Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ramen Lab, Mount Lawley - best ramen in Perth?

I heard about Ramen Lab from a good mate of mine, to whom iconic Perth chef Neal Jackson declared that Ramen Lab was the place to go for good ramen with technical excellence.  With that kind of recommendation, how could I resist?

Located at 602 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley (south of Walcott Street and north of Vincent Street), the decor at this small restaurant is a blend of modern glitz and traditional Japanese accoutrements; and the patrons an eclectic assortment of families, couples and single diners.

I ordered the gyoza (which I suspect is made daily fresh on-premise because it's limited to 50 serves per day) and the "Classic Hakata" ramen bowl.

The gyoza is served like nothing you've experienced before.  Three delectable morsels arrive in a shallow bowl sitting in a pool of dipping sauce and garnished with herbs and micro greens; the filling is very clearly made from hand-chopped pieces of pork and mushroom - no food processed minced fillings here!  Delicious umami flavours abound.

The ramen (I order their "classic" Hakata version) itself comes beautifully presented, with the "chashu" (pork belly sliced razor-thin, yet so tender and soft that it falls apart if you pull a piece away from the whole with your chopsticks) presented in a neat row accompanied by half a soft-boiled soy marinated egg.  All the ingredients, such as black fungus mushroom, seaweed and bamboo shoots, are presented in separate sections, so that you have to mix it all up yourself: part of the ritual of the meal.  The broth is thick, rich, opaque and delicious.

The true joy, though, is the hand-made ramen, which to my pleasant surprise was perfectly al dente, which introduces even more textural complexity to an already texturally rich dish.  No soggy noodles here.  All for $15.50 a bowl!

I do enjoy a good bowl of ramen, and am happy to declare that this could well be the best bowl of ramen you will find in Perth!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Halo Espresso, South Perth - food that punches above its weight!

Halo Espresso, located on 82 Angelo Street, South Perth, Western Australia, is a great coffee shop in the urban-village-style Angelo Street area.  While they make a good coffee, you wouldn't at first glance realise that they've got a seriously good chef working in the kitchen.

As if the fact that 100% of their profits go towards charitable work isn't a good enough reason to choose to spend your money there, I recently discovered that one of the top young chefs in the world, Morgan Keyte, has started working there.  In 2014, Morgan won the Western Australian and then the Australian national stages of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Chefs Competition to earn the right to represent Australia in the international Concours International des Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs, held that year in Durban; where he went on to win best in kitchen and make some invaluable connections with chefs from all around the world.  A quiet, modest and hardworking fellow who takes his craft seriously, there is much to like about Morgan.

What could someone like that do to what is necessarily a limited and modest cafe menu?  To find out, I ordered their Halo Burger, which is filled with chipotle pulled pork in a black sesame seed bun.

The bun alone tells you that this meal was designed by someone with an attention to detail: the sesame seeds impart a lovely toasted aroma and flavour, and the aioli is tasty with a distinctly delicious garlic flavour.  The pork itself is flavoursome, moist and nicely seasoned.  The rasher of bacon, which makes an already good burger even greater, together with red onions, are a nice touch which introduce additional layers of flavour.

The polenta chips are a nice change from the ubiquitous potato version you would normally see accompany a burger, and are also nicely seasoned to boot (while other restaurants may serve polenta chips/sticks, they are more likely than not to be bland and require dipping sauce to work from a flavour perspective).  What's more, these ones maintain structural integrity and don't fall apart when poked with a fork (I dunno - I like structural integrity ...).

While it's one thing for a good chef to be able to create works of art with a generous budget/price-point on hand, I'd like to suggest that it is an even bigger challenge and achievement to successfully pull off something special when you have to create a burger at a $20 price point.  Morgan has certainly done it here.

While I do hope that Morgan does eventually move onto a restaurant that allows him to develop his great potential, I look forward to my next delicious meal at Halo Espresso!

Ristretto Coffee Roasters, Northbridge. Revisited. Again!

