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Described by Sunday Times Magazine as “an ambitious fine diner come nightfall”, No. 4 Blake St actually makes it into their top 100 places to eat list as one of the best cafes in Perth on account of the brunch fare and high tea. Still, I found it hard to say no when the opportunity came up to partake in their degustation dinner this past weekend.
The interior is a study in understated elegance with bare brick walls contrasting with simple yet stylish black, white and silver decor. Perhaps it is these very contrasts evident in our surroundings that best sums up the whole dining experience. But more about that in a minute…
A rolled up piece of parchment tied with a black ribbon sits front and centre at each place setting, inviting the diner to unravel it. The expectation is that this is a menu, but to our disappointment, it is simply a list of the ingredients that might be used. We didn’t think this was particularly helpful, as this list only succeeded in building expectations that weren’t met, for instance, waiting in anticipation for the quail that never materialised.
Having already perused a sample menu online, we decided the 9 course degustation seemed more interesting, and therefore chose this over the 5 course option. The bar was set high by the amuse bouche, which certainly did its job of whetting our appetites and leaving us wanting for more. The salt and vinegar macaron had a delightfully crisp yet chewy texture, as good as any I’ve tasted in Paris, and the balance between salty, sweet and tangy was nothing short of perfection.
Unfortunately, it was somewhat downhill from there.
Firstly, there were the waits between courses. I’m talking half an hour between the amuse bouche and bread, another half hour between bread and the first course, and further half hour waits between the first few courses. I understand the importance of pacing in order to enjoy each course, but with the portion sizes on offer, there was really no danger of feeling overstuffed. Instead, we were getting hungrier and less impressed with each course. Realising that at the rate we were going, we’d be there until at least midnight, we decided to ask if they could speed up the service a little. They said they’d try their best, citing the “full house” present as the reason for their tardiness, yet looking around, there were 2 empty tables and a total of 22 guests including our party of 6. Nevertheless, to their credit, they did speed up the service thereafter.
The 1st course was compressed grapefruit with marron and avocado purée, all enveloped in a coconut gelatine blanket. I couldn’t really taste the coconut, but the gelatine added a slightly sticky texture that contrasted nicely with the creaminess of the avocado, the bite in the marron and the juiciness of the grapefruit. I personally did not enjoy the bitterness of the grapefruit, but that’s because I’m not fond of bitter flavours, and there were others in the party who liked the addition of another taste. Overall, this modern take on the prawn cocktail was one of the hits of the evening.
This was followed by baby corn, which we were informed had been “peeled today”. This puzzled me somewhat as I’d have thought it was good practice to only prepare your vegetables on the day you intend to cook them in order to ensure maximum freshness, but I decided to let that slide. The corn was a tad undercooked with a slightly green flavour, but the accompanying white beans in black bean sauce with corn purée had a lovely flavour that reminded us of Japanese miso based cuisine.
The next dish consisted of pieces of rabbit bacon served with rhubarb spaghetti, rhubarb purée, a pine nut sponge and sprinkled over with toasted pine nuts. This was the most aromatic dish of the evening, and had great flavours, though some of us thought the bacon was a bit too dry and salty. This could have been easily balanced by a more generous serving of the pine nut sponge which was light and fluffy, and the rhubarb elements which would have added some sweetness and moisture.
Next came cauliflower risotto sprinkled with cocoa powder and topped with a rice cracker. The risotto was creamy yet retained a bite to it with each individual rice grain remaining separate. The rice cracker had a delightful crispiness that contrasted nicely with the risotto. I enjoyed this dish, but one of my dining buddies felt it was a bit too rich.
The waiter seemed none too impressed at our conjecture from afar that the next course was pork belly. “It’s not,” he curtly informed us, before proceeding to describe a cod and anchovy terrine served with confit fennel, slivers of honeydew, capsicum purée and some sort of sherbet (we all missed that bit). Pork belly would probably have been a better accompaniment for the fennel, really, which was beautifully done, lacking that aniseed flavour that I am not overly fond of. The honeydew added some sweetness and freshness, but was not enough to save the terrine which was much too dry and salty.
The 6th and final savoury course for the evening was beef served with a coconut pumpkin purée, a papaya purée, and a mango slaw with soy vinegar dressing. The beef was so tender that it sliced easily with a butter knife. It was like cutting through, well, butter. The mango slaw added a fresh and subtle sweetness that was delicious. However, even with probably the best dish of the evening, there were misses. The papaya purée had an odd bitter taste that was deemed unpalatable by most on our table. What a good thing it was served on the side and only in a small quantity.
A palate cleanser was brought out next. The sticky little pieces of candied orange peel on the palate cleanser were like golden nuggets packed full of flavour. However, the main components missed the mark entirely. The orange granita was more like a warm soup instead of the refreshing icy treat that we were expecting, and the coconut foam tasted just like air – no substance and no flavour.
The next dish was called a cheesecake mousse, and this was served with a basil sponge and dehydrated olives. This turned out to be the savoury cheese course of the evening, featuring goat’s cheese. The flavours were pleasant to begin with, but towards the end, became too strong and salty for all of us. When the waiter asked us what we thought, we could not honestly say we were fond of it.
The 2nd dessert and final course of the evening was a dehydrated chocolate mousse with cherry chocolate ice-cream and chocolate branches. This was a far superior dessert, being lighter and with better balance between sweet and tart flavours, but wasn’t anything spectacular in my books. I’ve made similar tasting cherry chocolate ice-cream myself! The chocolate twigs were too thick and therefore required too much effort to chew through. However, the chocolate tuile on top was wafer thin with a delightfully crisp finish.
Too slow to start, but points given for taking on board and fulfilling customer requests and speeding up service when we asked them to. I had ordered prosecco to go with my meal, and when the first glass poured lacked bubbles, the waiter immediately took it away and brought out a new bottle. When they asked what we thought of some of the courses, they seemed genuinely interested to know our opinions.
We all liked the decor. It was stylish without being too snooty. Although the tables were fairly closely spaced, it never got too loud in the room.
$120 for the 9 course tasting menu
$90 for the classic 5 course menu
7am-late Wednesday to Sunday
4 Blake St, North Perth
There’s ample parking right next to it
Tel: 9444 6678
There were snippets of brilliance in this meal, but at $120 for 9 small serves of mostly misses, there was little on offer to inspire a return dinner visit. However, brunch or lunch is not totally off the cards.
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