Wednesday, 23 July 2014

1907 (Truffle Degustation), Perth, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Winter is one of the best times of the year. Sure, its cold and rainy, but it is also a season overflowing with opportunity. Unlike the oppressive searing summers of Perth, the cooler weather is conducive to dressing up to go out - instead of sweating even in t-shirts and shorts, it's time to step out comfortably in jackets and collared shirts, and to accept the warm embrace of jumpers and knitwear. During the season, I find myself increasingly drawn to the outdoors; rather than worrying about the rain I'm more likely to get excited about being able to push it on a bike without even breaking a sweat, and there is something about the cold air that fills me with nostalgia for childhood holidays in the forests of WA's south west.

For a foodie, wintertime in WA also holds one of the great seasonal gifts - Truffle Season. With the increasing global recognition of the Manjimup truffle industry, the unique flavour of the black truffle (tuber melanosporum) has well and truly cast its spell on Perth restaurants and diners, with truffle being featured on seasonal menus by everyone from Must Wine Bar, Lalla Rookh and even shaved on top of the barbecued meat of Old Faithful Bar! One could not have imagined this prized ingredient being used so liberally even 5 years ago, and as a self-confessed truffle pig its like Christmas in July for us antipodean gourmands.

Knowing that we would be missing out on the Truffle Kerfuffle and the Fremantle Truffle Festival due to clashes with Alissa's studies, I spent the lead up to the season almost daily looking for something particularly special - a Truffle Degustation. In previous years Lamont's have done a truffle degustation, and after a delicious vegetarian meal at Co-op Dining earlier in the year, I was hoping they'd repeat their July truffle special event from last year. It wasn't to be unfortunately, so when I saw 1907 were serving a truffle degustation I jumped at the chance. Having heard wonderful things from friends and fellow bloggers, 1907 had been high on our list of places to check out. With the French Classical backbone of Head Chef Alan Desouza's cooking, truffles felt like a good fit for the cuisine. Coincidentally, my father's name is also Alan de Souza, and I joked that I had to see what my 'father's' restaurant was like; noticing we had the same surname, Alan Desouza in turn joked with his staff that his 'brother' was coming in, and that they should give us the VIP service.

Entering through a side alley, the restaurant's dining room had a definite old world, classical fine dining charm. Its a very different look from the sleek modernism of Co-op Dining or Restaurant Amusé but one that was befitting the style of cuisine and the historic building the restaurant calls home. The moody lighting recalled the wonderful ambiance of dining at the then 3 Michelin Starred Caprice in Hong Kong, however my camera similarly struggled with the low lighting conditions (hence some of the wildly varied brightness levels in the photos to follow and why I didn't get a better usable photo of their famous horse lamp).

Having seen the layout of the restaurant online, I had hoped Alissa and I would be seated at one of the high back booth seats, and I was pleased when the waiter ushered us to one.

Alissa and I decided to beginning with pre-drinks of Clarise Brut Rosé. Thinking that we'd ordered the sparkling wine for celebratory reasons, the waiter asked if we were here for a special occasion.
"No, not really... we're here mainly to celebrate truffle season. That's reason enough to celebrate, right?"
Surprised by our reasoning, he nevertheless agreed.

After a short wait, a waiter brought out a bread basket...

... along with a tray of good quality olive oil, two different kinds of salt, olives and imported French butter. The basket was filled with a good variety of small, very well made bread rolls with the two topped with parmesan and bacon/prosciutto being our favourites. The high quality of the bread was confirmed by their fluffy interior, and spoke of the skill with which they were baked.

A wooden board of Amuse Bouches was served shortly after, and consisted of Bloody Mary Jelly with Celery, Vanilla Baby Turnips and Ginger Spice Carrot alongside a spicy popcorn. The focus on quality vegetables at this early stage of the meal bears out 1907's dedication to a farm to table ethos, as exemplified by the restaurant having its own farm in Toodjay. The Bloody Mary Jelly tasted like a good Bloody Mary, however as someone who does not like the taste of celery very much, I found the cocktail flavour overpowered by the thick chunk of celery. Much better were the Vanilla Baby Turnips with their inherent sweetness and crunch augmented by a lovely vanilla glaze, and the Ginger Spice Carrots with a nice back of the palate spice kick. The spicy popcorn was tasty, though it was not quite as good as the cold caramel popcorn served as a Petit Four at Red Cabbage.

A Warm Medley of Honey Glazed Beetroot, Truffle Parsnip Puree, Poached Rhubarb and Truffle Goat Cheese Air served as the first entree of the Truffle Degustation. The golden beetroot and baby beets were nice and sweet, and were elevated by the distinctive and deliciously earthy truffle flavour of the smooth Truffle Parsnip Puree, and the equally truffled Goat Cheese Air, which also provided a salty note. The earthy umami flavours were expertly contrasted by the inclusion of the poached rhubarb, which provided nice acidity to cut through the sweetness of the beets, and helped prevent the dish from being a little one note. The touille and the toasted pine nuts also served to give the dish definition through some crunch, and resulted in a very tasty start to the meal.

