The West Australian, October 2008

By Rob Broadfield

17/20 Two Stars

The Buzz One of our city’s best. Food is innovative, intelligent and appealing. Wine list is compact and serviceable, although it needs to expand. Service is absolutely top-notch. A marvellous night out. In Perth’s top five.

Red cabbage is one of Perth’s finest restaurants. It’s Chef/owner Scott O’Sullivan joins the meagre ranks of Perth chefs whose food you’d cross town to eat. It’s exciting to pick up a menu and see genuine innovation: food that is original and clever without being cute or copycat (bearing in mind that all chefs cook food or use techniques learnt from other chefs).

The dining room, with it’s purple feature walls, decorator shop bar stools and fluorescent-bright hotel Bar fridges, is cheap and lets the Enterprise down. But food this good, delivered with this much care would make an army canteen feel five star. The menu is brief and to the point: oysters done several ways, five starters, six mains and seven sides. It reads well. One wants it all.

The confit Glenloth pigeon and plum spring roll, enoki mush-rooms, pickled vegetable salad, $19, demonstrates O’Sullivans depth, imagination and ultimately that one thing that makes a great chef: restraint. It is simple; simple in the way that you don’t see the technique, although it’s there in spades. He confits the pigeon and shreds it off the bone as if making rillettes before packing it into perfectly round, cigar-sized Spring rolls. The flavour the meat is extraordinarily rich, a consequence of spicing the whole bird and then hanging in the cool room for five days before confiture. It was fudgy, dark and its flavour was deeper than a French existentialist. Two of the tubes were cut on the angle and arranged, over a small salad of julienned carrot, cucumber and spring onion bound with a zingy, sweet and sour Vietnamese-style dressing. Wow.

The seared king scallops, shark bay crab, nero linguini, $20, was similarly restrained but brilliant. The home-made lin-guini was the colour of jet and silkily al dente as only freshly pasta can be. It was bound in a tight knot with flecks of good fresh crab meat. Crowning the pasta were three perfectly seared scallops. As the dish was being eaten, it threw out the scent of fresh torn basil and the flavour of mild chilli. The Uber-blonde was embarrassing herself, making rapturous “ooh”, “aah” and “mmm” noises as she forked away at the linguini.

For mains a Margaret River venison, tart of red legged partridge, venison pate, $39, could easily have been a train wreck of too many flavours and techniques. It wasn’t. O’Sullivan braises the partridge in beef stock before cooking it down with a mirapoix of vegies and red wine. The finished product is made into a small short crust pie which is cooked to order. Underneath was an inspired pineapple, red onion and pear chutney: a riot of astringency and sweetness next to the restrained and subtle tart. Next to it sat slices of venison, which had been steeped in a red wine and vegetable marinade for days in the fridge. It was aromatic, soft as butter and was cooked with surgical precision.

Next to this sat a fat quenelle of venison liver pate tempered with equal amounts of duck liver. It would have been too liverish with only venison and so the mixture captured all the creamy smoothness and flavour of the duck livers and the gamey strength of the venison product. It was teamed with a red onion shallot mar-malade, to cut the unction and provide a sweet, tart counterpoint. Brilliant. A balentine of organic, corn-fed chicken, $34, floated my boat. The chook was boned and rolled around a frozen, piped tube of mustard butter before being wrapped tightly in cling film to get a perfect cylinder shape. It was roasted gently and served, sliced, with what the menu cheekily calls “vegetable pot au feu” but which were asparagus and small carrots blanched in chicken stock. Fabulous produce. Great flavour. Puddings were good

A “Devonshire tea brulee” studded with marmalade was awesome, although there was one misstep; a creative take on a “tea + scones” dessert failed because of a dodgy scone and a too acidic rhubarb compote.

O’Sullivan, who emigrated from Britain in 2000, is cooking very Australian food but taking inspiration from modern British cooking, with it’s mix of classic French technique, a love of offal and game, intense, re-duced flavours and the traditional-meets-modern food stylistics of Fergus Henderson, Gary Rhodes and Gordon Ramsey. His mod-beef wellington and a wagyu shin suet pudding are cases in point. No main is over $40 and most sides are $8. It’s extraordinary value. On the service front, the kitchen is in good hands at front of house. O’Sullivan’s wife Hazel runs the dining room with an authority and confidence that belies her 24 yrs. She is confident with wine suggestions and food queries. Importantly, she knows the food and she knows the business of customers.

Eating is only one part of dining and the professionalism in the Red Cabbage dining room amplifies the exquisite workmanship from the kitchen and rounds out a remarkable restaurant experience. Red cabbage is an impressive undertaking from serious young food professionals. They’ve been in business 18 months and they’re probably not making any money. Yet. But as cash flows improve, it’s a fair bet the restaurant’s entirely adequate cellar will rise to meet the food and it’s display home interiors will also improve.

As it stands Red Cabbage is one of Perth’s top five restaurants.

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