Sunday, 27 July 2014

Dear Friends (Last Supper Degustation), Caversham, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Earlier this year Alissa and I visited Co-op Dining, the East Perth restaurant owned and operated by chef Kiren Mainwaring and his wife Kelli. Impressed by their sustainable Farm to Table and Foraging-focused philosophy even before visiting the restaurant, the Tuesday special 5 Course Vegetarian Experimental Menu we went for remains one of the best vegetarian meals Alissa and I have eaten, and one that I frequent recommend to vegetarian and vegan friends due to the creativity of the menu; it changes every week (being drastically different when visited by friends a few months later) and the $69 per person asking price is excellent value for food of this calibre. As omnivores, Alissa and I have been meaning to visit Co-op again to experience their full 10 Course Menu, and with regular themed event dinners hosted by the restaurant, Alissa and I would have booked for their recent Canadian Roots dinner if not for a clash with Alissa's schedule and a decision to book 1907's Truffle Degustation meaning our fine dining budget was already allocated for the month.

Being on the Co-op mailing list, I received an email informing of Kiren and Kelli's decision to close Co-op Dining's sister restaurant Dear Friends in Caversham so as to focus their full attention on the East Perth restaurant. With their final service on July 19th themed as a 'greatest hits' Last Supper of their 7 years as a Swan Valley mainstay, this was both our last chance to visit Dear Friends and an opportunity to try Mainwaring's food again. Having already booked 1907 for earlier that same week, two degustations in such a short length of time was the kind of splurge we hadn't quite figured into our monthly budget, however given the limited nature of both menus we decided to make August a more frugal month to make the most of July's opportunities.

Located in what appeared very much like an old cellar door turned into a restaurant, Dear Friends' dining room featured a design aesthetic that was stylish if somewhat less modern than Co-op Dining, with a look that suggested a once dated room had had a modernising facelift over the Mainwaring's tenure.

Having spoken to her when making our reservation, I immediately recognised Kelli Mainwaring from her Canadian accent as she ushered us to our table, which was happily located near the fireplace on what was a cold and wet night. With a warm and personable approach managing front of house and pouring wine from the very respectable yet accessible wine list, Kelli is a wonderful host, and the relaxed and friendly vibe of the restaurant is very much to her credit.

While we would have loved to have tried the wine pairing, two degustations in a week called for a bit more restraint on our part. With a well curated wine list, it was easy to find something good to drink, and we decided on the excellent Spring Vale Pinot Noir from Tasmania. Kelli complimented our selection, and told us a little about the winemakers and the fun they have when they make their yearly visit to the restaurant. This kind of close relationship between restaurant and suppliers is something I appreciated when we had the wine pairing at Attica in Melbourne, and is something I look forward to seeing more of when Alissa and I do get around to doing the full 10-course Co-op Degustation later this year.

While waiting for the first course of the degustation, House Made Sourdough was brought out accompanied by smoked guernsey butter topped with black volcanic salt. During our visit to Co-op, Alissa and I noted Chef Kiren's obvious love for guernsey dairy, and we appreciated the smokiness of the butter and the crystals of black salt in combination with the nice crusty bread. It wasn't exactly surprising, but was certainly of the high standard I expect of bread at a fine diner.

Being a farewell degustation, the Last Supper served as a retrospective of the Mainwaring's 7 year tenure, with each year represented by one of the course. Charcuterie (2010) of House Cured Meats and Jessica's Beer Mustard started the ball rolling, and looked so delicious on the plate that I only took a photo after I was already halfway through the dish (hence the slightly messy photograph above). You can blame my sloppiness on the mention of Truffle Salami, and as a truffle fanatic I found the immense flavour of the fatty, salty cured meat permeated by the flavour of truffle to be seriously delicious. Accompanying the salami, was the equally excellent Ox Tongue Pastrami, and a less flavoursome cured cut of Pork prepared in a style I didn't get the name of. The Pork was my least favourite in and of itself, however Alissa quite rightly pointed out that its more muted flavour allowed the flavour of the fried Caper Berries, Pickled Cabbage and the Beer Mustard to shine in combination. This was a good start to the meal that showed how well an artisan Charcuterie plate can be done.

Marron Bisque (2007) with Pickled Cucumber, Vanilla Foam followed. The Vanilla Foam was missing from the plate, however with foams less trendy than they were 7 years ago this was more forgivable than it would have been in 2007. The Butter Poached Marron was perfectly cooked all the way through, and I particularly liked the strong shellfish intensity of the Bisque. Alissa was not as convinced however, and found their was a certain bitterness to the bisque that she didn't quite like, along with her hope that it was going to be served a little hotter when Chef Kiren poured it over the dish at the table. We agreed that the sour kick of the pickled cucumber was very tasty however, and Alissa conceded that her mixed feelings about the dish probably stemmed from her comparing the Marron dish with the much more Alissa-pleasing mushroom flavours of Vue de Monde's Marron course. While I agree that Vue de Monde's dish remains best in class, I thought Dear Friends' take was nevertheless highly sympathetic to the flavours of this great local crustacean.

I was obviously not on my photography A Game that night, as I forgot to take a photo of the Home Made Goats Cheese (2011) with Tomato, Olive and Sour Grass until I was a few mouthfuls away from finishing. This light and fresh dish was a masterclass in layering sour flavours one on top of the other - Tomato, Sour Grass and (to a lesser extent) the Goat's Cheese - while allowing the saltiness and creaminess of the cheese, the mild wasabi-like bite of the Horseradish Emulsion and the intensity of flavour from the dehydrated Olive crumb to provide balance and contrast. The tastiness of this meatless dish confirmed for us that Chef Kiren has a great understanding of how to maximise flavours without the need for meat, and it was not surprising to us when Kelli revealed Kiren enjoys cooking vegetarian food since his mother is Vegan. Overall, the dish reminded us of something Melbourne Chef Ben Shewry might do - albeit not quite as technically complicated and abstracted as something from the Attica menu.

