Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Flour Factory, Perth, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

The last time the Google Streetview Car drove down Queen St was in November 2007. Although the Queen St of today is still dominated by the imposing power of the Brutalist carpark located where the road meets Wellington St, the grainy, low fidelity images seem to come from another time. While its heritage building proudly displayed its year of construction, 1907 was not yet the name of a fine dining restaurant and bar, the corner of Queen and Murray St was a construction site and the building that would house Venn Gallery was the home of WA Hospital Supply.

Clearly seeing the future prominence of the streets that surround the area of the Perth City Link, some of Perth's most savvy restaurateurs have obviously seen an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the new Perth, with none perhaps being as wildly ambitious as Andy Freeman. Opened last year on King St, Varnish on King's focus on whiskey, wine and some of the best, more refined bar food in Perth had us gushing so positively that it remains the most read post at the Ministry of Gluttony. Others obviously agreed as Varnish was recently awarded Best Small Bar in Australia by Australian Bartender Magazine. To follow this up, Freeman and business partner Sam Astbury opened the late night Sake and Dumplings themed Darlings Supper Club on the Northbridge side of the future link earlier this year. More food focused in appearance than Varnish, Alissa and I found Darlings' food paradoxically less impressive, so when we heard about the opening of Freeman's third opening in the area - the bakery, butchery and fortified wine focused Flour Factory - we were interested to see how it fared.

While ostensibly located on Queen St, the Raine Square courtyard facing Williams St is arguably the main entrance to the building, as evidenced by the venue's tables and outdoor seating.

Apparently little changed from when this venue was Venn Bar and Cafe, the interior features a charming industrial chic look that would not be out of place in Fremantle, complete with exposed brick, an old wooden sliding door and exposed girders. The menu has changed considerably however - where Venn's menu was very much cafe food, the Flour Factory's focus is artisanal, house made charcuterie and bread. In a way its simpler and more basic than what was here before, but when you consider that they're actually making a lot of things like bacon, chorizo, terrines and sausages from scratch, the value of what they're doing becomes clear.

As with all of Freeman and Astbury's venues, the drinks list was exceptional. Behind the counter were shelves filled with more fortified wines than I've ever seen in a bar in Perth, along with a smaller but well curated wine list and all the regular bar staples. Although the fortifieds list was impressive, we decided to try a few of their cocktails, with my choice being the Amontillado and Hennessy-based Cobble (left) and Alissa going with the citrus and gin-centric Limonada (right). Having recently had the incredible barrel-aged Sazerac at Varnish, my expectations were high. I was not to be disappointed; the Cobble had a complex, classic cocktail flavour due to the use of Amontillado (a sherry) and Hennessy (cognac), with a hint of spice and vanilla, along with a lovely fruitiness that was not overly sweet. This was a perfect drink for me. The Limonada had a strong, bright acidity due to the Limoncello, Citrus, Rosemary and Lemon Curd, Orange Bitters and Lemon Spritzer. I'm glad I didn't order it as it was a bit too tart for my tastes, however Alissa's preference for more sour cocktails meant this was right up her alley.

To begin, we ordered a board of Charcuterie and Cheese. The Flour Factory's menu has a lot of excellent imported cold cuts on the menu, however we decided to stick to the offerings made in house. Our lovingly presented board consisted of Spiced Veal Tongue and Lambcetta, along with the imported Pont l'eveque from France and an assortment of pickles, sauces and mustard. The Spiced Veal Tongue was the more subtle of the two, having a mild cured meat flavour, and a soft delicate texture. It worked well accompanying the pickled gherkins and the excellent, house-made medium heat mustard sauce, however its subtlety meant it was largely overshadowed by the Lambcetta, which made a strong case that lamb has been unfairly sidelined in charcuterie relative to pork and beef. Lamb is a very flavoursome meat to begin with, so to have it undergo the curing process of pancetta only served to intensify its flavours. We couldn't get enough of it, and Alissa particularly enjoyed it paired with the finely julienned green apple. This is definitely something we would come back for. Finally the Pont l'eveque cheese, expertly chosen by Alissa, was outstandingly creamy, stinky and flavoursome as the best soft cheese can be, and it went nicely with the house made Apple Gel. I usually find it difficult to praise a Charcuterie plate when its mainly a sourcing job, however the Flour Factory really need to be commended for making so much of this in house. Our only constructive criticism would be that the bread supplied could have been a bit more generous, as we ran out of bread long before we ran out of the meats and cheese.

