Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Getting dirty at The Dock Seafood & Oyster Bar, Fremantle

Who needs cutlery for seafood? Or even table manners?

The Dock Seafood and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon
Admittedly, I am a self-confessed stalker of many group buying sites. Groupon and Scoopon are two of my preferred ones and I frequently camp out on these sites ready to pounce on bargain deals when they are released. I live for the thrill of eating 3 course meals for $15. I need to get out more.

Obviously, the food-related coupons get me very excited. A (very long) while ago, Groupon promised a bargain seafood feast worth $180 for two people, which was going for $79. These group buying sites are nifty platforms to promote all sorts of businesses, particularly those that are less-known and deserve more recognition.

A few weeks after clicking that dangerous BUY! button, we find ourselves at The Dock Seafood & Oyster Bar, a place I would never have discovered on my own.
The Dock Seafood & Oyster Bar
The Dock is a little seafood restaurant, in a location away from the main Fremantle cafe strip. It is rather secluded, and definitely not in a street you would think to venture down for a feed.

Just like my previous post on No.4 Blake Street, the restaurant is ours for a good proportion of the night. The owners tell us there has been a few last minute cancellations which is good for us, as we are able to informally chat to the owners and staff on a more personalised level.
They were very friendly people, and the chef himself is a seafood merchant who has been in the industry for over 30 years!
Fresh Seafood selection
Specialising in fresh seafood, The Dock offers a selection of crabs, oysters, prawns, mussels, fish and a range of pre-made salads at their Sashimi and Oyster Bar and Gourmet Salad Bar. I'm particularly interested in their oyster menu, which features oysters from Sydney, Tasmania, South Australia and Albany prepared in four options: Natural; Honey mustard, lime & chilli and tropical dressings; or a Miso Frito, in which the oysters are fried in crispy panko crumbs.
The Sashimi & Oyster Bar and Gourmet Salad Bar
The bars which featured much of the seafood used to prepare our seafood platter.
Rose and White wines
The coupon we purchased entitled us to two glasses of red or white wines from the Margaret River region. On the night of our dinner, we were offered a third choice of a lovely sweet Rose wine. I am not a big wine drinker and don't know my Pinot noir to my Merlot, but I really enjoyed this sweet wine suggested to us.
Ocean fresh Sea Scallops with lemon pepper seasoning
Our entree consisted of thick and plump sea scallops, pressed with a tangy lemon pepper seasoning then seared to a golden crust. They were meaty and retained their juiciness from being cooked just right. It was their promise of preparing the freshest seafood without it being battered, crumbed or deep fried that enticed me the most, which describe my food intolerances perfectly. For me, I love seafood in its most natural form, and the simplicity of grilling it is my greatest preference!
Organic grilled King Salmon with lemon butter sauce
Also served with the scallops is a portion of king salmon grilled in a lemon butter sauce. I'm ecstatic that the seafood platter includes this grilled salmon, unlike the sad and unloved piece of dry, overcooked battered fish that can be served in seafood baskets. I went gaga over the skin's crispiness and I suggest you devour the skin before you do anything else, just how I did :)
7 course Summer Seafood Platter
The rest of the seafood feast was presented together on a platter. This assembly of fresh seafood consisted of six freshly shucked oysters, four Shark Bay king prawns, two smoked salmon blini with cream cheese and king salmon caviar, two slipper lobster skewers grilled with honey mustard, steamed green shell mussels served with a shotglass of lime and sweet chilli and and a serving of hand cut rustic fries with a dish of creamy garlicy aioli.
I think an extra serving of fresh salad on the side would have been very welcomed, between mouthfuls of seafood.
Seafood Platter - back view
My absolute favourite in the platter were those lobster skewers - I would have devoured another ten or so if money permitted! Like the scallops, the skewers were grilled until they were wrapped with a thin, golden crust while the rest of the meat was perfectly cooked through. No rubbery or bland lobsters coming out of this kitchen!
The fishy smell, oogly sight and slippery taste and feel of oysters may make many people squirmish, but not I. To me they have the same concept of standard drinks - I have to stay within my limits otherwise I'll start to feel sick. The Dock dishes up fine oysters, although not as plump as I would have imagined.
Smoked salmon blini with cream cheese, topped with king salmon caviar
Blini are commonly served as finger food, and are typically known as small discs of pancakes that are slightly thicker than your common pancake. The Dock's version seem to be made with circles of white bread, which kind of makes this smoked salmon blini into a fancied up sandwich. I adore the popping sensation of the jewels of caviar that adorn the blini.
I poke around with my fork searching high and low; I wish there were (lots and lots) more!
The Dock - bar seating
The Dock is a seafood eatery, and thus prizes itself on quality produce. Every component of our seafood platter was undoubtedly fresh and cooked well, but I'm not convinced that I would pay nearly $200 for such a meal. That being said, I wouldn't need any convincing to return here and try out their other dishes. I've got my mind on their sashimi platter in particular, after it has been basking in the warm glow of the chef's good words about it.
The Dock - main seating area
The Dock has a very casual ambiance with minimalistic decor. Dominated by brown brick walls and grey concrete floors, it won't score much points with those who like to dine in a certain "atmosphere". But really, this casual and relaxed feel is perfect for getting your hands and face dirty. Who needs cutlery for seafood? Or even table manners ;)

