May 10, 2011

Friends Restaurant

Hyatt Centre
20 Terrace Rd
Perth, Western Australia

(08) 9221 0885

I have to admit, I've been putting off visiting Friends for some time now on account of several bad reviews from friends and acquaintances. These people are all fairly reliable, but the last time they visited was long before 2 star Michelin chef Andrew Barnes took the helm in the kitchen. Things have changed. Really changed.

To set the scene, Ondine and I were at the Perth Hyatt for the 2011 Swancon - Perth's annual Speculative Fiction convention,. It's an even that runs over the Easter weekend and attracts 300-400 Science Fiction and Fantasy buffs from all walks of life. It also marks our anniversary, so it was a very good opportunity to splash out and have a good meal at the only restaurant open in the area at that time.

What I didn't count on it was that it would turn out to be the equivalent of a dining 40km marathon at what is undoubtedly now the best restaurant in the CBD. Take note Perth. This is a real degustation. Bring your large pants.

Before we had even decided on what we intended to do for the evening the staff had brought us canapés in the form of croquettes (very top photo) and a fried oyster each. Proprietors Clyde and Lesley Bevan were very gracious and knowledgeable hosts. They really put everything into running the front of house here and it shows. 

Best of Friends: Ten Course Tasting Menu

This was a big meal. The menu showcases the kitchen's very best work, and for $275 including 5 star wines, it's not a meal that you can say was poor value. Each course with the exception of canapés was full entrée sized - no spoon full of carrot sorbet on a plate covered with foam here!

Oysters pickled with cucumber, dill and caviar. Emilio Lustau Jarnana fino.
(above, left) I'm not a huge fan of raw oysters except as a potential natural vitamin pill in a shell. I could not really appreciate this course - the cucumber on this one didn't work for me texturally and mine was badly shucked (shell residue). While it was a good starter, I can't recommend this course. The presentation was good though and the sherry was an interesting choice with the dish.

Cider and White Onion Soup

Cider and white onion soup, garlic chips. Janisson & Fils Tradition Brut NV
A really good rich onion soup. The cider brought out a slight tartness, and the champagne finished it off. If I were to dine here a la carte, this would definitely be in my top three choices of entrée.

Seared Scallops

Seared scallops with apple and rosemary, apple crisps and mustard sauce. Moss Wood Margaret River Semillon 2010.
Scallops lovers rejoice. Three well cooked scallops on a plate, matched with a perfectly tart sauce. I'm not a big fan of shellfish in general, but I really quite enjoyed this one. The only minor quibble I had was the wine pairing. I really didn't like it - the wine distracted too much from the sweetness of the scallops and I ended up eating the dish without drinking the wine.

Poached Marron

Lescure sea salt butter poached marron, crisp potatoes, leek and beetroot juice. Giaconda Beechworth Aeolia Roussanne 2000.
A sublime example of marron. The beetroot and leek juice sauce appeared to have been seasoned using kecap manis for extra sweetness. The "crisp potato" was a made from potato noodle, and then deep fried. The Roussanne was one of the most unusual white wines I've tasted, with hints of stewed apple and spice - it perfectly complemented the dish.

Red Snapper

Red Snapper, mussel tartare sauce, spinach, saffron potatoes. Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Chardonnay 2007
This for me was the highlight of the night. Perfectly cooked snapper in a playful riff on fish and chips, English style. The chips are the tiny, turned saffron potatoes. The hand made tartare sauce was flavoured with the brine from the in house dill pickles. A perfectly cooked scallop finished the plate off. Of course it's hard to go past the Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay when choosing a wine for fish. Brilliant dish. Best fish I've had at a restaurant in Perth.

Vegetable Lasagne

Mediterranean vegetables layered with egg pasta, tomato and basil, cheddar cheese sauce.
The hand made egg pasta was also a nice change, but after the lofty heights reached by the fish this one was a little anticlimactic. Good, tasty, but a bit of a bludgeon after the kitchen's earlier subtleties. 

Wild Game Bird Terrine

Terrine of duck, pheasant and partridge with walnut dressing, toasted brioche. Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008.
A really smart terrine, this kept all the textures of the wild birds, and wrapped it with the richness of the duck liver pate. The Pinot was also a good match for it. Ondine's favourite for the night.

Lamb Cutlet

Amelia Park lamb cutlet, served pink, cassoulet of beans, picked herbs and roasting juices. Henschke Henry's Seven Barossa Shiraz Grenache Viognier 2008.
Given the previous courses this is where Ondine and I both started to feel the kitchen was losing steam. The lentils were not cooked enough and had far too much texture. The lamb was a bit like an afterthought to the richness of the stock and the cassoulet sauce- I don't think sous vide was a good cooking method on this one. 

Presentation wise it looked fantastic, and if I had ordered this as a main, I probably would not have been disappointed, but in the all star line-up it was near the bottom as far as courses went.

Wagyu Beef Fillet.

Wagyu beef fillet, pan-fried with horseradish and green pepper crust, creamed potatoes, glazed vegetables, red wine sauce. Best's Bin O Great Western Shiraz 2008.
Australia's fascination with Wagyu fillet continues. I really do not know why people think this is a good cut of beef - but its on the tasting menu, so we got stuck in. 

A well presented, hearty, yet somewhat disappointing course. The whole parsnips were turned into perfect cones, but they were a little on the strong, and woody side. The horseradish/pepper crust was a feisty addition to the dish, and reminiscent of wasabi, but it couldn't save  the cut of beef and the rather ordinary Shiraz paired with it. It was another English themed dish, but not terribly special.


Hazelnut Soufflé,  praline biscuit and praline icecream. De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2006
I do love a good soufflé. Even using a no-fail recipe a bad soufflé can kill a kitchen's rep and this dessert is the sign of a really kick arse kitchen that isn't afraid to do the hard things.  Unfortunately for me, by the time this came around my stomach had decided it couldn't handle any more. So while this was a solid dessert, it was a bit sweet and way too much after nine courses and three hours of eating.

I had a great time at Friends and will be definitely be back. It wasn't pretentious. It wasn't pricey for the quality of food and they have a really creative seasonal menu. The degustation was a great example of seasonality taking us on a trip from late summer through to winter - something most Perth restaurants don't seem to want to try. Best of all you don't have to pre-book the degustation if you decide at the last minute to try it. 

The downsides. Wine paring for the price could have been better with the degustation. Course sizes for the degustation (10 course) were ambitious. The ambience was good, but it did get dark towards late evening (photo's suffered). I really am nit picking here because honestly there was nothing really to fault. Friends is definitely in the top 5 Perth restaurants and if you compare restaurants within 5km of the CBD, it's top 3. No question.

Friends on Urbanspoon

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