Tuesday 12 November 2013

EDB13 Perth Trip - Balthazar

I've just had an amazing weekend over in Perth.  Yeah, I know! Perth is about as far away from Brisbane as you can possibly get, in fact it's pretty much the most isolated capital city in the world.  If you're wondering what would get a Brisbane foodie over to Perth, then wonder no further, I was off attending an annual food bloggers conference called Eat Drink Blog (#EDB13 on Twitter). That's right, a conference dedicated to food blogging, what a freaky concept, what could be more exciting (or scarier) than a hundred or so food bloggers all congregating in the one spot.

Both SC and I had been to Perth before, but never together, so when I found out that my nomination had been accepted to attend this years conference we thought it would be a great way to finally see Perth together.  We both decided to take a long weekend and made the long trip over to Perth on the Friday with a plan to hit a few restaurants and have some fun before the conference.  While I was pretty excited about the #EDB13 conference I was equally excited to be checking out some of Perth's hotspot restaurants and do a subtle comparison to my home town of Brisbane.

Leading up to #EDB13, I had been using the 'interwebs' to size up the best spots to visit while in Perth and a couple of restaurants kept coming up in discussion, Print Hall and Cantina.  The plan was to land in Perth just before lunch, collect the bags and then check out one of the newer and hipper spots in Perth, Print Hall.  Of course the plan went awry immediately, the only session that I could get into was a 12:30pm sitting and there was just no way that we could get from the airport to Perth in time.  I was a bit bummed out, but had to make the most of the situation, so I hit up Urbanspoon to see where else I could go on such short notice.

I started to scan down the list of restaurants on Urbanspoon and soon realised that there were just too many options to choose from, so I just decided to try Balthazar for no other reason than I loved the name.  I was keen to see what the Perth version of Balthazar was like after visiting its namesake in New York earlier in the year (see post here).  A quick call and it was all set, we were booked in and had enough time to get the hire car and check into the hotel before our reservation time of 1pm.

We had a choice, we could walk the 1.7k from our hotel to the restaurant or we could catch a taxi, ordinarily it would be a simple choice but since we were in a foreign city and it was pretty hot, we went with a cab. Every time I go to a new city I think that the drivers are way worse than at home and this was no exception and we had a bit of a frustrating cab ride over to the restaurant.  We were sitting at an intersection for what seemed like five minutes before we realised that it was the intersection that Balthazar was on and could have just left the cabbie to deal with the traffic.  Oh well, live and learn.

Balthazar was located in a lovely old sandstone building that overlooked the Swan River and once we stepped inside out of the heat, were immediately impressed with the swanky interior.  It's not what I would call a large restaurant, but it's really modern inside and is decked out with crisp linen and silver cutlery on each table.  There's lots of wine bottles and wine racks throughout the dining area, leaving no doubt that Perth considers itself a wine destination, or at least close to one of the premier wine regions in the country. 

We were warmly greeted and escorted to our table and quickly noticed that the place was filled with 'suits' having their Friday power lunch, in fact SC was one of only two females in the place.  We had a couple of menus placed on our table, along with a drinks menu which had a long list of local wines on offer.  In what was a surprising move, SC ordered a beer instead of a wine but since it was a Little Creatures pale ale, which is a local beer, I guess that was OK too.  Looking over the menu there were a couple of interesting options, so SC and I did that thing that couples do when each wants the same thing....  You know what I'm talking about. Suffice to say, I lost out this time.

By the time we hit Balthazar and ordered our meals, it was just past 1pm in Perth which translated to 3pm Brisbane time, so we were starved.  We needed to get some food quick, so ordered the bread with hand churned butter, which unfortunately was not complimentary.  The bread had a nice crust, but I think it had been sitting around for a while as it was not the freshest.  This was offset by the incredible hand churned butter, which was so creamy and had almost a cheese like flavour, yum.

The starter from Balthazar was one of the simplest and most elegant dishes I had seen for a while and was described with a simple list of ingredients that left much to the imagination.  The asparagus, duck egg, sour cream, tomato and cracked wheat could have been a mess but the very simple presentation allowed all of the ingredients to shine and looked spectacular.  Each of the components was perfectly cooked and arranged on the plate with a purpose and that purpose was to tantalise.  The flavour combinations on the plate really worked well together with and were as delicious as they looked.  The duck egg was wonderfully cooked and the gooey yolk mixed beautifully with the plate to enhance the flavour of the asparagus.  The highlight was the duck egg curd which was just divine.

We were a bit surprised when I also had the duck egg placed in front of me, especially since I ordered the scallops.  I had to call back the waitress and confirm that I had not ordered the duck egg and asparagus and with an embarrassed apology, the plate was whisked away for my starter to be made.  I had ordered the scallops, oyster mushroom, porcini and rocket which was again very simply named and left me wondering what it would look like.  

