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!