Alissa and I are big fans of Riesling. In spite of being a Noble Grape, its far less popular with the average Australian consumer than Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; a real shame when you consider the quality of Australian Riesling and its flexibility in being able to produce wines that can range from deliciously crisp and dry to an excellent late harvest wine when under the influence of botrytis' noble rot.
For this reason, the idea of Riesling Rocks' dinner events have always appealed to us, as they get two incredible and talented chefs to collaborate on an interesting one-off menu that is served with a selection of Rieslings in a variety of styles and ages. We missed the last dinner - a collaboration between Co-op Dining's Kiran Mainwairing and Pasi Petanen of Cafe Paci in Sydney - as it was just days after our first dinner at Co-op in February. When we heard of a special Sunday Barbecue Lunch being hosted at Restaurant Amusé as a collaboration between Amusé head chef Hadleigh Troy and his former sous chef David Pynt, we knew we had to go. Our dinner at Amusé earlier in the year remains the best meal we've had in Perth, and combined with the Modern Australian Barbecue served up at Pynt's restaurant Burnt Ends in Singapore, Alissa and I were really excited to see how chefs of this calibre would approach a good old Aussie Sunday barbie.
For this meal, we joined our friend Ai-Ling's group booking, as the service was a more casual long table affair conducive to a larger group than usual. Ai-Ling is the blogger behind Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse and the organiser of the inaugural Perth Food Truck Rumble we covered earlier this year. Having been a blogger since 2010, Ai-Ling knows a lot of people who are as similarly obsessed with food as we are, and we had the pleasure of making many new foodie friends through the course of the meal. Also in attendance were many of Perth's other best chefs, including Kiran Mainwaring of Co-op Dining and Scott O'Sullivan of Red Cabbage.
I've always thought Amusé looked more like someone's house than the best restaurant in town, so it was perhaps fitting that the Warmed Oyster amuse bouche was served out the front of the restaurant while the chefs worked a rustic barbecue made out of a cut in half metal drum. Served in its shell and gently warmed on the barbecue, the oyster shooter was filled with a citrussy, buttery sauce and a sprinkle of finely slice chives. Alissa and I aren't mad about oysters, however this was a good amuse that went well with the wine aperitif it was served with. Presenting the dish outside was the master-stroke however, as the welcoming atmosphere set the fun and casual tone of the day while the smell of the barbecue wafting through the air whetted our appetites.
Although the meal was a ticketed event we had already paid for, drinks were pay as you go. Previous Riesling Rocks dinners have had pairings, however their decision to instead offer the drinks by the glass, in half-bottles and full bottles proved to be a really nice way for us to try a selection of Rieslings. At $40 a bottle - even for their aged offerings - this was excellent value, and the use of numbered blue foam animals to put drinks on our individual tabs meant there was no need to awkwardly divide up the bill at the end of the meal.
After our welcome drink and amuse bouche, we were invited in to take our seats inside. Three long tables were set up in the restaurant's main dining space.
Having dined at Amusé before, we knew their bread and butter would be excellent. Its amazing how good something as simple as bread and butter can be, and given the more casual vibe of the meal the soft, fluffy bread played a major role later in the meal sopping up some of delicious sauces.
At the start of the evening, I had every intention of documenting all the various different Rieslings we tried. In the end, I only got this one photo of the excellent aged Basserman-Jordan Riesling from Germany that we started with. Also from 2002 was a Galafrey Riesling, and trying these two wines from the same year during the same meal allowed us to get a real sense of how terroir was expressed in these wines; though both were dry Rieslings mellowed by time, the Basserman-Jordan seemed marginally sweeter and less acidic, while the Galafrey had a greater (though balanced) zestiness.
Our first entree was the Venison, Cos, Citrus. Like a twist on San Choy Bau, venison tartare replaced the usual mince. with acidity provided by slivers of orange peel and balanced out by the creaminess of the mayonnaise. The result was very nice, light and refreshing, with the citrus and mayo balancing out the gaminess of the venison. This was a good entree, although it was perhaps a little overshadowed by the other entrees.
The Smoked Quail Eggs were a very simple dish, but one that showed off just how good a simple idea can be when executed well. The eggs had been cooked perfectly, leaving a nice, custardy soft yolk within. The resulting texture was melt-in-your-mouth creamy, and with the addition of subtle smokiness gifting the eggs with an abundance of flavour, these were addictively good.
The Potato, Crab, Salmon Roe and Seaweed that followed was even better, and was arguably the most formally composed dish of the day. Mashed Potatoes are a classic side to a Sunday Roast, and here the humble mash served as springboard for a dish that was altogether elevated and refined. The mash was a super smooth Pommes Puree, which was then paired with the sweet, delicate flakiness of crab meat and the marine flavour of salmon roe. The result was incredibly creamy, with a nice salty kick to balance out the sweetness. This was a truly sublime dish.
Much more rustic - but no less delicious - was the Leek, Hazelnut and Brown Butter. Alissa and I had seen a pile of leeks outside waiting to be put on the barbecue, and the cooking method had really brought out something wonderful in the vegetable. While its exterior featured the tell-tale charring from being cooked on the fire, the heat caused the leek to be steamed from the inside, resulting in the white part of the leek having something of the textures of a firm, waxy potato. The nutty savouriness of the brown butter and the oil from the hazelnuts helped balance out and enhance the sweetness of the leek, while the parsley provided a hit of freshness. The brown butter was so delicious that Alissa was soon using her bread to soak it up, and seeing the brilliance of her idea we all soon followed suit.
