot, which it seems to define as anyone other than a professional chef or critic who talks about food or cares about what they eat. Grub Street ran with it, hilariously tagging their article a 'thought piece'. Grub Street seems to define a foodiot as someone who doesn't have sufficient food knowledge to render their food ramblings interesting, or alternatively someone who treats mundane food with undue reverence. 


I have a few problems with the word.


It strikes me as professional critics' defence of their turf against the unwashed masses.  I understand that good critics have a deeper and broader food knowledge than most of us, and can convey the details of a meal with more precise and expressive prose than us mere mortals could ever muster. That's why I read reviews. It just seems profoundly, distastefully elitist to dismiss non-professionals as 'foodiots'.

Another part of the point of the Observer and Grub Street pieces (if there was a coherent point) is that people are devoting too much time to talking about food. I don't understand why a widespread interest in food is a bad thing. In fact, I think it's a very good thing. I understand that people can become food bores (and I hope I'm not one), but people can become tediously obsessed with any kind of hobby or interest.

Finally: it seems like an attack on everyday food. Part of the point of the Observer and Grub Street pieces seems to be that non-fine dining food is not a legitimate subject for discussion. A burger is not worth talking about, apparently, even if it's a great burger (unless it features foie gras and truffles, presumably). Bollocks.

I sincerely hope that the term doesn't catch on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to make shoestring fries, Spotted Pig style.


I'm pretty happy to have recreated the shoestring fries that they serve at the Spotted Pig in New York with their famous burger. At the Spotted Pig they chuck some rosemary into the fryer for the last 30 seconds and season the chips with salt mixed with lemon zest. I seasoned mine with smoked paprika salt, to go with some saffron aioli I had left over.

This is too simple to really count as a recipe, and chips are so basic that I'm sure everyone has their own way of preparing them, but these chips are delicious and worth recreating.

Shoestring Fries

Ingredients
Potatoes (about 1kg for four people)
A few litres of vegetable oil
Salt
Smoked paprika (aka Pimenton de la Vera, Dulce)

Method

1) Peel your potatoes, then slice off the tops and bottoms. Lay the potatoes on one of the flat sides you just made, and cut into very thin slices. Cut the slices into matchsticks.

2) Toss the matchsticks around in some paper towel, to dry them out a bit and blot off the excess starch.

3) Heat your oil in a deep fryer to 180c. If you don't have a deep fryer, heat the oil in a deep pot and chuck in a cube of potato. It's at 180c when the potato starts to sizzle.

4) Slowly drop your potato matchsticks into the oil. If you've got a heap then you might need to do this in batches. This is really a lot easier if you have a deep fryer. You can get a decent enough Breville for about $130. Do it.

5) Give it around five minutes, but keep an eye on the potatoes. Some of them will cook faster than others (unless you have laser-precise knife skills), but that's kind of nice. So long as you don't end up with any that have turned the corner into burnt then you're OK.

6) While you're waiting for the chips, mix about one teaspoon of smoked paprika with about four teaspoons of good salt.

7) Drain the fries on some paper towel, then place them in a metal bowl and season them with your paprika salt using that chefly wrist flick method you've seen on TV.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to make carnitas

Every culture seems to have its own variation on slow-cooked pork. Porchetta, red roast pork, pulled pork and the now-ubiquitous braised belly are all worthy entrants in the porcine hall of fame. I've become a big fan of one of Mexico's contributions to the genre: carnitas.


Carnitas is a delicious dish of pork shoulder, braised, then shredded, then roasted and served in a taco. If the thought of tender, crispy pork in a fresh tortilla does not appeal to you then you are not a person I want to know.


Mexican cuisine has nearly-infinite regional variations, as with any great cuisine, and they each seem to have their own variation on carnitas. Homesick Texan tells of Michoacan carnitas which are cooked in vats of their own fat (ie. lard). Apparently it's common in some areas to braise the carnitas in beer, which I'll definitely try at some point. Pork, beer, yes please.



The recipe I use is by David Lebovitz, with a couple of minor changes incorporated from other recipes I've read. This dish is very, very easy to prepare but obscenely tasty. It's also fairly cheap to cook for a crowd; the free range pork shoulder pictured below is $13/kilo at Mondo's wholesale outlet in Osborne Park (more about that place later).




Carnitas
2 kilo piece of boneless pork shoulder (also called the "butt"), cut into rough, large pieces like in the picture above
About a tablespoon of salt, but no more
2 tablespoons or so of vegetable oil or another oil with a high smoke point
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons chilli powder (use 1 tsp ancho chilli, if you have it, along with 1 tsp regular)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 or 2 oranges, juiced




1. Preheat your oven to 180c.


2. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder with salt. You want to try and salt every surface of the meat, but don't be tempted to over-salt at this stage. The liquid is going to reduce while you braise the meat, and it will get very salty if you're not careful.


2. Heat the oil in an enamelled cast iron pot or similar over a medium-high heat. A decent roasting pan would do, you just want something that can go on the hob and in the oven and is reasonably deep. Brown the meat on all sides. Make sure you're not crowding the pan; if you are, your meat will sweat and boil rather than browning. Brown the meat in batches if it won't comfortably fit in one layer.


3. If you like, remove the pork from the pot and blot away the excess fat. Alternatively, don't bother.


4. Put the pork back in the pot and add enough water to cover about 2/3 of the pork. Add the spices, garlic and bay leaf. Add the orange juice. I add the orange juice because it will help the pork to caramelise later on.