The chef is a friendly fellow, who seems passionate about the business. It is small and humble, quietly providing a good alternative to the louder, I'd say more "industrial" type seafood places in Fremantle that attracts all the tourists and visitors in the area. Definitely give this one a go if you don't want to follow the generic herd of seafood eaters in Freo.
The Dock Seafood and Oyster Bar, Fremantle - Look for the lonely tables outside a brick building if having trouble finding it
The Dock Seafood & Oyster Bar
Tues: 10am - 6pm
Wedn - Sun: 10am - 9.30pm
Closed Mondays & Tuesday dinner

(08) 9430 7544
124 High Street, Fremantle WA 6160

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Eating flower pots at No.4 Blake Street, North Perth

Popping candy: never fails to surprise, amuse and turn you into a kid...

No 4 Blake Street on Urbanspoon
As we reluctantly get out of the car into the freezing cold weather, our host for the evening is already holding the door open for us with a big smile on her face. We step inside and the first thing that came to mind was, where are all the customers?

"You have the whole place to yourselves tonight", she beamed.
There couldn't have been a more perfect coincidence for our 1.5 year anniversary. I'm not big on half yearly milestones, but I needed an excuse to try No.4 Blake Street's degustation dinner, having had come here a few weeks earlier for lunch and enjoying it immensely.

The restaurant looks drastically different come nightfall, a complete transformation from its day time appearance. It isn't too sophisticated, and I immediately fall in love with the charm of both the place and its staff.
No.4 Blake St - Degustation menu
No.4 Blake Street's change of costume takes place during the swapover between day and night, from a laidback, casual style to sleek, polished formalwear after sunset. Part of its attire are thick, velvet theatrical curtains that drape along the back wall, concealing the kitchen that is in open, full view by day.

