Table with a view:
Friends Restaurant is located inside the Hyatt Centre with a lovely view of the Swan River and good attentive service by the husband-wife owner team themselves. The menu is 'modern Australian' and there is an impressive wine list to appeal to both the foodies and winos (the restaurant has won a number of awards, particularly relating to its wine list). Both a-la-carte and set courses were available, and the menu is updated to reflect seasonal changes in ingredients and produce. Rob went with the Ten Course Tasting Menu and I had the Manjimup Truffle Tasting Menu. Both sets came with the optional extra to pair with "3-star" or "5-star" wines (for extra costs, of course). While the dishes were well-prepared, I felt that they lacked the wow factor that we've come to expect in a degustation-style meal. Don't get me wrong - the food was delicious and beautifully presented, but they still seemed somewhat ordinary compared to one or two degustation meals we previously enjoyed. The only really negative thing about this experience was the excruciating long wait between each dish. While I get the concept of slow food, 4 hours for a meal is too long, especially for a table of two. Other than the length of time, I can't find fault with anything else, and this was overall a nice dining experience.
Delicious amuse bouche: Cheese and Tomato Palmier and Ham on Toast with Fruit Relish:
For the sake of simplicity I have described each course separately in this blog entry. Be prepared for the huge number of food photos...
Ten Course Tasting Menu
Jerusalem artichoke and thyme soup with truffle air - this soup was richly creamy, but we couldn't really taste the thyme. The foam didn't really do anything to add to the soup, but the truffle was delicious. As an aside, did you know that Jerusalem artichoke is not an actual artichoke, but is related to the sunflower?
Baked Coffin Bay oysters, garlic butter and thyme with lemon pickle - Rob enjoyed this, but I prefer my oysters not floating in a pool of butter.
Slow-cooked rainbow trout, vegetable stock and herb tagliatelle with tarragon mayonnaise - I love the colours in this dish. The translucent tagliatelle was interesting but had a very subtle flavour.
Barramundi fillet with cauliflower cream, buttered potato, spinach and Jerusalem artichokes - this dish was presented with a trio of small bites: a crisp-fried fillet on top of wilted spinach, the crispy skin of the barramundi on top of a rectangular cubic cake of what we thought was the Jerusalem artichokes, and a cauliflower sitting on top of a cake of buttered potato. The flavours were very subtle, so this was a rather unremarkable dish, and a little confusing too with too much happening on one plate.
Mosaic of roast and confit kangaroo scented with thyme and rosemary, and raspberry vinegar dressing - I didn't think this dish worked well. Nice idea and unusual presentation, but we weren't feeling it.
Duck breast caramelised in molasses and bush pepper, crisp skin, caramelised chicory, fondant potato - the duck meat was tender and juicy with a slightly bitter-sweetness lent from the molasses. We thought the "fondant potato" was rather ordinary, basically roughly mashed potatoes formed into a pudding shape and then baked. This was probably my favourite out of Rob's set of dishes.
Salad of roast quail, chicken livers, toasted brioche, poached truffle and truffle dressing - this is probably Rob's least favourite dish as he is not a fan of liver. The quail was juicy, and Rob enjoyed the generous sliver of truffle.
Roast fillet of beef, braised cabbage, root vegetables and red wine sauce - a "safe" dish which would please the crowd but not the few looking for something different.
Deep fried blue cheese fritters with walnut salad - the blue cheese inside that crispy batter was actually pretty mild-tasting. Quite interesting texturally with the crunchy batter contrasting the soft cheese.
Pistachio soufflé, pistachio ice cream, and walnut tart - Rob really enjoyed this one. The soufflé was voluminously bouffant with a subtle pistachio flavour and just the right amount of sweetness. The tart was pretty good too. I think it's safe to say that the dessert course was Rob's favourite dish out of the whole ten dishes.
Manjimup Truffle Tasting Menu
The first dish was the same soup as Rob's course. Then came the Barramundi poached with truffle and truffle risotto. This was probably my favourite dish out of the whole course. The barramundi was so succulent and tasty, and probably rates as the best barramundi I've ever eaten. The risotto was also delicious with a wonderful creamy texture but without the richness of cream which can be too much for me to enjoy beyond the first two mouthfuls. The earthy flavour of truffle in the risotto was delightful. It is a simple dish, but I enjoy fish the best in this manner, without heavy sauces or fancy cooking methods.
Warm forest mushroom jelly and truffle foam with red wine vinegar caramel - Rob said this was his favourite from my set of dishes. Very mushroomy which is fantastic for a mushroom fan like me, though I'm not sure I quite understand the hype of eating foam. It's like eating flavoured air, which can be somewhat unsatisfactory for a person who likes to chomp down on stuff (including icy poles - yes, I'm not much of a sucker).
Roast fillet of beef, truffle butter, truffled creamed potatoes, braised cabbage, root vegetables and red wine sauce - like Rob's roast beef, I felt that this was a little ordinary. There was a generous slice of truffle on top of the beef which I must say I quite enjoyed.
Grand Marnier and truffle soufflé - I was curious about using truffle in dessert, and to my pleasant surprise, this dish worked quite well. The truffle flavour was very subtle and you would have to search hard to get it, but it was there.
The final course was supposed to be a triple cream brie layered with truffles, but I wanted to end the meal on a sweet note, so I requested Chocolate Fondant as a substitute. This was a beautiful plate, and the molten chocolate cake was truly decadent. I could only handle a couple of spoonfuls of the rich cake before handing the plate over to Rob for his taking. Definitely a dessert for chocolate lovers.
It was nice to enjoy a truffle-themed meal because I haven't previously had the opportunity to eat truffle on its own. I've fallen in love with the gorgeous earthy flavours of truffles, and I understand why it's such a commodity (it's the second most expensive food in the world at AU$3000/kg). I think it's fantastic that truffle is being successfully grown right in Western Australia.
This was a pleasant experience, but I think that the restaurant needs to work on the timing of serving the dishes. I would expect a degustation meal to take no more than 3 hours, and 4 hours is definitely too long. The dishes were not anything remarkable, but I think these were the type of food that majority of the restaurant's clientele would certainly enjoy. There aren't many in Perth (or even in all of Australia) who are looking for food which are too different and outside of what they're comfortable with. I suppose it really isn't fair of me to compare with the excellent fine dining experiences we've enjoyed in Japan, because it would sort of be like comparing apples with oranges (I recall that we had similar sentiments about the other degustation-style meal we had in Perth). I must say, though, that it is nice to see that in the last few years, a handful more restaurants have cropped up in Perth that serve degustation, and one in particular has recently gotten international recognition. I would love to have the opportunity to try that one out next time we're in Perth.