Thursday, 19 June 2014

Perth's most talked-about degustation at Restaurant Amuse, East Perth

"You can take a peek, or just wait for the surprises"...
Restaurant Amuse on Urbanspoon
Life has been a creaky rollercoaster as of late and regretfully, I haven't posted in about 5 months. Coincidentally that is also how long we've been on the list for a degustation dinner at Restaurant Amusé. After an online booking error that admittedly left us less than amused and crashing down after inflated feelings of anticipation and excitement, we had another shot at it for my special day of the year. From the second I walked through the entrance to the second I walked out of it 4 hours later, I completely understand why this is such a special place for special occasions with really, really special people.
Restaurant Amuse
Restaurant Amuse is one of those places where you know you will be made to feel like king or queen for the entire night. Coats and jackets are taken away to be hung up and a low stool was brought my way to put my feet up (ha, or so I thought - it was actually for my bag so it didn't have to sit on the floor!)

Every staff member we encountered on the journey from entrance to table was polite and courteous, greeting us like we were VIPs. A host visited every table, explaining the structure of our degustation and checking any dietary requirements and preferences so last minute changes could be made to courses. She briefed us on some main ingredients used that night, added teasers here and there, and left behind a folded piece of paper.

"You can take a peek, or just wait for the surprises," she said, before walking away.
The piece of paper sat there, very Pandora's Box-like. And of course, I was Pandora.
Dr. Pilkington's Miracle Cider - $15
In hindsight there was not much difference looking at the menu. There weren't any dish descriptions as all the 8 courses were simply listed as a list, of, ingredients. With everything else taken care of, we kicked back and enjoyed our refreshing apple cider and toasted (mourned) for another year that quickly came and went.
Curry leaf spiced pumpkin mousse
After what seemed like no time at all, a waiter came around with 2 small sealed jars before explaining what they were. This followed through the rest of the night with dishes being brought out by different waiters, who then elaborated on what the dishes were, where the produce came from and techniques used to cook them. It really makes you stop and think about and appreciate the time and skill that's been put into such deceptively simple dishes.

As we peeled back the lids, I picked up the jar and was met with a very delicate, warm and unmistakeable smell of buttery pumpkin soup. Inside was a stunning curry leaf-spiced pumpkin mousse which left us with a very promising start to the degustation. Every teaspoonful (sadly there was only about 4!) was a light, airy mousse that left me wanting more - if it were socially acceptable to do so, I definitely would have licked that jar.
Warm sourdough with whipped butter and an olive oil spread
Another impressive element of the night was the speed with which each course was served. Plates are cleared promptly and a fresh set of cutlery is replaced with each new dish. In addition to the 8 courses, there are several unanticipated items given, which always results in a warm, fuzzy feeling when you least expect something.

After the pumpkin mousse starter (which was also a surprise item), a generous bowl of white and rye sourdough is placed on the table, along with a small jar of fluffy Bannister Downs whipped butter and an olive oil spread. The bread is warm as I tore it apart and discover that it's had a hot stone bath from a couple of heated stones at the bottom of the bowl, which were still warm to touch.
Prawns, avocado, pear and umeboshi
Soon after we consciously restrained ourselves from finishing all the bread, the first dish of the night arrived. Small blobs of avocado puree peers through the scattering of prawns, nashi pear cubes and linseed crackers. It was a surprise to realise that the prawns were served as not fully cooked through but I hardly had time to ponder over that with all the other crunchy and soft textures playing inside my mouth.
Chestnut, daikon, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds
I really enjoyed the next dish as I am a big fan of crispy, crunchy things that shatter in my mouth - the louder the sound, the better! This was a simple but fragrant mix of radish crisps that had been pickled and fermented and provided some acidity to the dish against the savoury granola of pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and wild rice. The mix felt like a fancy gourmet muesli bowl and I found the chestnut polenta pretty damn irresistible!
Marron, Geraldton wax, carrot and saltbush
A very pretty dish was served next with ingredients that I had never heard of before! The star was a beautiful piece of poached marron; its shell cleverly used to make the pool of sauce. There is a small fondant potato covered with a black layer of seaweed alongside baby carrots whilst the crispier elements of the dish are provided by grains of crispy quinoa and crisp saltbush leaves. It's an interesting dish and the leftover sauce is where you [insert leftover sourdough here and mop, soak, mop].
Mushrooms, white miso, chicken and rice
I wasn't fazed about the next dish, simply because it involved rice and there really isn't a day I get by without this essential carbohydrate in my life. I was very familiar with the rice being served in chicken broth meal, which makes me very reminiscent of childhood and all its familiar comforts.

