The Australian 2014

Just when you thought degustation might have had its time in the sun and gone back inside for a hat, the multi-course tasting menu with fixed price (but variable quality) has taken root in Perth. It’s dining as competitive sport.

Choose the “five course” and by the time you’ve added what television chef Pete Evans calls an “amuse bush” or two, a pre-dessert and a little surprise finale, you’re up to more like nine. Choose the 10 course and be prepared to settle in. Or fall asleep. Restaurants all over Perth are doing the dego thing; it might be called “the Amuse effect”, after the restaurant of that name that has anchored Perth’s creative dining scene for the past few years. Amuse has proven that wit, wisdom and insight into how people relax with food can make the dego-only thing work well.

Several establishments have jumped on the gravy train, stoking the fire with coals and dirts, gels and espumas, spheres and snows. Just as you rediscover balsamic vinegar crossing the Nullarbor, so too are the vestiges of molecular gastronomy lurking in Perth’s high-end kitchens. Red Cabbage is a case in point. Weird name, but this is one of the state’s premier eating spots, a podium-level dining room in an office building that looks corporate and, to my eye, a bit dated.

Still, the place operates like clockwork, which is more important: meet, greet, seat, drink, smile, explanation, water, wine … It all shows confidence. And there’s a proud WA focus to the wine list backed with savvy choices; a Cherubino fiano, for example. But a table setting of five knives and an equal number of forks is a bit “mine’s bigger than yours”.

The only menu choice here is the big protein course: beef or fish. You’ll get a choice regarding the bread rolls, too; I suggest you pass. But most of the food is tasty and intelligent, plated on expensive crockery more in synch with the food style than the decor. It’ll just take you back a few years, that’s all. A lime gel sphere with a gin espuma, for example: Red Cabbage’s G&T on a spoon (the “amuse bush”).

Vegetable of the decade – radish – is part of a Med salad deconstruct: dehydrated black olive crumbs with heirloom baby tomatoes, snowy white goat’s curd, crouton and another sphere, this time a khaki basil puree. Red Cabbage is getting value out of its spherification kit, that’s for sure. The world’s best scallop (Rottnest) comes with a piece of blow-torched bonito and “apple variations”: a puddle of creamy puree, a cube of compressed fruit, a crest of espuma, a scattering of jelly crumble and an early winter’s dusting of apple snow. It’s all a bit of fun, technically clever and actually very satisfying, if you like raw-ish bonito.

More fish, this time a poached marron on loose salmon rillettes and a tablet of salmon pastrami; each is excellent, but the strap of soy ginger gel (with wasabi dollops) is out of proportion, dominating. There’s another proportion issue with a cleanser dish: too much coffee soil in relation to pickled baby beets, basil micro-meringues and an olive oil powder. It helps if you like the flavour of coffee. Some don’t.

Just when a cloud of indifference threatens the horizon, out comes a dish of beautiful, thick-sliced beef with acidic pickled baby mushrooms, corn kernels and baby beets, kale and a chilli-spiked soy caramel dressing. It’s vaguely Korean in its inspiration and very clever. The alternative is blowtorched ocean trout with cauliflower puree, roasted shallot, some kind of crumbed croquette and toasted hazelnuts. It’s pleasant, but less interesting.

Cheese? Think pumpkin and white chocolate ganache scattered with English cheddar crumble, Cashel Blue (from Ireland) and pear sorbet. Superb. There’s a bit of freeze-drying next up with dessert number one: choc/coffee pud with spongy choc mousse rubble. A bit of fun. The denouement is straight: burnt honey parfait with various mango bits and pieces, purees, gels and sorbets. A crowd-pleaser.

For played-with food, it has some soul. There is serious technical ability here, but many chefs have moved towards a less interfered-with style and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Big isn’t always better. Just bigger.

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