If Perth's Nobu is famous for its signature Black Cod Miso, then No.4 Blake Street is known for its just-like-the-real-thing flower pot dessert. By the end of the night I am quite blown away by the whole experience and can't believe it has taken me this long to discover this neighbourhood gem.
House-baked olive-encrusted bread
I get excited when we are presented with a board with a selection of 2 breads of either a white sourdough roll or slices of olive bread. We both choose the olive bread and I happily announce "IT'S STILL HOT!" as I discover with my cold hands that the bread is still warm.
Trio of Butters: Salt & Vinegar, Lemon & Lime, Orange
Accompanying the bread (or just as good to eat on their own) are three butters, each infused with the flavours of salt and vinegar; lemon and lime, and orange. Despite not liking salt and vinegar chips much, salt and vinegar flavoured butter is a different story.
The flavour is distinct and strong and it's my favourite out of the trio of butters. The orange butter is also strongly flavoured however the lemon and lime is subtle (perhaps a little too subtle as we can't really taste anything)!
Cocktail - $18
Unfortunately I can't find the drinks menu and have forgotten the details to this cocktail. The small glass packed a big punch of taste and I really enjoyed the refreshing minty sweetness of it from the addition of Vietnamese mint. A really sweet start to the evening :)
Amuse Bouche: Pig's Ear Croquette, Pumpkin Crisp, Pumpkin Foam, Coffee reduction
The appetiser to our dinner "show" was a pig's ear croquette, shaded under a crisp, wafer thin sheet of pumpkin which I absolutely loved. It took a few goes to convince myself that I had heard "pig's ears" and I'm very intrigued when the inside of the croquette revealed a soft, almost creamy filling. The deep fried croquette however, is a little too oily for me and I pass half to Andy.
Buttered Yabbies, Blood Orange Gel, Boudin Noir, Purple Potato Crisp
For the entrees, we have collaborated and narrowed it down to the two dishes we can't leave until our next visit. The buttered yabbies are well cooked and springy to the bite but not as buttery as I had anticipated. I'm a bit wary of black pudding but I hadn't even realised I was eating it at the time. I had two words running through my head: savoury brownie.
Check out the miniscule pot plants!
Although not the main component of the dish, I really like the pieces of purple potato crisps. Besides being visually stunning, their glassy texture means they shatter between the teeth. I'm a big fan of the recurring theme that is evident in many of tonight's dishes, of turning vegetables (pumpkin, potato, mushroom and parsnip) into delicate shards of flavour.
Air-dried Venison, Beetroot Variations, Devilled Egg with Vanilla and "confit" Garlic
I'm not a loyal beetroot fan but this earthy vegetable certainly has its impressive moments. I'm won over by the words air-dried venison and it doesn't deter me from ordering a dish that is very much conquered by beetroot. The presentation is beautiful and I think I actually take more time photographing it than I do eating it!
I am misled by the description of devilled egg on the menu and whilst the slow cooked egg yolk had a perfectly wobbly centre, I feel as though I missed out on the prospect of a devilled egg with the potential to wow me. The air-dried venison had a completely unpredictable texture that fascinated me; I even forgot what I was eating until I asked! They are somewhat "airy" and provide a good chew, and don't actually taste meaty at all.

The clever transformation of beetroot into the many forms and textures on the plate made me forget my dislike for beetroot itself, as they all had a delicate, subtle flavour that wasn't too overpowering (besides the piece of plain sliced beetroot that had nothing done to it). I enjoyed making my own beetroot sandwich with venison, layered with beetroot mousse and foam, sandwiched between crunchy beetroot wafers. And then, smothered in garlic mayonnaise!
Al Dente: Chicken and Garlic Tortellini, Confit Tomato and Kalamata Olives
The interlude between entree and main courses is a pasta dish of freshly handmade pasta. On this night we are presented with chicken and garlic tortellini pillows, grape tomatoes and olives.
The clear, thin broth has a light sweetness to it and tastes of a subtle tomato flavour. I think I could drink a whole bowl's worth.
Another carb offering: White Sourdough bread
After our pasta dishes are cleared away, Andy continues to eat our leftover butter from before - on its own. It's too good to waste, so thank goodness our waitress comes over with another offer of breads, which we aren't rude enough to decline of course! I'm not sure whether it's because she noticed our unfinished butter, or Andy's overenthusiastic consumption of butter.
Chicken stuffed with Perigord Truffle, Summer Corn, Popcorn, Pickled Shimeji, Porcini Foam & Mushroom Paper
For our mains we debated over the lamb, chickpea and smoked yoghurt dish but the mention of truffle ultimately won me over (making me force Andy to order this, ha!). I've never tried truffle before and was really eager to have this touted delicacy. It was very, very subtle so my final verdict is: I must try some more!

