Getting back into cooking since 2009.

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
08 9325 4900

Restaurant Amuse on Urbanspoon


  1. I am so happy to read this post. Have been wanting to go here for seemingly ages now, and it's good to hear they cut through the bullshit.

    Growing up in a town where fine dining didn't exist (and trips to Perth involved experiencing new fish & chips joints and getting excited about actually eating McDonald's) I can sympathise with your fears of being found out. I have found that wearing a particularly pretty dress and nice shoes helps, perhaps you should try this.

  2. haha I think if I wore a dress I would attract attention for the wrong reasons

  3. ps go there! It's really great.

  4. True, but it may distract them from the backfiring car.

    I will go! I have now made an official promise to my belly. I'll see if I'm brave enough to pull out the camera while I'm there.

  5. i have seen photographic food porn, but this is the first time i have encountered literary food porn. your descriptions of each course are magnificent - and a little bit erotic too.

  6. wow, thanks! And I thought I'd been quite restrained...

  7. You should take more photos of the foods you eat.
    I haven't been home in over a year and people keep telling me about the new restaurants and cafes and I don't get to see any!

  8. sounds lovely. get over your photo phobia and be a nerd in public!

    also i just learned that sous vide done wrong can give you BOTULISM. no kidding.

  9. ahhh yeah I will. We're going to some ridiculous restaurants in America next month (the French Laundry, the Bazaar) and I'll take all kinds of photos.

    Yeah everything can give you botulism though. Salami, prosciutto, flavoured oils, tomato sauce.

  10. also I'm pretty sure that paddling an inflatable dinghy across the 'lake' in Hyde Park and getting covered in pond slime can give you botulism, but that didn't stop several dudes of our mutual acquaintance

  11. "There is a vegetarian tasting menu too, if you must."

    Please don't take this as an attack of any sort, but this raises a point that I've been thinking about quite a bit lately - which is the assumption that vegetarians must not really be into food. I'm not suggesting that you were insinuating this, but I am quite often reminded whenever we dine anywhere where the selection of vegetarian dishes is either limited or completely uninspiring (which is more often than I'd like to admit), that often people who are responsible for food culture (and I guess by that I mean people who actually make the food we eat as well as those who write about it) don't often put much stock in vegetarian food. Of course I understand that for most people who are into food, meat is usually the centrepiece of a dish because its so diverse in its uses, it can be prepared so many different ways, and offers so many flavours and textures that are interesting and creative. And although I wouldn't eat the dishes you describe, that's one of the reasons I really enjoy reading this blog. But I love food too, and for me vegetarianism is not an option, so of course I really don't want to accept that vegetarian food is by definition bland or inferior. I get just as excited as a carnivore (possibly more so because it's so rare - seriously, if I'm forced to eat another pasta napolitana or stir-fried vegies I'll kill someone) when I taste something new and interesting - to me that's part of what food's about - challenging your own preconceptions and experiencing new things. And I accept that by being vegetarian I am limiting my experiences in this respect, which is a whole other ethical issue that I don't want to get into here. Sometimes this ideology gets to me - I have in the past been put off going to a restaurant (especially the more fine dining establishments) because I've checked their menu and they've had NO vegetarian options. And I really don't like having to ask about vegetarian options - it kind of adds to this inferiority complex - "Excuse me, I'm not normal - can I still eat here?". Maybe I should get over myself. Anyway, I hope this hasn't felt like an attack, as it certainly wasn't meant as such, but as a vegetarian who loves food I really hope that food culture in general becomes a little more inclusive of the idea that vegetarian food can be, and SHOULD be totally kick ass too!

    Having said this, I am definitely going to check out Restaurant Amuse's vegetarian tasting menu!

  12. Adam,

    You're completely right, obviously. I can be a bit snarky towards vegetarianism and vegetarians, but it's a shallow snarkiness that I probably shouldn't fall back on quite so often. I guess it's easy to fall into the trap of being overly defensive about your choices, whether you're a vegetarian or an omnivore, and that can lead to attacking or even demonising people who make other choices.

    In a lot of ways, vegetarian cookery is a great test of a chef. Most of the best restaurants in the world offer vegetarian tasting menus alongside their omnivorous menus. Coincentally, last night's episode of Top Chef (we're addicted to that show) was a vegetarian challenge, and it was fascinating to see the chefs try to create a substantial, tasty main course without resorting to vegetarian cliche.

    Definitely go to Amuse next time you've got the time and money to devote to a meal like this. The vegetarian menu and the omnivorous menu overlap for about 1/3 of the dishes (at the start and end), and I'm sure (or at least I hope) the vegetarian courses are as stunning as the meat-based courses.

  13. Hey Adam please do try the vegetarian menu and report back! I have been briefly tempted both times, just to see what they will do, really, but then I see things like quail confit on the menu and can't say no.

    I feel bad for vegetarians, not just for the missing out on bacon (which I know doesn't count if you don't actually want or like it) but also for the frustration you must constantly feel for those reasons you say. Bland and uninspired alternatives. Or a dish that just has the meat component removed, rather than replaced.

    But I'm sure -especially in a place such as Amuse- that the vegetarian option would be just as if not more impressive than the meat dishes. I hope you try it!

  14. ps... along a similar line (as far as Amuse creating something to suit a specific diet) a non-alcoholic cocktail was made up on the spot (the only requests being no alcohol, and fruity rather than creamy) for a friend last time we went and it was one of the single greatest drinks i've ever tasted!

  15. True, that cocktail was amazing!

    Helen also has a wheat intolerance, and the kitchen were very accommodating. They modified dishes for her (like serving a ravioli filling without the ravioli) and her plates did not look conspicuously "wheat-less" at all.

  16. Hullo! Yes, I was pleasantly surprised about how awesome that non-alcoholic cocktail was and also how nice and committed the servers were about accommodating my pernickity no-wheat requests. I regret not asking what was in that drink though, cause I would like to drink it again.

  17. that's great to hear - now i'm DEFINITELY going at my earliest convenience! and i'll definitely report back.

  18. I have been, absolute highlight. try the cheese trolley, amaze!!