Restaurant Review: Balthazar

Should I feel… outmoded? unfashionable? just plain out of touch? Cos, seriously, up until a couple of months ago, I had never ever heard of Balthazar. Yet, several internet lists rate Balthazar as one of the top restaurants in Perth [1], and it’s apparently been open for ten years or more [2]. So, somewhat intrigued (and after finding that Star Anise was all booked out for the night) we forayed there for my dining partner’s (MDP’s) birthday, even though it wasn’t even in the Entertainment Book!

I’d read in several reviews that the lighting in Balthazar is fairly low and it is quite dim – possibly bordering on hazardous, but pleasant all the same. Likewise, the music was pretty loud for what one would expect in a higher class restaurant. However, while ‘loud and dim’ doesn’t sound particularly appealing, the overall feel was intimate and lively (and the music was good). Service was very attentive to start with; water in our glasses was continually refreshed and we received our wine and shared starter (a tasting plate of *most* *excellent* carrot soup, a fine duck roll, a -meh- smoked wagyu carpaccio on cracker[3] and a *very* *good* fried goat’s cheese ball) in quick succession. However the wait between removal of the entree plate and the arrival of the main course was long, long enough for MDP to start one of his favorite activities – using his phone’s stopwatch to see how long we would be waiting for attention. Altogether it was a good 30 minutes plus before the mains arrived. When they did, my rabbit leg was impressively de-boned and rolled, but lacking zing. The accompanying leek risotto was fantastic, however. MDP’s venison (the bit he gave to me anyway) was tender and full flavoured, though apparently it was difficult to cut.

We were undecided about dessert (particularly given we had truffle cake at home already), but they *just* managed to make it from clearing our main plates to asking us if we wanted to see the dessert menu in the 15 minutes we’d given them and I was kind of interested in the item in french in which I could only understand the words ‘cheese’ and ‘beetroot’ and so we ordered one of those to share.

What arrived was five beetroot slices/crisps, fried or baked, each filled with a blob of a sweet cheesecake-like filling. While probably creamcheese-based it also had hint of blue cheese, which gave it a *fantastic* edge. Combined with the walnut and beetroot garnishes, the dessert was impressive, but marred by the chewiness of the beetroot crisps (i.e. they weren’t crisp). If the crisps has been crisp, the dessert would have become a stand out in my memory. As it is, I’ll always remember it with a tinge of regret.

Details: Balthazar, 6 The Esplanade, Perth 6000 WA. Phone: (08) 9421 1206 (Colour me crazy, but I’m not at all sure they actually have a website!)

Service: There were lots of wait staff and service was good to start with. The long wait for our main course marred the experience though.

Food: Overall, excellent food and you could tell that quality produce had been used. However, servings were on the small side and I do feel that, after a two course meal (three courses, with entree and dessert shared), I shouldn’t come home and feel the need (want?) for two pieces of toast. Some aspects of our meal bordered on sublime (some parts of the entree and the dessert), the rest (mains included) were solid but ultimately unmemorable.

Mark-up: MDP chose the Agly Brothers Cote du Roussillon 2004 (shiraz, carignan, grenache) and was rewarded with a most excellent drop. We paid $64 for a bottle that might retail for $39 (it seems difficult to buy, a real pity), making it about a 64% mark up, which actually seems pretty reasonable.

Conclusion: A good meal, but not a great one. I can’t help feeling that now we’ve ‘done’ Balthazar, we probably won’t feel the need to return. Anyone who can get us a couple of bottle of the Agly Brothers, however, should get in touch!!

Rating: 8/10

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

[1] Though, courtesy of Palace Foods, it ain’t in the most recent top 10 for Perth from Gourmet Traveller.

[2] In my defence, 10 years ago I was still an underpaid PhD student, and unlikely to be forking out more than $20-30 for a dinner out, if I could help it. (And after finishing I went AWOL O/S for 4 years too).

[3] I think an unsmoked fresh carpaccio would have been better

Review: High Tea at Salt on the Beach

My best friend (GJ) and I were hankering for high tea. The Hyatt is known to be good, but was booked for the day we wanted to go (today). I’ve had a very nice Parisian Rose Tea at Leaf, in Mt Lawley, but we’d been there before and we wanted somewhere new! There don’t seem to be a heap of other high tea places in Perth, but in the end a google search brought us to Salt on the Beach, which has been serving high tea since May [1].

Salt on the Beach is in a lovely location on Port Beach in North Freo – though probably more-so in summer than on a fairly blustery winter’s (technically spring) day. I was very glad to be seated inside the main dining room rather than on the veranda, even though we saw less of the view that way.

Arriving at 2.30 pm was a interesting time to be in the restaurant. There were a few tables still lingering over lunch, but not much business for high tea (probably not a good sign, right?). In the end, the total high tea clientele consisted of a large (birthday?) function in a separate room, plus a table of five and our table of two. The advertising kind of implied we’d each receive our own three tiered tray filled with goodies, but we ended up with a tray to share with:

(bottom and largest tier)

chicken and avocado sandwich (4 triangles)

ham cheese, tomato and pickle sandwich (4 little squares)

tuna sandwich (4 triangles)

2 slices of a smoked salmon quiche/tart

salad leaves and a slice of cucumber (for decoration?)