From the Farm (2012) - a dish of Slow Cooked Eggs and Biodynamic Vegetables followed, and suggested an earlier incarnation of the similar egg course we were served at Co-op. As the dish was placed on the table, the deliciously pungent aroma of the Garlic Emulsion wafted off the plate, and its creaminess went nicely with the 62°c Egg...

...and its characteristically custard-like yolk. Alissa referred to the combination as 'a dream', and the accompaniment of the spinach-like Tuscan Cabbage and the zucchini of varying levels of maturity were welcome and complementary additions. That said however, we felt that the version we were served at Co-op was even better due to the intriguing flavour of the sandalwood nuts served, and shows how the chef continues to experiment with established ideas in his repertoire.

Being obsessed with the deliciousness of Pork Belly did not serve me well, as I nearly dug in again before taking a photo of Open Range Pork (2009), Stinging Nettle and Smoked Tomato as evidenced by the slight damage my fork made to the smear at the front of the plate. Pork Belly is always such a reliable crowd pleaser (especially if, as here, it is combined with crispy Pork Crackling), and the pork went well with the pepperiness of the Nasturtium leaves and flowers as well as the umami smokiness of the Smoked Tomato Puree. My favourite component on the plate however was the Stinging Nettle Gnocchi placed beneath the Pork. I'm not always a huge fan of Gnocchi, but the spinach-like flavour of the Stinging Nettle worked really well, and I was impressed by the smooth creaminess of its interior encased in a lightly crisp exterior.

The final savoury course of Arkady Lamb Belly (2013) Sweetbreads, Pistachio and Balsamic ramped things up to finish the savoury courses on a real high. The Lamb Belly itself was even better and more flavoursome than the Pork Belly it preceded. Also included was a Lamb Tongue, and while it freaked Alissa out a little as it looked very much like a piece of tongue on the plate, it proved to be as flavoursome as the Belly with a delicate melt in your mouth texture. The crumbed and fried Sweetbreads were as delicious as expected; I couldn't decided with of the three cuts of lamb I liked better. Finally, the crushed fresh Pistachio, Balsamic Emulsion and the starch from the two varieties of Sweet Potato helped round it out into a complete dish, preventing the unctuousness of the meat from being one note.

Not a true course per se, the Palate Cleanser of Lemon Sorbet and Pumpkin Crumble was not given a date, however a bit of research on Urbanspoon suggests a form of this dish was served in 2011. The dish differed from the menu as the Lemon Sorbet had been replaced by Passionfruit Sorbet - something I was fine with and wouldn't have dramatically changed the overall idea of the dish. The nice sour hit went well with the sweet and soft cake-like texture of the Pumpkin Crumble that effectively reset our palates for the dessert to come.

To conclude Dear Friends final degustation, we were served Coffee and Doughnuts (2008), consisting of Coffee Gel, Kahlua Cream and topped with mini doughnut balls. The doughnuts were obviously freshly made as they were still warm when we ate them. While I do like the taste of Kahlua, Alissa is not much of a fan, however she felt that the amount of Kahlua used in the cream was spot on - giving the cream a hint of the liqueured coffee flavour without overwhelming the dish. Finally, the Coffee gel was very refreshing, cold and well set, and had an intense coffee flavour that suggested it was made with real espresso - something confirmed by the little bits of coffee grind sediment at the bottom of the glass. While a fairly simple dish with less of the wow factor seen in later desserts, the dish had us craving fresh doughnuts for days after.

With a long drive ahead of us, we decided to finish on some actual coffee. This was not served with Petit Fours, something that is a little disappointing but as something of an added bonus its not something to exactly complain about.

The Verdict: Exceptional
Alissa and I were glad that we made it down to Dear Friends for their Last Supper, and our esteem for Kiren and Kelli Mainwaring has only grown after this visit as the food and service left us very impressed. It was not quite as amazing as Ben Shewry's Attica, but there was a similarly thoughtful approach to quality local and foraged ingredients at Dear Friend food that was very appealing. Though lacking the prestige of truffles in every course, Alissa and I enjoyed Kiren's thoroughly modern food just as much as we enjoyed the Truffle Degustation at 1907 just days before. As a retrospective of a celebrated restaurant, the Last Supper was superior and more successful than the Limited Edition Dego we attended during Jackson's final weeks; I felt the meal gave us a sense of where Kiren has come as a chef, and it makes me excited to think about where he will be going as his food and style continue to grow. Its always a bit sad to a see a restaurant close, but in this case Dear Friends was only the beginning, and Alissa and I look forward to the next chapter (and our next meal) at Co-op Dining later this year.

Dear Friends on Urbanspoon


  1. That lamb dish was a favourite of mine too, I'm all for the belly but so good to see other parts of the animal cooked so well that it gives the belly some competition!

    Nice to see you guys at Dear Friends :)


    1. Indeed, I think tongue is very underrated - it can be some amazing in good hands!

      Was nice to see you there too. Will see you again on Wednesday for the Occasional Dinner Surprise :)

  2. Amazing! I so wish I had made it down for their last dinner, I'm a huge fan of Co-Op. Everything looks exceptional!

  3. It was a really good way of seeing the development of the chef's cooking given that the oldest dishes were 7 years old. Alissa and I are thinking of booking our next Co-op dinner for our anniversary :)