I love a good marron dish, and with our next course being Truffle Poached Manjimup Marron, Textures of Cauliflower, Lightly Smoked Bone Marrow I was very happy indeed. The Marron was cooked perfectly, with its sweet, tender meat showing off why this local crustacean is held in such high culinary regard. While the marron was on the smaller side compared to the huge Marron tail served at Vue de Monde in Melbourne (a restaurant that 1907 recalled on many occasions throughout the meal), Alissa agreed that it was preferable to the small cut up pieces served as part of Red Cabbage's tasting menu. The Cauliflower textures included cauliflower fried in batter, dehydrated cauliflower, pickle cauliflower and cauliflower puree. All provided textural contrasts and tasty variations on the theme, and the meatiness of the cauliflower worked very well with the flavoursome nature of the truffle shaved onto the plate. With some caviar dolloped on for good measure, this was a decadent and delicious highlight of the meal.

The service ramped this up in heavier directions with the Confit Salmon, Buttermilk Mash, Eggplant Puree, Quail Egg, Black Truffle, Watercress, which had a wonderful truffle aroma that just wafted off the plate. The Confit Salmon was the obvious star of the dish, being cooked to the perfectly level -still rare inside, without being so rare as to be a fall apart mess on the plate. The accompaniments of watercress leaves and black truffle shavings provided a nice pepperiness and umami boost respectively to the delicate fish, while the rich bed of Buttermilk Mash and lightly blanched Asparagus served as tried and true accompaniments. Other classic salmon accompaniments were arranged as an interesting sideshow - quail egg soft boiled and filled with salmon roe, a crumb of jamon, and some lines of roasted eggplant. The salty-bitter flavour of the jamon worked nicely with the earthy roasted eggplant flavour and the richness of the egg-in-egg combination. Alissa and I were very impressed and satisfied by this point, and we hadn't even gotten to our main courses yet.

But before the mains, we were presented an Entremet of Scallops, Chanterelles and Tomato Puree with microherbs beautifully plated on a reflective plate that recalled a shell. The Scallops were nicely seared, with a smoky bacon flavour that was a nice surprise, and proved to be real coup of an otherwise simple dish. The Chanterelles had a surprisingly vinegary flavour that by themselves seemed a bit much, however combined with the spiciness of the tomato puree and the scallops everything felt nicely in balance.

A Tasting of Spatchcock was the first of our main courses, and consisted of Sous vide Breast, Glazed Drumettes, Truffle Sausage and a Truffled Steamed Brioche Bun. Being an early adopter of immersion circulator use at home, I decided to start with the Sous Vide Breast. While displaying moistness and texture that are hallmarks of this cooking technique, I felt that without the shavings of black truffle that the flavour was a little bland, and that it could have done with a low level brine. This was especially highlighted by the delicious saltiness of the glazed drumette that was just adjacent to it. Beyond the generous shavings of fresh truffle that topped the dish, the Truffle Sausage served up a heap of truffle flavour, and was well made with a good springy sausage texture. All these components however were trumped by the sheer excellence of the Truffled Steamed Brioche Bun. Even more truffled than the Truffle Sausage, the soft bun was topped with some crispiness on top (breadcrumbs?), and was filled with a smooth, rich liver pâté. The bun just melted in our mouths, with that irony liver flavour and the black truffle lingering on our palate between courses. While the small size was the right size for the kind of food we were eating, Alissa said she would have been happy to have eaten a whole plate of these delicate buns. I couldn't agree more.

Cape Grim Beef Tenderloin, Pancetta, Brown Onion Cream, Baby Vegetables, Sauce Perigueux served as our final main. Beef is not my favourite meat, however with well sourced meat, a good cut and skillful cooking, 1907 were able to win me over. The beef was so tender it required very little chewing effort, and had a spot-on balance of seasoning. The piece of pancetta provided a nice salty, fatty bite, and the Brown onion cream was smooth and rich. Knowing that the black truffle we know and love is the black Périgord truffle, it didn't take long to figure out that the Sauce Perigueux was in fact made from black truffles, and it provided a decadent, deluxe truffle overdose to the dish. While the baby vegetables were all very nice, it was the baby corn that I liked the most, and dipping it into the Sauce Perigueux with some fresh truffle on top took me back to the Corn and Truffle dish at Vue de Monde.

Moving onto sweeter things, Alissa and I were served a Palate Cleanser of Frozen Butter Passion Fruit Bellini. As one would expect from a restaurant that has its own stand-alone bar, the quality of this small frozen cocktail was spectacular, with the passion fruit and the champagne poured over at the end giving the otherwise sweet frozen cocktail an acidic bite, and the butter component giving it a lovely creaminess. It played the role of palate cleanser commendably, while also enticing us to come back to 1907 for a proper sample of cocktails in the near future.