(middle tier)

custard filled profiteroles (2x)

Scones with jam and cream (2x – excellent strawberry jam)

blueberry/raspberry friand (cut in 2)

(top tier)

mini brownie (2x)

mini custard tart (2x)

(NB: My bad totally for forgetting – or perhaps more accurately not thinking about – the fact tha GJ is vegetarian! Fortunately she eats fish so some of the bottom level was ok for, but there was nothing strictly vego there)

The tea selection wasn’t huge – off the top of my head there was green, black, english breakfast, earl grey, chai, chamomile and peppermint. I went for the earl grey because it’s my favourite, but to be honest I am really not sure that’s what I got. It tasted just like normal tea, and pretty average normal tea at that. GJ wanted a coffee, but unfortunately this couldn’t be included in the price of the high tea ($24) and so she had to order it as an extra. We had a lovely afternoon chatting over our tea, but I’m not sure how much the experience was augmented by Salt on the Beach’s high tea. Our search for Perth’s best high tea is far from over!

Details: Salt on the Beach, 44 Port Beach Rd (Corner Tydeman) North Fremantle WA 6159, 9430 6866

Service: Service was fine and the staff were friendly, but it doesn’t take long to take an order for a couple of pots of tea and bring out a tiered tray of treats. We actually stayed at Salt on the Beach for about 3 hours – far longer than our afternoon tea actually lasted and not one waiter asked how we were going during that whole time!

Food: The food we got was very nice, but I think high tea should feel lavish, excessive even, and we really didn’t come out feeling like we’d treated ourselves particularly. The clincher for me was the fact that only one pot of tea was included (and the milk was pretty skimpy too), and when GJ wanted a coffee instead of tea she had to pay for that on top! Tea is not so expensive that you couldn’t consider serving up multiple pots – or at least topping up the pot with extra hot water.

The discount: Salt on the Beach actually is in the Entertainment Book, but we couldn’t use the gold card to get a discount on high tea (which was $24 pp). And $50 still feels a lot for some sandwiches and little cakes. I won’t be coming back for high tea here, and I don’t feel particularly inclined to come back to try a dinner or lunch. The nanobrewery looks kind of interesting, but I’ll probably be looking for some online reviews before venturing out there.

Rating: 5/10

Salt on the Beach on Urbanspoon

[1] Incidentally, the other places I’ve found (or know of) were C Restaurant (which I discounted based on my previous dining experience), and Palais 85 in South Perth, which is still a bit of an unknown quantity. Any other suggestions are most welcome!!!

The Great Apple Pie Experiment

Apple Pie Apple Pie Apple Pie

Third time lucky.

We’ve been experimenting with apple pies to fulfill A’s wish to take apple pies to work on his birthday (instead of the normal store bought cake). I’ve had *some* experience with pies and quiches, but usually find the pastry too much effort. I usually avoid it. Anyway, we found a respectable looking recipe in a respectable looking baking book and away we went. Unfortunately following said respectable recipe (the one on page 156) produced pastry that was awful – far too crumbly to roll out (though edible once baked!).  The insides (apple, sugar, lemon and vanilla essence) were great though.  For the second time, we turned to the internet, adapting pastry from a Taste.com recipe, but keeping the insides the same ( except we added some frozen raspberries).  This second time,  the pastry was great (if a bit puffy from the self raising flour), but the filling was a bit undercooked and quite runny (we assume from the frozen raspberries).

(NB: In both cases the results went excellently with vanilla ice cream and did not go to waste!!)

The third time we had to get right because it was time to make pies for the birthday.  Oh! The pressure!! Fortunately, the third time was juuuust right. Or pretty right, anyway. Possibly the pastry remained a bit puffy, but for posterity, here is the recipe followed to make 2 pies (~23-24 cm wide, one dish slightly deeper than the other)

Recipe:

The outsides
100 whole meal flour
150 wholemeal self raising flour
500 plain white flour
8 heaped dessertspoonfuls of castor sugar
275 g  unsalted butter
~2/3 cups chilled water, you might need a bit more

The insides
1350 g of peeled and cored apple, thinly sliced (about 50% granny smith, and 50% gala, 1800 g total apple). a normal sized eating apple is about 150 g, so it’s about 12 apples for 2 pies
2 tsp vanilla essence (made from scratch!)
2 tbsp lemon juice
230 g sugar
small cubes of butter ~80g
1 tsp cinnamon
and 1/2 tsp mixed spice

Dice the chilled butter and then rub it into the sifted flour (and sugar) to make a crumbly mixture. Add chilled water bit by bit until the dough forms a ball.  Leave the dough to chill in the fridge while you core and peel the apples (OMG!  THE worst step!!), then roll out 1/2 the pastry to 3-4 mm thickness to cover the bases of your pie dishes.  Combine the peeled and sliced apples with the lemon juice, vanilla and sugar and divide the mixture between the dishes.  Dot small cubes of butter over the top of the apple before covering with a second sheet of rolled out pastry,  and decorate as desired.  Egg can be used to glaze the pies – we only ever had milk, however.

Bake for about 25 minutes at 230 deg, followed by about 35 minutes at 200 deg (NB:  we adjusted this from 200 deg and 180 deg because we have an old cold oven.  Also we wanted to avoid undercooked insides.  The smaller pie did get a bit brown in the process…)

And… success! I thought I wouldn’t even get to try these pies, but he bought me home a small sliver and it was *good*. Hopefully this is not the end of our pie making adventures.