Flicking through the Eat Drink Perth 2011 pullout guide earlier this month, one of the events that caught my immediate attention was The Amusé Project for two main reasons. First, I’ve recently had a meal at the restaurant and, despite reading many prior write-ups, was blown away by the quality, inventiveness and exquisite presentation of the food, the perfectly matched wines and most of all, how friendly and knowledgeable the staff are.
Second, the premise of the dinner was itself an interesting one. Owners Hadleigh and Carolynne Troy explain in the complementary project booklet:
To add to their already huge workload, each member of the team also takes on a regular project. This may be a technique, a component, a cocktail or an entire dish of their choice that over the weeks is submitted on a Saturday for discussion, critique, refinement or praise …
Each course has been created by one of the chefs on the team drawing upon a myriad of backgrounds, inspirations and past experience. Their ideas are then refined over an 8 week period under the guidance and tutelage of Head Chef Hadleigh. The meal was bookended by an apéritif crafted by restaurant manager, Chris Lisle-Williams and a cheese course by head waitress, Kim Eaton. The entire meal was rounded out with specially matched wines selected by resident sommelier, Samuel Davies. The desgustation dinner was their showcase event, the night for the young chefs and service team to shine.
The other aspect that made the evening special was sharing the meal with 15 other foodlovers/foodbloggers and their friends or partners. It’s quite liberating to be at a table where everyone was “into” their food and was quite unfazed about the –sometimes obsessive– phototaking and appreciative cooing. As each course was plated, there was avid discussion about what the individual component ingredients or prepraration methods were. It became the game of the night.
Apéritif ~ Cherry Ripe & Dirty Jelly Martini
To get everyone in a festive mood, we were presented with a cocktail each, specially created for the evening by restaurant manager, Chris Lisle-Williams. The two alternating cocktails were placed by each diner and I got the Cherry Ripe. A sweet intensely flavoured cherry liqeur with generous spheres of chocolate sorbet. The chocolate slowly melted and mixed with the cherry as I drank. It was rich, decadent and dangerous as it goes down easy.
I also had a sip of the Dirty Martini, made with a locally produced gin from the South West. The alcohol was strong on the nose and even stronger on the palate. At the bottom of the glass were little cubes of jelly made from olive juice which slowly dissolved into the drink. I found the brash alcohol a little too strong to start the night with. The flavour would probably have mellowed after the jelly had mixed into the drink.
The deceptively simply named appetisers were anything but. Presented on two platters it comprised of crispy rosemary grissini sticks wrapped with lamb tartare and cornichons; soft 30 second sponge containing olives which were light, fluffly, with a richly complex and layered flavour profile; mini watermelon pastilles with popcorn and a rich, creamy sauce.
On a smaller platter were some crisp, buttery oat chips that were sweet, salty and deliciously caramelly at the same time. This was served with a side dish of sour cream dotted with multi-coloured finger lime pods. These little bubbles burst with tangy, sweet juice when bitten in to, complemented by the acid tones of the sour cream. On the plate there were also shards of this strange, slightly leathery sheets that melted in your mouth. We found out later that they were re-constituted pumpkin puree.
First course ~ Nordic Kingfish
Drawing from his Scandinavian heritage, chef Gianfranco Monti presented a dish with slices of kingfish prepared two ways. Half of the fish was very lightly pickled and the other lightly smoked over applewood chips. These were garnished with slivers of spanish onions, lightly pickled cucumber, fresh dill tips and dressed with a sprightly dill oil and (I think) creme fraiche.
The fish was sweet, extremely tender and delicately flavoured with just that little hint, an imperceptible nod of pickling and smoking. While both are still essentially raw the contrasting preparation methods yielded different texture profiles that combined beautifully.
Second course ~ Pig, Mushroom, Onion
The next course was created by chef Paul Iskov and comprised of two squares of belly pork cooked to perfection. The meat was falling apart, melt in your mouth tender and the top a light crisp. This was a accompanied by an onion sphere with a tasty, crunchy exterior and a smooth creamy inner shell. Imagine the tastiest onion rings you’ve ever had and multiply that by 10. It was a pity that there was only one as I could have happily devoured an entire bowlful. The dish was served with a deep brown, sticky mushroom reduction and a bunch of baby mushrooms. There was much discussion about what type of mushrooms they were and the popular verdict appears to be some form of baby oyster.