Alissa and I are big fans of kangaroo and wallaby meat, and it is something I love ordering when I see it on a menu. This can backfire however, as the leanness of the meat means it can dry out easily, resulting in dry, tough and unpalatable dishes in less capable hands. So ordering the Aussie Dog - with its Flinders Island Wallaby Sausage, Bush Tomato Ketchup and Native Leaves - was a risky choice, but one that thankfully paid off. The sausage had all the depth of gamey flavour that makes macropod meat such a delight to eat, while maintaining the correct springy texture one looks for in a good sausage. The use of Bush Tomato for the Ketchup was an inspired choice as its smoky, umami-rich flavour complemented the gaminess of the meat, with the excellent mustard from the charcuterie plate making a return appearance alongside a spicy mayo/sauce that Alissa really liked (house made chipotle perhaps?). The best part of the whole dish however was the bread, which was more perfect a hot dog bun than I could have ever imagined. Its crust layer was thin but intensely crispy, while the interior seemed impossibly light and fluffy. What's more, the bun was the perfect size - too often hot dog buns are too large for one to actually get a bite of a good cross section, but I had no such problems on this occasion. It might seem strange to gush about a hot dog as its a dish that is easy to do at a semi-decent level, however to do it this well takes a lot of skill and praise-worthy attention to detail.

Even better was the Chicken Liver Parfait, Rhubarb and 'Peanut Butter'. Visually, its a beautiful dish, lovingly plated in a manner very similar to the very modern fine dining-inspired style common to dishes at Varnish. The dish reminded Alissa and I of three dishes - the childhood classics of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches and Ants on a Log (due to the sultanas), as well as the flavour combination of Momofuku Ko's signature Shaved Foie Gras with Lychee and Pine Nut Brittle dish. Though less intense and luxurious than Foie Gras, the excellent Chicken Liver Parfait itself was nevertheless decadent, having a lovely airiness while being rich at the same time. To match the decadence, the bread served tasted like it was pan fried with butter, giving it a lovely, crunchy crust while maintaining a soft, fluffy interior. To contrast against the richness, the preserve of rhubarb cut through with some acidity and moderate sweetness. Finally, the use of Peanut Butter - both in a whipped and piped on form as well as what looked like a powder made with maltodextrin - was a clever and interesting component, introducing an ingredient that seemed unexpected next to the Parfait, but made sense with its salty-sweetness. This is definitely a must order dish and one that already seems to be becoming something of a restaurant signature.

Finally, we ordered the Valrhona Chocolate Cake, Mint and Aero for dessert. I have to admit that I didn't love the cake itself. In spite of the use of Valrhona Chocolate, it tasted like any stock-standard chocolate cake that I've eaten, and it was not as moist as I would have hoped considering the quality of the bread served in the other dishes. On the other hand, the components that accompanied the cake seemed to outshine the cake itself. The Aerated Chocolate in particular was a highlight; clearly made in house, Alissa quite rightly pointed out that they had a slight black truffle flavour to them. With black and white truffles often used in high end restaurant desserts, this was not exactly unique but the pleasing earthiness was nevertheless unexpected, and very interesting. The fresh mint on top of the cake served to highlight the Aero theme of the Aerated Chocolate, and the rich but smooth chocolate sauce, the piped on fluffy marshmallow and a dollop of what looked and tasted like Dolce de Leche were all welcome additions. Seeing photos taken by other bloggers and diners, it looks like the Chocolate Cake dessert is still going through a process of refinement, as I have seen at least three different plating configurations and approaches. It's not there yet but with some more tinkering, I can see this working - maybe with a more moist cake, and/or a nice quenelle of ice cream.

The Verdict: Excellent
After being a bit disappointed with Darlings Supper Club, Alissa and I were pleased to be able to say we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at the Flour Factory; though not quite as amazing and less hearty than Varnish on King, The Flour Factory took a similarly refined approach to their charcuterie and hot dogs theme and seriously nailed it. The Aussie Dog was one of the best hot dogs I've eaten in my life, and the excellent Chicken Liver Parfait was a hit signature dish as worthy of recommendation as the Short Ribs at Varnish. As always with Freeman, service was beyond reproach and the drinks list was stellar; it is going to do wonders for fortified wine knowledge in this city. Admittedly, their were some small missteps like the Chocolate Cake itself, however with the obvious tinkering they are still doing, I have every faith that this too will get to where it needs to be. Alissa and I can't wait to return.

The Flour Factory on Urbanspoon


  1. You have sold me just with your comments about the hot dog!

    1. Hope I didn't oversell it! I do really rate it though :)

  2. That hot dog looks good! We had the choripan which was a bit average, but I LOVED the meats and cheeses we ate. Cute little place :)

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