A few weeks ago, I had lunch at the Print Hall with my dear old friend and mentor Dario. Alas it had to be a short lunch (by our standards) of less than 2 hours as he had a meeting with lawyers in the afternoon (always something to look forward to!) and I needed to pack for my departure first thing the next morning on a week-long trip to Melbourne and then Hong Kong.
The Print Hall is a pretty special place – a palatial open bar area dominates the ground floor atrium; the back of this leading to its flagship Print Hall dining room. Then there’s The Apple Daily on the next floor up, a casual and cheerful place serving up modern Asian fusion cuisine by Sunny Ocampo. I haven’t met him yet but Jerry Fraser tells me that Sunny’s inspiration is Cheong Liew (who happens to me one of my all-time favourite chefs, alongside the Demon Chef and Fergus Henderson). On the same floor is the private dining room, which, from the last time I ate in that room, offers a perfect private dining experience. On the funky rooftop, you can find Bob’s Bar, apparently named after a legendary Aussie Prime Minister from that side of politics when they also used to care about the Australian people as a whole rather than this class warfare crack that they are pushing nowadays.
And of course, there’s Jerry’s Oysters, happily ensconced in the corner of the main bar facing the main dining room under the neon sign “Jerry’s Oysters”, which is where I caught up with old friend Jerry Fraser the King of Oyster Shuckers to reminisce about the good ol’ days at Churchill’s in the back of the WA Club, when he used to shuck over 100 dozen oysters on a single Thursday night. I also gifted Jerry with a precious bottle of Akabanga from my fast-dwindling stocks of this delicious, flavoursome and fiery Rwandan chilli oil. I’d like to see the look on the faces of those blokes who claim to be impervious to chilli, and disregard the recommended limit of one (or half) drop per oyster! This chilli has a delayed action – you taste the flavour first, and a few seconds later, the burn hits you like walking into a glass door if you’ve overindulged. While chatting to Jerry, a solicitous Cathy (the manager) comes round to make sure I am okay and organises a Hendrick’s gin and tonic for me.
The other diners at the Print Hall’s dining room sport a professional, corporate look. I bump into a mate from university, Chilla – he’s on his way to a meeting. But he takes time to stop and chat with me and Dario before he heads off. I sincerely wish him all the best, all the way to the dizzy heights of his chosen career.
Once we’re done with our deliciously plump oysters (the Walrus would have shed great rolling globs of tears at these beauties), Jerry takes it upon himself to usher Dario and I into the elegantly minimalistic and tastefully decorated dining room, where Dario instantly notices the exquisite handblown Italian decanter, with little indentations at the bottom for your thumb and fingers to facilitate the pouring of the wine.
The service is amazing – there is absolutely nothing to whinge about. The menu arrives when you are thinking about it. The sommelier turns up to ask you about wines when you are thinking about it. The waiter assigned to our table asks for our order when we have just decided on what we want. The waiter then compliments me on my choice of burgundy which nicely complements my entrée and main. The food arrives without either of us feeling like we’ve had to wait for it. Someone turns up to replenish our water glasses. When we want our bill, we just turn around and our waiter is there!
For my entrée, I order the Avruga Caviar on a bed of fresh Mandurah crab meat, accompanied by a perfect quail yolk, crouton squares and an ascetic sprinkling of vegetals, including sliced beets and a couple of green leaves. Delicious. Beautiful. And it does complement my pinot noir!
For my main, I have the lamb fillet and lamb shank. ‘nuff said. Perfect. The fillet is perfectly medium rare, tender yet textural. The shank falls off the bone and melts in the mouth. Dario’s main is the Barramundi, sitting on a bed of delicate greens and squid legs. Beautiful.
We talk about life (one of my favourite topics, as you may have gathered); Dario’s beautiful and loyal wife Suzie and his sons’ diverse interests. What's next on the horizon of life; the things that matter; the things that make a difference. We reminisce about that warm, enjoyable winter’s dinner at my place with Dario, Suzie, Lisa and Joe. The ever effervescent Joe – not a drop of alcohol, yet always the life of the party!
And then all too soon, it’s time to go. Such is life – there is never enough time for the important things. Dario has to go to his meeting with the lawyers (sad I know), and I need to go home to start my packing.
I look forward to the next catch-up. Definitely a long lunch next time ...