I wandered outside at this point to the restaurant's backyard and notice their little backyard herb garden project, where they are growing herbs in little terracotta pots that line the pavement. I spot labels with marigold, parsley, coriander and basil amongst all of them, while this dish is garnished with baby coriander and rocket.
The component I enjoyed most on this dish (and all the other dishes which featured it) was again the brittle, paper-thin mushroom crisps that stood tall and proud on the plate. Like the other crisps, the mushroom sheets had a strong flavour except these were big teeth-stickers, and adhered themselves to teeth with every bite. I had the pleasure of demolishing all of them.

The blobs of porcini "foam" on the plate were more gel-like in texture, with a nice salty flavour and paired well with the chicken, which was relatively flavourless. The corn kernels and truffled popcorn did not add much in terms of flavour to the dish but added different textures, creating a dish that showcases many, many textural components and the complex skills involved.
Ranger Valley Beef Flank, Textures of Parsnip, Poached Quince, Brandy braise
I've chosen the beef flanks as my main and I have to say I LOVE myself for that decision! The wooden board is a canvas for a modern piece of art and it looks absolutely stunning. It reminds me of a walk through a beautiful garden, with a yellow brick road :)
The beef is tender juicy and the flesh is tainted with pink from being cooked to a wonderful medium rare. I wasn't quite expecting this but it was a good, delicious surprise. The parsnip has been prepared in three different ways, and I loved the simplicity of the roasted chunks of parsnip. They are particularly generous with the parsnip puree mash and although I would have loved to eat more of that buttery goodness, I struggle to get through even half of it.
The yellow brick road is very rich, and both of us give up.
While I'm helplessly trying to finish everything in front of me, I feel a sudden uncomfortable fullness in my stomach. I think it is my intolerance of rich and creamy foods (which is a pain in the butt, really) and I ask for a simple glass of hot water.
It comes delivered with wedges of lemon on the side, which was a really thoughtful gesture.
A few squeezes of lemon here and another few gulps there, the problem is fixed and I'm ready to take on dessert.
Palate Cleanser: Mango Sorbet & Tangerine segments
The palate cleanser for the night is a simple mango sorbet on a bed of tangerine segments. It tasted and smelled rich of mangoes, but was a little too heavy for me to enjoy as an effective palate cleanser. Perhaps this was because its texture was more comparable to ice cream rather than sorbet, but the acidity of the tangerines did help to balance out that richness.
Winter Jar: Tonka Bean and Vanilla Pannacotta, Burnt Orange Jelly, Malted Crumb, Cinnamon Ice Cream
Dessert choice was the one thing we reached immediate consensus on, as Andy isn't too fond of rhubarb and a cheeseboard would kill me. The Winter Jar sounded absolutely divine, and was presented with its own opening act. After our waiter gave us some alone time with the dessert (his words: I'll come back after you are done with photos :)), he came back and spritzed a little bit of curious into the air around us.

The perfume bottle held a yummy smelling toffee essence that filled the air with a lovely sweet fragrance, which I tried to keep breathing in like a maniac. I'm very lucky I was patient and waited, because I actually assumed the perfume bottle was a drink that came with the jar.
That would have been a hard one to explain if they had caught me drinking from the bottle eh?
The Winter Jar
The sweet scent of toffee lingered around briefly as we eagerly plunge our spoon into the depths of the jar. The pannacotta has a smooth consistency that I eventually confuse with the cinnamon ice cream that is also inside. The orange jelly, honeycomb chunks and the wispy vanilla fairy floss all become convoluted layers of sweetness, but the unexpected discovery that make us both shriek with childish delight is the popping, tingly sensation on our tongue.