Third course ~ Beef, Squid & Watermelon
Perfectly sous vide slices of beef fillet which were then quickly seared on the outside made for meltingly tender meat with beautiful mouthfeel. Just the right level of chewiness packed with flavoursome meat juices. Acccompanied by pieces of spot on cooked squid with a hint of dashi or bonito. Getting squid right is quite an art and one that chef Matthew Starling has mastered. Crunchy on the outside and just cooked so it’s not rubbery. The dish was finished with pellets of oven roasted potatos and wafer thin slices of pickled watermelon rind. Everything was tied together with a creamy salsa verde that was made with 20 different ingredients.
Fourth course ~ Coconut on the beach
Our first dessert course prepared by young Jake Stone was, for me, one of the most spectacular dishes of the night. A perfect sphere of frozen coconut juice sitting atop a bed of coconut and pineapple “sand”. When cracked open with a firm whack of the spoon, we found a pineapple sorbet and coconut espuma ensconced within. The combination of the sorbet and espuma resulted in a fizzy, effervecent dance on our tongues; tamed ever so slightly by the frozen coconut juice shell. Cool and cold. Creamy and fizzy. It was a delight on all the senses and the “sand” provided a crunchy foil and textural balance to the overall smooth creamines.
Fifth course ~ Chocolate & Beetroot
Despite the rather drab name, this final dessert course was packed with textures and flavours. Chef Luke Butler pulled out all the stops for this course and we were presented with a myriad of textures including: cubes of dehydrated chocolate, chocolate dust, sweet sticky melt-in-your-mouth chocolate strips, frozen caramelised white chocolate, a beetroot sorbet baton covered with chocolate powder, little sweet earthy balls of fresh beetroot and a delicate smear of beetroot sauce. While I’m not usually a fan of beetroot, the combination worked really well with the various textures of chocolate. The deep earthy tones complemented the rich and complex chocolate.
Cheese plate ~ Pyengana Cheddar
To end our meal head waitress Kim Eaton presented a beautiful Tasmanian Cheddar accompanied with some fruit toast, water crackers and poppy seed crackers with dollops of beetroot chutney and orange marmalade. The cheese was strong, sharp, creamy and crumbly all at the same time. Imagine a ripe Parmesan or Grand Padano inter-married with a Comté or Gruyère. Bold and hedonisticly decadent. A glorious way to finish a fine meal. For a cheese lover like me, this was heaven in every bite.
After the main meal service, the chef and service team were presented to the floor for a little Q & A session. Afterwards, they wandered through the dining room speaking to the diners. It’s nice to see the chefs out of the kitchen interacting with everyone.
I feel privileged and an honoured to be a part of this amazing evening filled with superbly crafted food and excellent wine matched with equally amazing company at our table. It was also heartening to see owners Hadleigh and Carolynne Troy having such faith in their staff, encouraging and nurturing them, and the young chefs and service team excelling at the challenge put to them. Also not to be forgotten are the front of house staff who were kept on their toes all night, scurrying around serving the 60+ diners and clearing dishes, topping up our water and wines.
While this is the first time for such an event at Restaurant Amusé, we hope that it certainly won’t be the last.
Thanks must also go to Apex of Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse for organsing and doing a most excellent job of herding cats to get everyone together for the night.
Update: Write ups and reviews of the night’s proceedings are also available from:
Snacks – Team Amusé
Cherry Ripe & Dirty Jelly Martinis – Chris Lisle-Williams
Nordic Kingfish – Gianfranco Monti
Scott, NV “The Great Wave” Sparkling Pinot Grigio, Adelaide Hills, SA
Pig, Mushroom, Onion – Paul Iskov
Paul Jaboulet, 2006 “Les Jalets” Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France
Beef, Squid & Watermelon – Matthew Starling
Domaine Lucci, 2010 Petit Verdot, Adelaide Hills, SA
Coconut on the beach – Jake Stone
Marcarini, 2009 Moscato d’Asti, Piemonte, Italy
Chocolate & Beetroot – Luke Butler
Woodstock, 2003 Barbera Recioto, McLaren Vale, SA
Pyengana Cheddar – Kim Eaton
Barrel Aged Muscat, Rutherglen, Vic