Our dessert for the evening was the 1907 Truffle Chocolate Plate - Chocolate Tart, White Chocolate Custard and Deep Fried Truffle Condensed Milk Ice Cream. My dislike of chocolate desserts is well documented, however this was one of those times when a restaurant succeeded in convincing me that chocolate desserts can be as good as fruit-based ones. The Chocolate Tart was clearly the star, with the milk chocolate topped off with a dark chocolate glaze. The less intense dark chocolate hit and the degustation serving size played to its advantage and it avoided some of the too-rich-for-its-own-good pitfalls of lesser chocolate desserts. Supporting the tart, the white chocolate custard was deliciously sweet, with the white chocolate wafer and the small crunchy piles on the plate providing some additional texture. The only negative of the dish was the Deep Fried Truffle Condensed Ice Cream, which tasted delicious (truffle infused condensed milk - what's not to like?) but had melted completely and just oozed out everywhere onto the plate instead of providing the cold hit. A real shame as I can imagine how excellent that ice cream would be in its semi-solid state, and this dish was otherwise perfect.

To finish, the Chariot de Fromage was wheeled out for our cheese course. While smaller than the similar cart at Vue de Monde and the decadent insanity of our all-time favourite cheese course at Caprice in Hong Kong, Alissa and I were nevertheless very excited to peruse their fine selection.

We decided on Valdeon, Truffle Pecorino, Artisan Rouge and Mountain Man. Being limited by Australian regulations that prevent restaurants from importing and selling cheese made with unpasteurised milk, I'm resigned to the fact no cheese board in this country will ever reach the uniformly heady heights of Caprice, however all cheeses here were excellent considering, with the Truffle Pecorino standing out as a revelation. The flavour and aroma of truffle permeated the entire cheese - even the parts that did not have obvious truffle chunks. Perhaps due to watching too much Masterchef Australia, I declared 'that is cracker!' in a Gary Mehigan fashion much to Alissa's amusement.

To go with our cheese were an assortment of sweet preserves and spreads...

Along with crackers and some fruit bread. Unfortunately, the crackers were a little too salty for the softer cheeses, and the more complementary fruit bread was unfortunately vastly outnumbered in the bowl.

Alissa and I finished on a pot of jasmine tea that was served a little hotter than is optimum for green tea...

...accompanied by Petit Fours of Mint Slice and Lime Panna Cotta. These were simple and straightforward; well made but much as you'd expect them to taste.

Taking a page out of the Eleven Madison Park/Vue de Monde Playbook, a waiter handed us a take home bag of treats - Financiers, Fruit Scone, Chocolate Truffles and Muesli for breakfast. This is not something that they have to do of course, but like the excellent service we experienced its that going the extra mile that leaves a great impression.

Using what we had in the house, I ended up eating the very tasty Muesli two days later with some vanilla yoghurt, raspberries and some cornflake crumb Alissa had leftover from making some cookies from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook.

The Verdict: Exceptional
Needless to say, Alissa and I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at 1907. They had us at 'Truffle Degustation', and they certainly delivered on the promise with course after course celebrating this most delicious of culinary delicacies. Each dish showed the culinary skill of Alan Desouza, Sous Chef Brian Grunewald and the kitchen, and they each fit coherently and intelligently into the bigger picture of the degustation. The food reminded us a lot of Vue de Monde, and with its more classical approach was like what I imagine the Melbourne juggernaut was like in its earlier days before Shannon Bennett starting incorporating more Modernist elements into the restaurant's repertoire. It may not be as on the cutting edge as Restaurant Amusé or Co-op Dining, but when a meal is this satisfying, it doesn't much matter - 1907 would be a strong recommendation for classical fine dining in Perth.

1907 Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. Yes to everything you ate! I'm actually seething with jealousy :) so glad you guys got your truffle fix and an amazing dinner with it!

    1. Thanks Kristy! We well and truly got our truffle fix, but I'm certainly craving for even more! Sadly, I think we're gonna have to rest the wallet a bit next month...

  2. I really enjoyed reading this review! I went to 1907 for the same degustation recently and had very similar experiences. - L.

    1. Thank you! Glad to hear that other foodies have tried the Truffle Degustation. We're so lucky in Perth to have such great access to good quality truffles, and 1907 did very well showing that off :)

  3. Fantasticooo AlissaandDon! Looks like a really enjoyable dinner.

    I had a very good meal there earlier this year. Happy days~! That extra gesture of sorting out my breakfast the following day made it even better! :)! My only dislike was the amuse bouche. Could have been better :P!

    1. Thanks Weny! I read your post and I think the Truffle Degustation was a truffled up version of what you had in a lot of ways. Alissa didn't like the Amuse Bouche either, and though I liked the Carrot and Turnip I've definitely had better.