My soon to be parents-in-law are always complaining that they never get to spend enough time with us. Both the Boy and I have pretty hectic careers, so when we do actually have a bit of spare time, we want to spend it out and about enjoying good food and company. So when Christmas approached us last year, instead of buying his parents a gift, we offered to take them out to a fancy meal all expenses paid.
Just as we managed to lock in a weekend for our dinner, we were blessed with our brand new little niece who was born on the other side of the world in Texas! The Boy’s parents jumped on the first plane out to the States and didn’t return back for three months! We were all so envious of them as they got to meet her and we cannot wait to eventually get over there ourselves.
Upon their return to Australia I was keen to book our outing as soon as possible. This was meant to be their Christmas present after all! The timing worked out quite well because we were in the thick of the truffle season and neither of them had ever had either degustation OR truffles before! I booked at Clarke’s of North Beach as it is local to their house.
Those who have met me you know I am a bit of a talker; however my dearest mother in-law gives me a run for my money in the talking stakes. As a result my usual attentive listening skills were lost amongst all our animated gas bagging and I missed much of the descriptions of our dishes! I will do my best to remember. Forgive me if my distracted palate is incorrect.
The Amuse Bouche was a braised beef shin with cauliflower foam. It contained very interesting combinations of textures; with shredded tender shin accompanied by barely existent foam and the crisp crunch of calamari. It entertained our palates perfectly and we were ready for more.
We opted for the truffle supplement which meant that once every dish was served, our waiter came over to our table donning white cotton gloves and shaved fresh black truffle over each of our dishes. The Linley Valley pork belly entrée was beautifully cooked; the fat was soft like custard and the surface of the crackling had a caramelised shimmer to it. It was sprinkled with “crackle dust” and a variety of textures of apple decorated the plate.
The next entrée was a sliver of King George Whiting, scallop and snapper mouse. The whiting was pan-fried to give a subtle crisp to its surface which contrasted beautifully with the smooth mousse and succulent pillow of scallop. Although not specified on the menu there was also some fresh salmon which added an oilier almost satiny element to this dish. Shavings of fresh black truffle once again graced our plates. The Boy’s Dad swallowed this dish in a few quick mouthfuls, but his Mum deliberated in taking her time, differentiating out all the different flavours. She was learning the art of degustation quickly!
Our next dish was an optional one and when I saw the words “slow cooked egg” on the menu my heart leaped with excitement. My introduction to slow cooked eggs happened quite some time ago at Greenhouse and since then I insist on ordering them wherever I see them. They are like the holy grail of poached eggs to me and I am so elated when I see them feature on menus other than just for breakfast!
In order to successfully cook a slow cooked egg, one must cook them at a much lower temperature of about 60 degrees for 1 hour. The end result is like an improved version of a perfectly poached egg. The egg white has a nearly translucent appearance and the yolk is perfectly molten. Imagine this served over a pulled ham hock cassoulet! The cassoulet was wonderfully deep and rich in flavour but unfortunately there was no gluten free replacement for the brioche for me, considering the price of our meal this was a bit of a disappointment ($155 per person, not including BYO wines). I watched enviously as my family all mopped up the delicious juices pooling in the bottom of their plates.
Some may remember my most recent degustation at Petit Mort for the last in the series of Largesse dinners. For these amazing dinners the Head Chefs from six award-winning restaurants from around Perth donated their talents and time to each create one dish to contribute toward a six course extravaganza. All of the proceeds from the evenings went toward a charity of the host chef’s choosing. The head chef of Clarke’s Stephen Clarke was one of these six chefs and his braised Venison shin with Foie Gras Espuma was a definite show stopper for us all.
The foie gras espuma featured again in this dish but a much larger more generous glob was piped out this time round! The confit leg was encased in chicken mousse to make it into a boudin (sausage) and the buttery breast tasted nearly too soft to be duck! We were all so glad we chose to have these two supplement dishes as they were each outstanding and really completed the meal experience.
Where’s the lamb gone you ask? When I returned from the bathroom, our next course had already been served and everyone had decided to start tucking in without me. I sat down quickly and followed suit savouring every morsel on the plate. It wasn’t until I started scraping the plate clean that I realised I had completely forgotten to take a photo! It’s been a while since I’ve done that! Sorry dear readers! The new season lamb was incredibly delicate and tender. The boulangère potatoes were just like my mum used to make with the chewy outer crust and inner discs of potato encased in slippery creaminess.
I was in for some fortunate luck with our cheese course. The plate included a massive FIVE different cheeses: Miguel (a semi-soft cow’s cheese from Portugal), Valdeón (a blue made with goat and cow’s milk from Spain), Buche d’Affinois (a beautifully smooth and buttery surface-ripened cheese made with cow’s milk in France), Will Studd Brillat Savarin (a classic French triple cream brie from France) and Queso Manchego (a hard sheep’s cheese from Spain). Already a plate with five cheeses is pretty exciting but even better still amongst these portions were not just one but two of my favourite cheeses of all time!
Brillat Savarin is in my humble opinion one of the creaminess and most luscious of the French brie. Thankfully it is a regular resident at my local greengrocer’s Scutti in South Perth so I can spoil myself whenever I wish. My waistline may tell you otherwise though! My other favourite cheese is the Spanish sheep’s cheese Manchego. It is a firm compact cheese with a well-developed, slightly salty flavour and has that characteristic aftertaste of sheep’s cheese that I really enjoy. The cheese was accompanied by some crisp lavosh – once again there were no gluten free alternatives here.
For our pre-dessert we were all in for a fun surprise. My dish was a strawberry espuma with raspberry gel and the rest of my family received an Irish coffee espuma. Sprinkled over all of our dishes was something that took us back to our early childhood: popping candy! After such a decadent and luxurious meal, it was very entertaining for us all to sit there like amused school kids noisily cracking and popping away!
I was amazed that for the whole ten course experience only the two courses that had to be significantly altered for my dietary requirements were the desserts. Not being the odd one out greatly enhanced my evening as I didn’t feel like my dishes had key elements omitted (with the exception of a brioche alternative). My family’s dessert course was described as caramelised mandarin tart, raspberry gel, mandarin macaron and sorbet.
Before I had time to feel any macaron jealousy I discovered that scattered across my own plate was even more popping candy! Stretched across the plate was a colourful array of sumptuous morsels including raspberry gel, pistachio nougat, chocolate ice cream, mandarin jelly cubes and some more strawberry espuma. I wasn’t sure which element to savour the most as they were all so different yet so delicious.
As our evening drew to a close I was left with the feeling of complete satisfaction that we had thoroughly and deservedly spoilt our parents. We drove them home in a comfortable silence full of so much trufflicious food. Clarke’s is definitely a great choice for special occasions….it just might break the bank a little!www.clarkesofnorthbeach.com.au/ Price: $$$$$ (Basic degustation $120 including cheese course and Manjimup truffle, supplementary courses an additional $15/20 each) Food: 8.5/10 (exquisitely prepared, need to provide bread/crackers for us GF-ers) Service: 4.5/5 (attentive without intrusion) Ambience: 4/5 (don’t judge a book, enter to find a warm, unpretentious atmosphere) Drinks: N/A (BYO – I tried to cater for the ranging wine palates of the group, starting with Perrier Jouët, then Millbrook Viognier 2009 and ending on Moss Wood Cab Sav 2009) Total: 17/2