The novelty I enjoyed about this course was how the dish is presented first, followed by a theatrical pouring of the roasted chicken broth into the shallow plate. The level of liquid is just right for the sushi rice to be soaked in the warm, savoury broth whilst the ingredients sitting on top remain dry and crisp. There are a few sheets of toasted nori and sinfully crispy chicken skin making up for the soft (but not mushy!) rice, as well as buckwheat and pieces of shiitake. What was very noticeable was that the crispy/crunchy texture has been very popular in all the dishes up until this point - if you're not a fan of hard, crunchy mouthfuls, the dishes might start to seem a bit tired.
Pork, octopus, kimchi and black garlic
Next up we were served a piece of artwork, of which the colours were vivid and stood out against the black background of the plate. Small cubes of fragrant, caramelised Linley Valley bacon and barbequed Fremantle octopus are arranged across a lengthy piece of pickled Chinese cabbage, presented as the kimchi component of the dish. We squinted and gave a long, hard poke at the pieces of black garlic which tasted surprisingly like, well, garlic. I thought I heard that they had a prune flavour, but I'm not sure whether I heard wrong, or whether it was overtaken by all the other flavours on the plate.
Beef, artichoke, kohlrabi and horseradish
Our host at the beginning of dinner worked up my excitement for this dish, as she described it as a beautifully tender, fall-apart piece of meat that had been lovingly prepared and cared for for a minimum of 12 hours. The only time I ever have a piece of meat that's been cooking for that amount of time is whenever I eat leftovers from dinner the night before and from my extensive leftover-eating experience, it's true - leftovers are, in more instances than not, much more flavoursome from being marinated in juices overnight and being cooked over and over again.

I envisioned a larger serving of beef ribs (Thoughts Of A Glutton, available at a book store near you) but this smaller serving was perhaps better off after six or seven dishes anyway, with another few to go. Addition of a few crisp components would have improved the dish for me, as the predominantly rich, soft and creamy textures of the pickled cucumber, Jerusalem artichoke puree, radish discs and horseradish were proving to be too much to digest. The meat was soft as promised but mouthfuls from this point started to become quite rich and saturated.
Prune and sherbet
My saviour came in the form of another surprise and was a great start to the upcoming dessert plates. This really went down a sweet treat to counterbalance the heavy feeling I was starting to get from all the courses. My spoon cut through the soft, gelatinous truffle, and the sweetness of prunes and sourness of the sherbet was very much welcomed.
Grapes, bloodlimes and roselle
My excitement waned when I saw this deceptively simple dessert, consisting of sorbet balanced atop a few innocent and normal-looking grapes. What ever happened to the restaurant's renowned creative flair and sensory ride that diners got with degustation?

As I disappointingly shoved a grape in my mouth and bit into it, Andy (who had just bit into his) shot me a look that said nothing except 'WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!' Immediately after, my mouth was filled with a strange sensation that fizzed and it felt as if I had just taken a gulp of soft drink instead of having just eaten a grape. These carbonated fizzy grapes were by far my favourite surprise of the night; they leave a tingle on your tongue! Beneath the grapes is a cool, creamy coconut pudding that balances out the acidity of the dish. I didn't quite fancy the pairing, but on each component on its own was creative and unique, particularly the refreshing sourness from the bloodlime sorbet.
Popcorn, caramel, chocolate and prune
The night was brought to a close by a dessert, which consisted of different elements, textures and forms of popcorn, caramel, chocolate and prune. Looking down at my plate I couldn't really spot any of these ingredients at first sight - jagged shards of different colours and appearance protruded out of a mound of a creamy, mousse-like dollop and chocolate bits decorated the plate - but for a dessert that listed popcorn as its first and main ingredient, where on earth is the popcorn you speak about!

I took a spoonful containing a little bit of everything and tried to work out where all the ingredients were hidden. I was met with the unmistakeable popcorn scent and taste incorporated into the dessert, whilst each shard provided a different flavour and texture. Some were a crunchy, wafer-like sensation; the glass-like caramel pieces were brittle and shattered between my teeth and the dark, maroon pieces were where the prunes were. These were thick, sweet and provided a substantial chew. I was quite satiated at this point and pushed my unfinished plate aside and wished for a hot, soothing drink as a perfect ending.
Lemon Verbena Tea, Desert Limes and White Chocolate
And just as if someone had heard my wishes, my wish was granted shortly after with the presence of tea and more sweets. It was my first time trying desert limes, and I was surprised to taste the piquant and intense flavour. I was thankful for the endless refills as I really needed many gulps to balance out the intense sweetness of the white chocolate truffles, which held a lusciously gooey passionfruit centre inside them. This was a sweet ending for all and a grand finale to the $130 per person omnivorous degustation menu.
Restaurant entrance, one of the more private seating areas and wall mural
I was very impressed with their said ability to deal with all dietary requirements, as mine is quite strict and annoying. What made the night less impressive for me personally however, is that this wasn't completely followed through and many of my dishes incorporated components I sadly had to leave on my plate - much fat on the bacon, the creaminess in the puree, and oiliness of some dishes. It proved too much for me as my stomach started churning midway through the degustation and really made the overall experience not as enjoyable as I had hoped for it to be.

The ambiance is everything you would expect from such a place with a long waiting list - professional, check. Elaborate, check. Dim lights, double check. But what pleasantly surprised me about the restaurant is the absence of any snobbery or pretentious behaviour one might have to deal with or live up to in places you ironically wait for a very special occasion yet do not always feel comfortable in. All the staff we encountered were extremely friendly and helpful, and the experience doesn't end until you step outside the building as they take a step faster than you and hold open the door for your exit. It's a simple but special touch, which is the all important factor that makes the experience very memorable, very special and very much Restaurant Amusé.

If I were to summarise - mind boggling, but not mind blowing.
Restaurant Amuse, East Perth
Restaurant Amusé
Tuesday - Saturday from 6:30pm
Check restaurant website for reservations and availability

Tel: (08)9325 4900
64 Bronte Street East Perth WA 6004

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