Popping candy: never fails to surprise, amuse and turn you into a kid.
Chocolate Garden: Valrhona Chocolate Mousse, Salted Peanut, Dacquoise
Ordering their flower pot is a must do if dining at No.4 Blake Street. It looks too realistic to eat, and I probably would not even realise if the fine chocolate crumbles were substituted with real dirt. I've eaten this twice now, which might give me a compulsion to eat the next flower pot I see...

No.4 might be phasing out the selling of the chocolate garden during dinner time.
They aren't the cheapest of desserts at $18 during lunch!
The chocolate garden was composed with thick layers of dirt, slime and rocks, thankfully made up of crumbs, chocolate mousse, sorbet and crunchy candied macadamias. The first few spoons are heavenly, but if you weren't born with a sweet tooth then each consecutive mouthful can become sickly sweet.

But chocolate lovers rejoice - this plant is made for you! I couldn't get enough of the mouthfuls of contrasting temperatures and textures from the sticky salted peanut butter caramel, the cold creaminess and much needed crunch from the nuts, which were much more buttery than they were candied. I try very hard to finish it, but we both put down our spoons and admit defeat.
The scene at No.4, which I would very much like to see again :)
That same night, I had the degustation all over again. If your response is "Yeah right, in your dreams!" then you would be absolutely correct - I actually dreamt of this dinner in my sleep. We left with such a positive, memorable experience and we felt comfortable, well fed and well looked after the entire night. Our crazy photography antics were extremely well catered for!
I can't fault the service we received if I tried, it was impeccable, attentive and some of the best I have experienced in a while. It is a winning combination when paired with a thoughtful and delicious menu where I was able to try new tastes, ingredients and cooking methods.

I love seeing the creativity that gastronomy can bring, which turns cooking into a science, and chefs into magicians.
Being told we were welcome to snoop around and take photos, we had a peek into the next room where all their wines make a brilliant debut.
On the table features the numerous bottles of wine set up on standby, ready for the 7 course d'Arenberg Wine dinner the next night. Judging from all those bottles, it looked to be a very promising night ;)

The team at No.4 are very accommodating and show brilliant service; it made the night (and us) feel truly special :)
No.4 Blake Street, North Perth
Brunch: 7am to 4pm, 7 days
Dinner: 6pm to late, Tuesday - Saturday
High Tea: 2pm to 5pm, Saturday (Would love to try this one day!)

(08) 9444 6678
4 Blake Street, North Perth WA 6006

Friday, 19 July 2013

An Expensive Train Ride at Zensaki Sushi & Izakaya

Everybody in sight seemed to be getting hot and steamy...

Zensaki Sushi & Izakaya on Urbanspoon

If I am not mistaken (but I probably am), the previous restaurant that once existed on the ground that Zensaki now stands was a Japanese restaurant called Mr. Samurai.
Mr. Samurai was a popular eating place, for during peak eating hours it was always bursting at the seams. If Mr. Samurai was a person, he would be jolly, good, and much adored by everybody.

Unfortunately one day, Mr. Samurai was no more. Along with him was also the demise of $5 lunch time curries, $1 salads and $1 miso soups. Needless to say, I was an absolute wreck.

Fortunately, the death of one Japanese restaurant meant the rebirth of another - the handsome Zensaki. Although not always this handsome to begin with, Zensaki semi-recently underwent a major makeover and even I was lured in with its now striking good looks.
Zensaki; not too many similarities to its precedent Japanese restaurant, besides the need to queue for a table!
Oh hello, Mr Fantastic. You're certainly not too fantastic on these Winter nights!
Upon joining the small forest of people waiting for a seat, I noticed this slushee dispenser that churns and spews out all your slushee desires. I'd say it's a very clever, strategically placed temptation to have it located up the front amongst tired, hungry, thirsty people impatiently waiting for some food and drink!
The new and improved upgrade of Zensaki
The interior of Zensaki boasts a really sleek, contemporary design that is vastly different from its previous format of bench seating and tables in the middle. They have chucked in a sushi train, adjacent to some booth-like seating arrangements and some live sushi entertainment courtesy of the sushi chefs.