Before too long my starter was placed in front of me, with another apology and I was presented with another lovely looking dish that smelled wonderful.  It was not entirely what I expected but was happy none the less, that was until I took my first bite of the scallop.  It was undercooked.  In their haste to get the dish out of the kitchen and into my eager hands, they had undercooked the scallops.  I didn't say anything because I would much prefer underdone scallops than over cooked ones.  The flavour combinations were really quite interesting and not a pairing I had tried before, but the scallops and porcini worked, especially with the slightly bitter rocket, which had been blended to a puree.  I also really like the different textures on the plate, with some dehydrated mushroom bits made to look like soil and some colour from some choggia beets.  It was a good dish, but would have been great if the scallops were perfect.

We had no such problems with our mains with the correct orders placed in front of us.  I mentioned that SC and I were eyeing off the same dish and it was the main where I lost out.  The duck breast, beetroot, mushroom, blue cheese, walnut and sherry was another beautiful looking dish, something that Balthazar seemed to do well.  The duck was beautifully cooked with crisp skin, perfectly rendered fat and a lovely pink hue that signified that it was done just right.  We were again impressed with the flavour combinations and found that the sweetness from the beetroot and sherry worked well with the slightly tangy blue cheese.  The walnuts added some nice crunch to the plate, and were slightly candied, which complemented the blue cheese nicely. The duck was really nice and I looked upon this dish with a fair amount of food envy and the few mouthfuls that I was allowed to sample were delicious.

Although I really wanted the duck, I was happy to settle for the lamb rump, lamb neck, peas, ginger beer, capers and herbs.  I've developed a real love of lamb after spending many years totally ignoring the wonderful sweet meat and this was one of the better lamb dishes I have had.  The sweet lamb was cooked two ways, with the perfectly cooked rump having providing a subtle flavour and the neck done as a warm terrine that packed a real punch.  Supporting the lamb were the traditional peas done two ways and a mint sauce.  The pea puree was so intense that it almost overpowered the lamb, so you had to ration it out so as to not get too much in one mouthful, but the fresh peas were just right.  I'm not a big fan of mint, so I pretty much avoided that and left most of it on the plate.  The lamb dish was really nice but to be honest I would have preferred the duck.

It was pretty late in the day for our body clocks but I thought I could manage dessert and ordered the only dessert that looked interesting the chocolate fondant, cherry ice cream and peanut brittle.  I love chocolate fondants, when they are done well there is nothing better, and this fondant was gooooood.  As soon as I cut through the outer chocolate casing the gooey centre started to ooze out onto the plate.  The cherry ice cream was a little sour so it offset the really sweet chocolate nicely but what was really amazing was the peanut puree, especially when you managed to get all of the ingredients in your mouth at one time, yum.  The peanut brittle was a little hard to eat and didn't really add anything to the dish, but I still enjoyed eating it, but it was the last thing devoured and not really mixed in with the rest of the dessert.

We had been disappointed that we couldn't get into Print Hall for our lunch but both agreed that Balthazar was incredible.  The menu was pretty interesting and all of the food that we saw and sampled was top-notch, but you would expect that from a restaurant that has two hats from the Australian Good Food Guide.

While the staff were pretty friendly we thought the service was a little on the slow side.  It was not super busy and there were times when we were clearly looking to have our orders taken and had staff whizzing by doing indeterminate stuff and not serving us.  There were times where all we could do was grin to each other as another waiter just walked past.  Apart from the at times slow service and the mix up with entrees, we were pretty happy with the whole Balthazar experience and it was much better than our time in the New York Balthazar.

It was a good start to my foodie adventure in Perth and I was looking forward to checking out as many places as I could with the downtime from the #EDB13 event.  Lunch was over and it would be a few hours until our next foodie stop in Perth, dinner Cantina 663 with some blogger friends who were also attending #EDB13. What would the rest of the weekend bring?  Only time would tell......

The bread was on display.  I loved the bread box!
There were wine racks just about everywhere at Balthazar
mmmm, edible flowers.  The lamb was very good
More edible flowers and the delicious duck egg
More wine racks and a couple of 'lads' enjoying a 'suits' lunch minus the jackets
More wine racks and some lovely chandeliers 
Guess what, yup, more wine racks.  We must have hit a wine region.
And what would wine racks full of wine be without some decanters
Quite a small space and the waiter looked happy to see the back of us!!
A nice contrast between new Perth and old Perth.  Sandstone and highrise

Balthazar on UrbanspoonBalthazar

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