We are lucky to enjoy so many good coffee places in Western Australia today, with so many artisanal roasters and serious baristas opening coffee shops everywhere.  Gone are the days when you had to make do with beans roasted in industrial quantities and bland blends, old oxidised beans and watery, over-extracted coffees because that's the best that was available.

However, I still think that the best in the West is one of the original pioneers of the Third Wave of Coffee in Perth: Ristretto Coffee Roasters in Northbridge (53 Aberdeen Street, at the corner of Hook Lane, near William Street).  They don't have a working website per se, and their only social media presence is a twitter account, yet they enjoy a cult following and have expanded to several outlets in the CBD.  I once met a bloke there who had driven 2 hours from the country to grab a coffee and his regular supply of beans; and on another occasion met one of the judges of the Australian Barista Championship, resplendent in urban cycling lycra, who taught me how judges taste test coffee in competitions.
Owner Emmanuel Muratore roasting away!

My favourite regular ritual is still to make the trek to their hole-in-the-wall coffee shop and roastery in Northbridge, have a chat with Roxanne about her passion for tango, and enjoy an exquisitely creamy, complex and deliciously perfect espresso, washed down by a small glass sparkling water.  Even better, they are now serving simple but tasty toasted sandwiches, so it's the perfect destination when you are looking for a quick light lunch and great coffee.

Don't believe me?  Head down there and try it for yourself!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wildflower Restaurant, Treasury The COMO, Perth, Western Australia

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
One of the great things about being a member of gastronomic society La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is the opportunity to enjoy a special dish, meal or experience before it becomes available to the public; or in some cases would never become publicly available.  One such example was the farewell dinner at renowned Perth dining venue Jackson’s just before it shut its doors, where Chef Neal Jackson liked some of the dishes he created for the dinner so much that he incorporated them into his final degustation menu for the public.

Executive Chef Jed Gerrard
(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek

Another example is the La Chaîne Dîner Amical at the latest fine dining restaurant to arrive in Perth: Wildflower, located in Perth’s newest boutique hotel COMO The Treasury in the Perth CBD.  Held on 21 January 2016, it took place mere weeks after the restaurant had first opened.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
At this dinner, Executive Chef Jed Gerrard rolled out a 5 course degustation experience featuring dishes that were not available to the public.  A Balingup boy, Chef Jed grew up a few hours’ drive south of Perth but before Wildflower, he had spent his entire career elsewhere in Australia and the world working with culinary greats like Tetsuya Wakuda and Teague Ezard, as well as at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Switzerland. He told us that he had always wanted to return to work in his hometown but there were few opportunities for the kind of haute cuisine he wanted to practise, so he jumped at the opportunity at Wildflower when it presented itself.

Chef Jed and his team spend their day off foraging for wild flora – from greens and flowers picked from open fields and found along the Western Australian coastline – to enhance their truly special and delicious culinary delicacies.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
Wildflower itself is also something different.  One well-travelled diner was overheard remarking that the venue made him think he was somewhere in Europe rather than Perth.  The expansive covered balcony, where we enjoyed pre-dinner Taittinger Brut with bite-sized morsels of raw fish garnished with caviar-llke finger lime vesicles perched upon a prawn crisp, was also something special, overlooking the Supreme Court Gardens and the Bell Tower at Barrack Jetty, and presenting a 180 degree view of Perth City around it.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
The private dining room seating 18 was spacious and well appointed, featuring floor to ceiling windows along the South wall where we enjoyed the magnificent sunset and the beguiling lights of Council House (which incidentally uses energy efficient LED specifications developed and introduced in Perth by Heritage Perth Inc., a not-for-profit organisation of which I am proud to say I am one of the co-founders and a former Board member) and a beautifully dreamy composite photographic mural by Melbourne artist Valerie Sparks along the North wall.