Alissa and I love our brassicas, and we were excited to see Cauliflower, Cheddar and Pine Nut on the menu. This was the most cheffeed up cauliflower cheese Alissa and I have had - even more so than the excellent Cauliflower dish we ate at St Michael earlier in the year. The burnt florets had a nice charcoal flavour without overpowering the perfectly cooked meatiness of the rest of the cauliflower. The cheddar sauce reminded me a bit of the tinned Kraft Mac and Cheese sauce by way of Heston's Cauliflower Mac and Cheese dish - that is to say, it's what Kraft Mac and Cheese sauce would taste like if it was refined rather than trashy. Topped off with the buttery flavour of pine nuts, this was heaven for someone who has fond childhood memories of eating Mac and Cheese.
Coming in as the did on large metal trays, the rustic presentation of the Big Fish, Fennel and Green Sauce dish was visually impressive.
What I still remember vividly about this dish was the fish's strong roasted flavour - It almost tasted like roast chicken due to the nice char to the outside. The meat itself was impressively moist, again recalling the flavour and texture of well brined chicken. The highlight however was the skin, which was so crispy and flavoursome that I ended up saving it for the last mouthful. In spite of playing a supporting role the Fennel salad was just as impressive. Presented as ribbons that resembled wide fettucine, the aniseed flavour of the fennel was complemented by the genius inclusion of wakame for an umami boost. Recalling we have some wakame at home, Alissa turned to me and said 'you've got to make this for me!'
Already on a Mac and Cheese nostalgia trip when the Cauliflower dish came out, I was even more excited when an actual Mac and Cheese dish was brought out as part of our mains, served as long straight tubes of al dente pasta. This dish was my dish of the day, overflowing with all the umami, cheesy, salty goodness one could want in a Mac and Cheese, featuring what tasted like an Old English cheese and Parmesan, and topped with breadcrumbs for added crunch. It was all I could have hoped for and more; the Platonic Form of what Mac and Cheese should be.
Unfortunately, I can't say I loved the Smoked Mussels Kimchi as much. I have to admit I don't like kimchi unless its finely sliced, so this didn't really do much for me - a feeling that seemed shared by many of those around us. As an accompaniment for the Roast Chicken it was served with, its bright acidity was a good contrast, however it wound up being a bit too much if it was anything more than a 3:1 Chicken to Kimchi ratio. Nice enough, but probably the weakest dish of the evening.
The aptly named Chicken served as the centrepiece of the main course. I'm a bit spoiled by having cooked Heston's super moist low and slow Roast Chicken a number of times, so this was not quite as moist as the Heston and Home version of this classic. It did however come pretty close, with breast meat that was still nice and moist - a tell-tale sign of a well cooked chook. With the flavour of thyme permeating through the meat, Alissa and I enjoyed this good if relatively straightforward dish.
The Bone Marrow Bun however stole the show from the Chicken, being the second best dish of the evening. The bun had the sweetness you find in a burger bun or brioche, but had been turned into something akin to garlic bread - but the best garlic bread you've ever eaten in your life as the unctuous, delicious marrow imparted its flavour to every slice. Talking about the taste of Bone Marrow, Eric Ripert of Le Benardin in New York has been quoted as saying “It’s buttery, there’s a hint of sweetness, slightly mineral...eat it with rock salt on toasted bread, and you are in heaven.” We couldn't agree more.
With the generous spread of savoury dishes finished, we started with our dessert of Fruits, Ginger and Smoked Ice Cream. The presentation was a wonderfully modern change after the relatively more rustic appearance of the mains. The Smoked Ice Cream was undoubtedly the dominating component of the dish, and while its combination of vanilla and smokiness was apt, it was a bit too much when eaten by itself. It worked however when seen in the context of the dish, with the sweet acidity of the strawberries and the ginger bite of the biscuit crumble combining together to make a more compelling whole that reminded Alissa somehow of Christmastime.
After the dessert, a tray of Chocolates were brought out as a surprise bonus. Consisting of dark chocolate with a smoked berry flavour inside and with red peppercorns on top, this was a very interesting flavour combo encased in nicely tempered chocolate. Relatively straightforward, but very well made.
After settling our drinks tab, we all moved outside for the Petit Fours of Marshmallows...
...that we then got to roast ourselve over the barbecue.
This was the perfect end to the meal - good fluffy, smooth marshmallows with a nice citrus flavour crisped on the outside - what's not to like?
The Verdict: Exceptional
Alissa and I left this Sunday Lunch extremely satisfied; so content were we that upon arriving home we decided to give in to our food comas and have a nice afternoon nap! This Riesling Rocks event was decidedly more casual and less cutting edge than what you would expect at Amusé on a regular night but with its long table format, good conversation and excellent wine it was probably one of the most fun dining experiences we've had in Perth. It recalled in some ways the less formal approach of Sunday Lunch at Cutler & Co in Melbourne, a format that I would love to see repeated here in Perth more often. Even if it did not reach the same artistic heights as our last meal at Amusé, Hadleigh Troy and David Pynt's inventive but the respectful approach to the idea of an elevated Sunday Barbecue was an incredible experience. I can't wait to see what Riesling Rocks will bring us next!