Friday, September 30, 2011

P'tite Ardoise Bistro, Beaufort Street, Highgate, Western Australia

P'tite Ardoise Bistro is a French bistro located at 283 Beaufort Street, Highgate, Western Australia (diagonally across the road from the Brisbane Hotel), and is run by Normandy couple Xavier and Valerie, and the cooking is indeed a Normandy style.  Even the name refers to a the slate roof tiles which are apparently ubiquitous in Normandy, and which also get put to other use: Back in the good ol' days in Normandy, before the advent of fancy touchscreen POS systems, local bistros chalked up a running tally of diners' tabs on le p'tite ardoise, which would then be settled at the end of the meal.

Anyway, I had been wanting to check out this restaurant for some weeks when a mate of mine, Gihan, suggested a long overdue catch-up.  So I seized the perfect opportunity and booked at table at P'tite Ardoise!

So I met Gihan and his new girl Sharon there, and Gihan even generously brought a bottle of chablis which I recommended (yes it's BYO too - can it get better?)

It's a cosy, comfortable, if small venue, so the tables are close to each other, but not packed too tightly.  And there is an enormous list of specials, which change regularly depending on the seasonality and availability of fresh produce - everything is made fresh

As with all great family-owned hospitality pairings, Xavier runs the kitchen and Valerie runs front-of-house, meaning you get that all important combination of great food and great service.  Xavier is a meticulous man who wants to cook things the right way.  All his sauces, stocks and gravies are made the hard way: from scratch, then patiently reduced over hours (or more) to achieve the desired thickness and consistency.

This place might be styled as a casual bistro, but the amount of attention and care that has gone into the preparation of the food and their presentation on the plate goes way beyond that, and would be at home in any good restaurant.  All of the waitstaff appear to be French (or maybe with really good French accents), and have all been extremely well trained.  When Sharon couldn't finish one of her dishes, because she was being dietarily responsible, our waiter solicitously asked whether there was anything wrong with the dish when he came to collect the plate.  Now this is what I'm talking about!

There is a range of familiar and exotic delights to satisfy any customer (unless of course if you don't like onions, but then, what the hell are you doing in a French restaurant?!).  The duck neck rillette was a superb entree; the rabbit leg a tender, moist and filling main, and the desserts are amazing.  So good are they that Valerie and Xavier wisely offered a cop-out option for those of us who can't make up our minds ... like me.

There was the classic French crème brûlée, perfectly made - tap on the crust of blow-torched caramelised sugar with the back of your spoon, then dip into it for a spoonful of caramel and vanilla custard.  The stuff beneath is perfect - not runny like many lesser establishments serve up, nor hard-boiled like other lesser establishments serve up; it's firm, yet yields readily to your spoon.

And then there is the Ille Flottante, or floating island.  Yes it doesn't look like it's floating in the picture, but with the solo dish, you get this beautiful sponge (?) cake crusted with roasted slivers of almond, floating in a light creamy sweet sauce.

And of course the chocolate mousse.  Made with dark chocolate, it was richly flavoured yet feather light.   If Mr Creosote had this chocolate mousse instead of that fateful wafer-thin mint, he might still be alive.

A special touch at the end of your meal arrives with Valerie, holding a wooden box sporting all sorts of sweets from Normandy, including sherbet lollies and carambar, a caramel confection that sticks to your teeth.

And of course, to show that these guys are serious about feedback, they get you to write your comments on a p'tite ardoise (okay it's a piece of paper made to look like one), and stick that up on the wall with all the other comments that came before.

Truly a great hidden treasure of Perth, so get yourself down there to enjoy some seriously good food.  And currently BYO while they await their liquor licence.  What's even better, Valerie tells me that they're also working on getting a permit to have a few tables on the footpath outside, hopefully in time for summer - true bistro dining in the sun!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dubrovnik Butchers - a vast array of sausages

Where in Perth could you find Polish sausage, Bratwurst, Chorizo, Weisswurst or even Krakawurst, all in the one place?  They might even have knockwurst.  Dubrovnik Butchers, of course.  On Railway Parade, near the corner of Grand Promenade, in Inglewood.  It's just across the road from the Meltham train stop.

Of course, it's more than just wursts and sausages.  German spec? Tick.  Smoked pork hocks?  Tick.

I was driving past it the other day and couldn't pass up the opportunity to pop in and have a browse around.  The chaps behind the counter are always friendly and helpful.  Of course, it helps not to go in on a Saturday when it's a veritable feeding frenzy.  Weekday visits are much more serene.  It shuts at 5pm on weekdays, and I think 12 noon on Saturdays.