The hanging light fixtures are mesmerising and really beautiful as centrepieces. The only downside to the restaurant layout is the squishy waiting area at the front, which results in non-stop awkward shuffling, excuse-me's, sorry's and urmph's as people try to get past each other.
Lack of spaciousness - always a good sign to the business :)
Scallop Roll - $6.20
Grilled Scallop, Crab Salad, Avocado, Cucumber, Fish Roe & Kabayaki Sauce
Many of the sushi plates that roll down the sushi train are eye catching, lots of them involving interesting combinations of ingredients which I later discover are mostly Zensaki's "fusion sushi" choices, making up a big part of their menu.

Some of the more intriguing names are the "Pumpkin Crown" and "Banana Rock", which feature soft shell crab, cheese, egg wrap, pumpkin topping and yoghurt sauce; and grilled banana, lettuce, cucumber, almond flakes and yoghurt chocolate sauce respectively.

I'm trying to imagine it but I can't get my head around a sweet dessert sushi. Very fusion indeed.
Scallop Roll; the scallop angle
This inside-out scallop sushi, was really a one-mouth wonder as I tried to stuff the entire contents of the sushi in one go. The crab salad was as good as crab salad can ever get but of course, the butterflied scallops were perfectly plump and juicy and go really well with the caramelised sweet soy sauce.

$6.20 can be quite steep for 2 pieces of sushi, so the more budget friendly options range from a blue-plated $3 all the way to a white-plated $7.50 rainbow spectrum. If none of the choices are your cup of tea, or, um, your plate of sushi, you can also resort to asking the chefs to customise your own sushi with your own original inspiration.
Chashu King - $15
Tender sliced pork, soft yolk boiled egg, fish cake, seaweed, beansprouts & spring onion
Looking around us, everybody in sight seemed to be getting hot and steamy with a big, hearty, warming bowl of ramen. Just like a perfect companion to cosy up to on a chilly Winter night, ramen was evidently a number one, unanimous choice for just about every customer in Zensaki.

The ramen broth at Zensaki is of the essence, requiring at least a 24 hour preparation time frame to ensure they are packed full of flavour. Andy's choice of broth with his chashu ramen is prepared with a miso base - a distinct salty flavour from the use of fermented soybean paste, and is served with thinly cut ribbons of fat-embroidered pork.
Original Ramen - $9.50
Tender sliced pork, fish cake, seaweed, bean sprouts, spring onion
(It has just come to my realisation that my Original Ramen contains the exact same ingredients as the Chashu Ramen aside from the what appears to be a $5.50 half soft boiled egg!)
Aside from miso, other broth choices include a shoyu (soy sauce), shio (garlic salt) and tonkotsu (pork bone) base. I love the idea of an aromatic, slightly fatty idea of a pork bone stock, and I know I made the right choice when Andy takes a spoon of my soup and declares mine is the better one.

What do you know; never argue with a woman for she will always be right.
A busy Zensaki scene that stays this way for the whole night
As I am preoccupied with scooping out every remaining strand of ramen from my bowl and savouring all the soup there is, I am wary that our seats are still precious resources for those still waiting in line for their Zensaki fix.

As sushi train plate prices seem a bit dear, we forgo the tempting thought of another $6.20 sushi plate, which is barely enough to pay for 2 hours of parking in the city.
Perth is probably one of the few cities where you will pay more money for your car to rest than you would for an entire meal.
Zensaki Sushi & Izakaya
I've only tried the tip of the Zensaki iceberg for now, and I look forward to sampling dishes from their Izakaya section of the menu, which has a whole load of enticing dishes.  They also offer nabemono, a kind of Japanese hot pot and perfect for the chilly flu season.
(It's a communal dish, so just don't invite the ones who actually have the flu) :P


Monday - Saturday: 11am to 8pm
Friday: 11am to 9pm
Sunday: 11am to 5pm

(08) 9221 7577
83 Barrack Street, Perth WA 6000

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