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.

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