5. Place the pot in the oven, uncovered.


6. Leave for 3-4 hours, until the pork is falling apart to the touch and there isn't much liquid left. Turn the meat over every now and then, as the top of the pork will get quite brown as it peeks above the waterline.


7. Remove the pork and shred it with forks. Some people chop their carnitas into chunks, but I like the stringiness of shredded braised meat.


8. Put your shredded pork back into the pot with the little bit of liquid left in it. The liquid will be dark, intense, spicy, fatty, salty and a little sweet from the orange juice. Roast until the pork is nicely crispy on the outside. This will take anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes, mostly depending on how much liquid you have left in the pan and how crispy you want your carnitas.


That's it!


I like to serve carnitas with a side dish made of finely shredded red cabbage, red onion, julienned carrot and coriander that has macerated in a bit of red wine vinegar. I mix a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar with a pinch of brown sugar and a pinch of salt, toss well with the cabbage mix and leave until the cabbage has been lightly pickled. It might seem slightly strong, but remember you're not eating it as a salad, it's going on a taco with your porky, fatty, salty carnitas. A tomatillo salsa is also a delicious accompaniment (it's just a shame that we don't have fresh tomatillos here as far as I know, and tinned tomatillos are ridiculously expensive).






Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ezra Pound (Small bar - Northbridge/Perth)

Ezra Pound is my new favourite small bar in Perth. It's small, simple and not too slick. It specialises in classic cocktails (like the Tom Collins in a jar shown above in a shitty iPhone photo), but you can also get a longneck of Coopers in a paper bag or with glasses for $10. My kind of place.

I like a good cocktail, but I'm not really into the posturing that sometimes goes with it. Elsewhere it seems to take about 20 minutes to make a drink, with each Negroni accompanied by redundant Tom Cruise-style gyrations. Here the approach is more laid back, but the drinks are still of a high quality.

The bar looks great, with a vintage cash register in pride of place behind the bar, next to a (functional) record player playing an assortment of Motown hits. I like the amount of effort that has gone into Ezra Pound: it doesn't feel slapdash or thoughtless, but it's not overwrought and slick either.

The only potential drawback is that the bar is in an alley way off William St between James St and Roe St, meaning it's pretty much at ground zero as far as horrible weekend Northbridge stuff goes. 399 is far enough away from James St and Aberdeen St that it feels separate from Northbridge proper, but Ezra Pound is right in the middle of it.

Talmage, the co-owner and bartender (previously of the West End Deli) tells me that they plan to close the gates to William St on weekends to try and minimise the number of people who mistakenly stumble in on their way to the Paramount. I hope it works, this place is great.


UPDATE 16/11/09: Ezra Pound finally has its laneway license, just in time for summer! Awesome.


Ezra Pound
189 William St

Northbridge WA

Tannic Teeth has some great photos of Ezra Pound. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The best restaurants in Perth?

Gourmet Traveller released their annual restaurant guide earlier this week, which includes a Michelin-style three-star rating system, a top 100 list for the country and top 10 lists for each capital city.

Anyway, the Perth list is pretty solid, if mostly predictable:

1. Restaurant Amusé
2. Star Anise
3. The Loose Box
4. Jackson’s
5. Nahm Thai
6. Must Winebar
7. Maya
8. Fraser’s
9. Divido
10. Lamont’s (East Perth)

How can restaurants that do not have stars (Fraser's and Maya) beat a one-star restaurant (Divido)? I can understand how this might happen if the stars and the regional lists were compiled separately; different critics might be involved in the separate processes, or maybe the restaurants could be assessed by different criteria. This is one guide, with Divido scoring a star yet ranking lower than two no-star restaurants! (EDIT: Jane Cornes, the WA editor of Gourmet Traveller, confirmed via email that an error was made in compiling the WA list, and Divido should be placed above Fraser's and Maya).

I'm pleasantly surprised to see Amusé top the list after eating two spectacular meals there in the last few months. I can still vividly recall their rabbit, ceps and thyme dish, a small individual lasagne with an intense, earthy porcini flavour, served as part of their standard 12-course degustation.

A
musé scored two stars, making it the only two star restaurant in WA. The second star for Amusé is well deserved, but does Perth really only have one two-star restaurant?.

If you compare Perth's list to those of other cities, you can definitely make a case for Perth being slightly underrated by the GT critics. Star Anise in particular surely deserves a second star; it was rated 4/5 by John Lethlean in the Australian last weekend and would likely have kept its second star if it was in Surry Hills rather than Shenton Park. I'm not quite sure why Star Anise went from two stars to one. Perhaps Amuse's promotion exhausted Perth's quota of stars.


Still, even allowing for Perth being slightly hard done by, and controlling for our smaller population, it's clear that we're miles behind other cities, even Adelaide. We've got a few great fine dining places, heaps of decent, cheap Asian places and not a hell of a lot in between. I can't work out why.

A few high-profile chefs interviewed by WA Today suggest that Perth diners need to stand up for themselves. There's definitely something to that, people are too accepting of mediocrity (and expensive mediocrity at that). But why would that be? The issue that comes up whenever Perth is discussed, our isolation, might be a factor, but I'm not so sure. Are we less well-travelled than people from Adelaide? I doubt it.

Great mid-range places like Cantina fill me with hope, as does the mini-boom in small bars that we're experiencing. Maybe things are starting to turn around. I'll be interested to see if there's any movement in next year's list.