I first heard of the Loose Box 4 or 5 years ago when I'd asked someone their opinion of the best French restaurant in Perth. Strange name, but it has been around for 30 years with numerous awards to boast. In fact, the chef, Alain Fabrègues, has so many awards under his belt that he has been prevented from entering further personal competitions. I'd always wanted to go to the Loose Box when I was still living in Perth, but the steep cost of the meal was never within our budget. Back then it was AU$90 per person, and it has since increased to AU$150/person, which is still very pricey, but at the rate it's inflating, we'll never have the chance to afford it. So we decided to just go for it during our recent trip to Perth. The restaurant is located about 40 minutes' drive from Perth city, in semi-rural Mundaring, so there is also an accommodation package to stay in one of the cottages. Rob's aunt did the dinner, bed & breakfast package a few years ago, and she said it was excellent. Unfortunately, the cost of that said package is definitely out of our budget so it was just the degustation dinner for us. The restaurant is very much a "special occasion" type of place, and every table that night were either celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, except for ours - we were just taking the opportunity of being in town (with plenty of eager babysitters) to try this place that has been on our restaurants-to-try list for a few years now.
I heard that the restaurant has evolved over the past 30 years from serving classical French cuisine in a strictly formal environment, to serving a more contemporary menu in a more relaxed atmosphere. Service was very professional and timely, although the two waitstaff were stretched pretty thin serving the 10 or so tables. The food was well executed with beautiful presentation, but honestly, it wasn't anything particularly outstanding. I'd go so far as to say that I've had better fine dining experiences in Japan that cost less than this meal, which is really not too surprising as there are so many more opportunities to have exquisite food in Tokyo than in lil' old Perth. Also, I've yet to encounter food served outside of Japan that can compare to the subtle fineness of Japanese-executed food (of not just the Japanese cuisine, but others too), which can only come from the extreme care and attention of detail that the Japanese give in their food preparation. With that said, this was a very special night for us because it was the very first time we enjoyed a dinner date on our own in more than six months since the baby was born.
1st course: Coconut and Prawn Broth - an Asian fusion dish with kaffir lime leaf, which was a nice idea, but I thought the coconut flavour was rather strong and it overpowered the subtle taste of the prawn.
2nd course: Le Blinis d'oiseaux au Raifort - with several poultry meats: pigeon, quail, pheasant, duck and chicken; in a blini of chives and olives with horseradish sour cream, quail eggs and vanilla olive oil. The appearance of this dish wasn't what I expected, as I know blini to be some sort of pancake. Instead it was more of a pastry dish, which was beautifully presented and was delicious, but we thought there were too many types of poultry to actually appreciate the taste of each individual types, especially when diced up into small pieces.
3rd course: La Saumon en Gravalax au gingembre - cured salmon gravlax with olive oil, lime and grated ginger, topped with a salsa of Lebanese cucumber, roma tomato, radish and capers in lime mayo, and generously garnished with coriander leaves (too generously, if you ask me). Nice, but a little on the plain side.
4th course: we could choose between a scallops dish and a lobster dish, and of course, we got one of each so that we could have a taste of both. Both are not on my copy of the menu, so I don't know the exact title for each, but I will try my best to describe them.
Lobster Soup - this was like a bisque with large pieces of lobster swimming in it. The bisque was deliciously rich with the flavours of crustaceans (perhaps crab and lobster?), and the lobster flesh was nicely cooked. I really enjoyed this one. The Scallops were also served in a soup and atop crisped rounds of risotto cakes and topped with a parmesan cracker. I liked the play of texture in this dish - crispy risotto with tender scallops, but its flavour paled a little in comparison to the lobster dish.
5th course was also a choice between two dishes, venison or duck.
Confit de Canard - duck leg confit served on potatoes and spinach with a brown gravy. The details of the duck dish is not on my copy of the menu, but I remember that the duck meat was beautifully fall-off-the-bone tender with a sauce that paired very well with the duck.
Le Côte de Chevreuil Poivrade - venison grilled to medium-rare, served on garlic mashed potato with a poivrade sauce, macerated cherries and caramelised pears. The sauce had a strong red wine flavour which went really well with the venison, but I didn't like the macerated cherries at all. The sweetness of the caramelised pears went surprisingly well with the gamey meat.
We were served fruit sorbet after the meat course as a palate cleanser, which was nice and refreshing with the taste of watermelon and lemon.
There were three or four choices for the dessert course.
Le Nougat Glacé - soft nougat made with honey, pistachio and hazelnut, served chilled with strawberry coulis and topped with caramel strands and a dove-shape hard meringue. Very cute presentation, but a bit too sweet and it got a bit OTT after awhile even though we shared.
Le Fromage - imported cheese (I think Spanish) served with fruits and walnut bread.
Finally, we were served with Petit Fours to have with our choice of tea or coffee. Chocolate tart topped with soft meringue, pâte à choux (choux pastry with custard filling and caramel-topped) and vanilla pudding. We were given the same amount to take home too, which we shard with my family as a small token of thanks for taking care of Zak so that we could enjoy a date out on our own without the baby.
So overall, it was a great dining experience, and I highly recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a romantic place to bring that someone special for an occasion or just a romantic date.