Can’t make your mind up when choosing from the menu?
As Fleur Bainger discovers, at Perth’s Chefz Table, the chef will do it for you.
You know those diners who always ask for annoying alterations to the menu? I’ll admit, sometimes I’m one of them.
I’m sick of basil pesto (“can I have it on the side, please?”); I only like mushroom sauce if it’s creamy; and I have a weird phobia of baby corn. So the concept of being able to tell a chef what ingredients I do and don’t like, and have him magic up a degustation tailored just to me, sounded brilliant. Even more enticing was that a new restaurant was offering just that in my hometown – a restaurant by the name of Chefz Table in Perth’s CBD.
“My husband hates cauliflower and eggplant,” I say when the receptionist asks for our food preferences.
“I’m not a fan of veal, but we like all other meats and we’re fine with raw things. We love tuna and salmon. Oh! And scallops, we loooove scallops!” The receptionist’s mention of offal, sweetbreads and black pudding gets an unequivocal “no”. I say I’m a savoury person, so he suggests cheeses but I want to see the chef perform, and push for a dessert – so long as it’s not trifle. I hang up worrying I’ve been too vague. I call back and profess my love for duck. There, that should do it.
Saturday night comes and I can’t wait to see how chef Shaun Hack interprets my requests. He opened the restaurant in January after a long stint cooking in Europe – including at a one-Michelin-star restaurant in France where the ‘chef’s table’ concept is already taking off.
Traditionally, chefs treat select dinners to a special, off-menu degustation that pushes the culinary envelope and occurs either in the kitchen itself or within good view of it. Hack’s version keeps his patrons on the restaurant floor (I’m slightly disappointed), allowing anyone to take part and see him create complex dishes to their tastes.
“When you go for a [regular] degustation, there might be some things you don’t like and I just thought why pay all that money for that?” Hack reasons. Besides, he likes the diversity – he’s catalogued 600 different dishes already. There’s nothing else like it in Perth and few restaurants offer it in Australia.
The comparative view from my table is dull. Having read on a blog that the restaurant is housed in the old Fairlanes bowling alley, I expect to see bowling pins, neon signs and kitsch paraphernalia. But Fairlanes has been bowled flat, with a nondescript establishment rising from its ashes. The chef says he’s aiming to create a non-pretentious space, but I find the grey and red colour scheme devoid of character.
Luckily, the food distracts me. An amuse-bouche of smoky trout parfait with coconut tapioca pearls sets the tone, followed by more smoking – this time it’s duck ham, dressed with pickled leek straws, subtle fennel emulsion, pistachio purée and a segment of mandarin.
Margaret River chardonnay is poured into the cleanest glassware I’ve ever seen as a mound of tender, shredded pork cheek arrives with knobs of pickled cauliflower… Uh oh, this was on our banned substances list. The waiter hurriedly apologises and offers to switch it, but a taste-test redeems the chef: it enhances the rich, juicy porkiness.
Post palate cleanser, our main arrives. Warm, scallop carpaccio fans around roughly minced, herb-tossed raw tuna, doused in a vinaigrette that cooks it. It’s smashing, but oddly, it’s placed on a capsicum smear, which risks dominating the gentle seafood flavours.
I fill any remaining room with a pert lemongrass panna cotta, grazing my spoon in soft chocolate ganache then dipping it in a wild rice granola that tastes like popcorn. It’s a busy dessert, what with plum sorbet and chocolate ‘air’ (much like the ‘soil’ trend that’s going around), but it’s decadent and the perfect way to wind up a night of culinary pampering.
The numero uno experience has a bespoke price tag – perhaps a tad too high – but it’s unique, fun and a hit in moneyed Perth.
The verdict The element of surprise is definitely a winner, but the price means it’s the sort of ‘special night out’ you might only do once.
The score 14/20; good
We rated Finding out how the chef interpreted our ingredient choices and the warm, nothing’s-too-much-trouble service.
We hated The lack of atmosphere; the forgettable room didn’t match the adventurousness of the chef’s table concept, nor the sophistication of the food.
Where Unit 1B, 181 Adelaide Terrace, East Perth
Notes $125 for four courses; add $40 for matched wines. The price rises per number of courses and gourmet rating of the fare. Kiddies will not appreciate it but fuss-pots will: the chef will cater to whatever foodie whim, intolerance or preference.
Contact 08 9221 7417; chefztable.com.au