The highlight of the evening was of course the food.  A five course meal featuring only fresh Western Australian produce looked nothing like what you would have expected from their descriptions.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
The raw scampi from Point Samson looked like a winter wonderland indundated with dry powdery snow of frozen horseradish milk in a pool of wild fennel juice; an intriguing combination of flavours, textures and temperatures.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
The kangaroo fillet cooked over jarrah embers with native thyme, onion and blue berries drew more exclamations of surprise.  With an uncharacteristically medium rare appearance and soft and tender texture (as anyone who has ever tried to cook kangaroo will tell you, anything more than a slight searing on the surface will result in a gamey and chewy experience), gaminess was non-existent.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
The soft and richly flavoured beef short ribs (without the bone), topped by firm and succulent Shark Bay prawns on top of fermented red cabbage and beach-foraged leaves was another symphony of complementary flavours and textures which gave new meaning to the concept of “Surf n Turf”.

(c) 2016 Matt Jelonek
Dessert was an innocuous sounding but utterly delicious rhubarb mousse accompanied by strawberries poached with pepper berries and a sorbet of river mint (yes, mint foraged by the riverside), provided a delicious (but not overly sweet) and refreshing end to the meal.

While the food was sourced exclusively from Western Australia, the accompanying wines ranged far and wide, from Bordeaux to Tuscany, from the Hunter Valley to the Yarra Valley; selected by Maître D'Hôtel David Best (formerly of Rockpool and who invited La Chaîne to dine here), whose team executed a flawless performance in delivering the courses and ensuring that wine glasses were never left empty.  My favourite was the classic Mount Mary Quintet, one of the 21 wines found in Langton’s top tier “Excellent” classification (in good company with the Penfolds Grange and the Henschke Hill of Grace).

At the end of the evening, we enjoyed the traditional La Chaîne presentation of the Chef and front of house team, including a question and answer question where Chef Jed expounded on his cooking philosophy, which drew inspiration from the six seasons observed by the indigenous Noongar Wadjuk people upon whose traditional lands the City of Perth is located.   With no start or end date to each season, the passing of each one is something that is felt. The Noongar people ebb and flow with the changes of Western Australia’s environment, letting nature guide them.  Plants and animals have a special purpose in the changing of each season and the Noongar traditionally hunted and gathered different types of food based on these seasons.  The creation of every dish at Wildflower celebrates the local resources. We were in Birak (the “first summer”), which is when the winter rains subside and the temperature starts to become warmer.

Chef Jed also answered questions on how some of the dishes were prepared, but never fully giving up all of his secrets, as it should be! – before a La Chaîne plaque was presented to Wildflower as a sign of our appreciation for the special experience.

That evening was made even more special by the fact that these dishes were “one-offs” – while Wildflower may have subsequently launched its five course tasting menu to the public, the dishes from that evening have not been replicated exactly as they were, reflecting the changing availability of produce, the change in seasons and the continuing evolution of Chef Jed’s culinary practise.

(c) Matt Jelonek
While the “official” part of the dinner may have ended, some La Chaîne members had enjoyed the evening so much that they opted to continue the evening, starting at the Wildflower bar featuring highly knowledgeable barmen and a respectable array of whiskies, and ending in the Petition Beer Corner at the bottom of COMO The Treasury, where limited run Australian craft beers were enjoyed as a “cleansing ale” to end the evening.

P.S. I would like to thank professional photographer Matt Jelonek for giving me permission to reproduce his superb photographs (credited accordingly) in this article. 


Wildflower La Chaîne Chef Experience Dinner


NV Taittinger Brut Champagne

frozen horseradish milk and wild fennel juice
2006 Tyrells Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley, NSW
native thyme, onion and blue berries
2013 Valdipiatta Sangiovese, Chianti, Tuscany
fermented red cabbage, Shark Bay prawns and beach greens
2013 Mount Mary Quintet, Yarra Valley, VIC
strawberries poached with pepper berries and river mint
2010 Les Lions de Suduiraut, Bordeaux, France
tea & coffee