I bought a few lengths of the award winning smoked chorizo, and man it is tasty.  You can eat it straight off the bat, or pan fried.  I am a fan of pan-fried chorizo drizzled with lemon juice - preferably fresh-picked from the neighbour's tree (no they don't know so don't tell them).

Do yourself a favour.  Next time you're in the neighbourhood, pop into Dubrovnik Butchers, and buy yourself a tasty cured treat.

In fact, now is the right time to indulge in sausages, in celebration of Oktoberfest.  Get yourself a bunch of German sausages, cook them up, have a few friends over, and drink lots of German wheat beer!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cuisine at The Western Australian Club, 101 St George's Terrace, Perth

Not one, but two, monster slices of truffle!
I had lunch at my beloved Western Australian Club the other day, and was struck by how Executive Chef David Gallagher just keeps coming up with great things.  His creations are simple yet luxurious, and ultimately delicious.  I do not remember an occasion when I have failed to mop up every last bit of food on my plate.

My lunch experience at the Club is a comforting routine - as I sit down, Valerie serves up my favourite olive bread (the other choices being mini baguette and breadroll) and a saucer of olive oil for dipping.

Then comes the difficult task of choosing from the seasonal menu or the specials.  If only I dined in the Club every day, like my mate Shadey, that wouldn't be a problem.  But alas, choose I must.  The choice is made that much harder by Chef's propensity to use leftovers in the best way possible.  No, I don't mean last week's meatloaf.  For example, after the Truffle Dinner in August, there was still quite a bit of truffle left, so the specials for the next week were designed to accommodate liberal lashings of truffle.  Like my beef fillet in the picture.  Will you get massive serves of truffle like that at any other restaurant?  And for $35?  I don't think so.  And of course, the beef was beautifully medium-rare, pink in the middle and so tender I hardly needed to chew.  Needless to say, the light and fluffy potato mash was also laced with aromatic truffle oil.  All washed down with Penfolds Bin 138 GSM, served by the glass in the Club.

Other memorable meals include the pork belly.  Having attempted to cook pork belly many times in my life, and having attempted to eat many restaurants' attempts at pork belly, this example has to be up there.   It's a real challenge to turn the skin into a crunchy crackling golden joy when it's still attached to the meat - what happens most often is that the skin is part chewy, part crunchy. Or the crackling is good but the meat is dry and chewy.  Now, being a texture-phile, I would enjoy the challenge and experience of contrasting and complementary textures in a meal, when deliberately created (oh I need to tell you about Celsius, but that's for later), but when the skin is supposed to be crunchy and it's not, well, that's just disappointing.  Not so with Chef.  It's all good.

And of course, the fish.  Again, something that many restaurants seem to struggle with.  Even at the better restaurants, I have often observed fish being served up tough and overcooked.  I wonder whether it's because it's sat under the heating lamp for too long while waiting to be served, or whether it just keeps cooking in its own heat after being taken out of the pan.  Whatever it is, there is a reason why I almost never order fish anymore (don't even get me started with fish on a plane!).  But once again, Chef does it well.  A tender, juicy slice that is flavourfully seared on the outside, but certainly not undercooked.

Of course, the dining experience wouldn't be complete if all we had was good food.  Ana Volpe, the Food & Beverage Manager, and Alain Lee, Restaurant and Banquet Supervisor, and their team make sure that service in the dining room is flawless.  They've achieved that delicate balance - never intrusive, yet never elusive.

And did I mention that Alain is a trained sommelier, recently arrived from many years in London?  He's just recently introduced vintage champagne by the glass.  Alain tells me that the 2002 vintage is one of the greatest ever from champagne, possibly surpassing the legendary 1996 vintage, if such a thing can be possible!  I stopped drinking Moët about 6 or 7 years ago, when I felt that it had just fallen far behind other champagnes.  But this is all going to change ... the Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2002 is an absolute delight: crisp, fruity, almost creamy nose, with soft mouth-filling mousse texture, a crisp flavour with citrus hints, and a dry finish.  What a drink.  If I didn't have to work, I would have ordered the entire bottle. For myself.

I might have to do that next Thursday night, I think.  Thursday nights at the Club are regular social events, where members rock up to the bar for a drink or five after a hard week's (well almost a week) work.  The denizens are friendly and welcoming, and there's always someone interesting to chat to.  I've made many lifelong friends through the Club, and look forward to making more.

You might wonder why I'm writing about the Western Australian Club, since it's a private member-only establishment.  Well, with 1,300 members, you're bound to know someone who can bring you along as their guest to enjoy the dining experience.  And if you twist their arm enough, they can also sponsor your application to become a member of this most egalitarian and stylish club, boasting over 20% female membership and rising, and a new female Vice President elected just last night.  And then you can enjoy the culinary and vinous delights of the Club every day, just like my mate Shadey.