Friday, November 14, 2008


In a stoic, stone building along the Esplanade, lies one of Perth's most inconspicuous fine dining establishments. With its closed wooden shutters, dim lighting and lack of exterior signage, Balthazar has a somewhat subterranean ambiance - hauling open the monumental wooden door one could almost be striding into the den of some ancient nobility - and the name of the restaurant itself brings to mind kings, queens and empires long past. Balthazar is one of the three wise men.

In fact, the interiors are more contemporary Euro bistro than medieval wizard's parlour,
with white, minimal table settings, a tiled black and white floor, and polished wood furnishings highlighted by rows of glinting wine glasses and wine racks. In the more informal front space, high, wooden tables are serviced by bent-wood bar stools, and the drinks list, bar menu and cheese specials are scrawled in white chalk on wooden blackboards that line the old stone walls.

We were settled briskly into our 'booth' by our waiter for the evening. Despite its tiny interior and fine dining reputation, Balthazar maintains a charming ,bustling atmosphere, that is much more akin to a busy train station cafe or fish market than a Perth restaurant in - approaching 8.30pm on a Friday night - a rather deserted end of town. This is reinforced
by the establishment's young, trendy and somewhat aloof team of waitstaff who constantly, and rather theatrically, call instructions to each other across the room (" That is negative, I repeat, negative on the soft shell crab" was one such line that boomed conspicuously across the room - luckily we had already placed our order for the night). Over the eclectic soundtrack of 30's jazz, and Feist, I could almost discern the bellow of departing trains.

We slipped gently into the evening with fresh oysters drizzled with a rose and cucumber dressing, and a tasting plate comprising miniature versions of the remaining entree selections - a swirl of polenta, a roulade of rabbit (far too salty for my liking), a spoonful of seasoned beef, and a plump white disc of herbed fish cake.

The highlight of the mains was an aged beef fillet with smoked potato, candied aubergine and celeriac - a creation I had previously read was their signature dish. Thick and perfectly seared to a medium rare, the beef was unbelieveably tender and smoky with flavour, like velvet melting on the tongue.

The remaining mains comprised a lamb scotch fillet paired with crumbed globe artichokes and broad bean tortellini, a rich duck and pistachio sausage with cream sauce and green beans and a more simple pasta puttanesca with crispy soft shell crab. Of note were the rather hefty portions, which following the initial offering of fresh bread and butter, trailed closely by the oysters and miniatures, proved a struggle to clear.

Nevertheless, after the last mouthfuls were savored, and plates ferried away, dessert menus were passed around. After brief discussions, we settled on the dessert tasting plate for two, presented ala tasting plate style as a miniature diorama of the chef's sweetest specials. A chai tea pannacotta wobbled atop a gingerbread base, fanned by slices of fresh pear and mint; a tangy lime roulade and coconut sorbet nestled under flakes of shaved coconut; a dense, sour cream doughnut enclosed a frozen dome of vanilla bean icecream. The final element was a dark chocolate mousse, lightened by a side of cream that pouted under its beret of pistachio meringue. Even split amongst the four of us, finishing, was a true exercise in stomach contortions.

Throughout the duration of the meal, groups of diners seemed to be continually arriving and leaving, the result of which was that the room was at almost times, completely full. The upshot of this was that the usual diminuendo that occurs as the evening wears on, diners swallow their last drops of wine and leave and the atmosphere peters out, never actually occured. Even approaching 10pm, while we were licking the last lashings of lime from our spoons, animated tides of couples were still being ushered to their tables and the parade of dishes marching from the kitchen showed no signs of letting up.

By half ten, as we were departing, sleepy, our bellies full and round, merry groups
of twenty-somethings were just arriving to drink cocktails at the bar. While no one dish had left an indelible mark in our minds, the evening as a whole had been a pleasure - the service quick, the dishes well-executed, the ambiance one of relaxtion. Warm, happy and content, we sighed deeply with satisfaction and parted ways, stumbling dreamily homewards in the gathering dark.

6 The Esplanade


Post a Comment

<< Home