Not everyone marries their best friend and I am so grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity to be one of those lucky ones. Whilst our life is by no means perfect, for the major things we are invariably on the same page. Where we want to live. Our love for animals. Our passion for fine food. Particular black truffles and chocolate. Our core values. And, our love for staying at luxury lodges and hotels! 😉
For our Christmas present to each other we chose to forgo buying each other materialistic stuff, I mean who really needs stuff? We both work and play hard, sometimes too much so, such that our best gift to each other is just spending quality time together. I was once again reminded that I married my soul mate when he agreed without hesitation to go stay at the Lake House in Daylesford for a couple of nights squeezed in between our family Christmas in Melbourne and a friend’s wedding on New Year.
We booked a Luxury Package for two nights in a waterfront suite. Our package included breakfast and dinner for both nights and some spa treatments to enjoy together.
Our room overlooked the lagoon and the shores of Lake Daylesford and facilitated complete relaxation with a very comfortable king sized bed, sofa and armchairs. There were a pair of sunbeds out on our deck however the weather was scorching hot and no sane person would have basked in that heat.
There was a bottle of chilled complimentary champagne ready for us on arrival. The minibar was stocked with a small number of locally sourced drinks and nibbles, Salus Spa’s own sparkling mineral water and a Nespresso coffee machine. Unlike some of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, the minibar was not included as part of our stay. Considering the price was comparative with other Lodges, it would have been a nice touch if it was.
The bathroom was spacious with a dual shower, double spa bath and heated bathroom floors. There was a modest sized flat screen television, an iPod docking station to play our tunes and free in room Wi-Fi access.
Every evening between 6 pm to 8.30 pm cocktails are served in the Argyle Library along with some complementary canapés. I was hoping that the canapés would keep coming for as long as we ordered drinks however we quickly learnt that you get one round of delicious canapés and then that is it.
I am guessing they expect you to move through into the restaurant at that point. Nobody ever seems to understand that our appetites are not those of normal people!
After enjoying a round of nibbles and a few more rounds of Campari spritzers, we headed out for a walk around the Lake before returning to our suite for dinner. There are two Lakes to walk around each taking less than half an hour on a shaded and pretty path.
Our package included an in-room supper for two on the first evening with two glasses of house wine. We weren’t expecting such a feast to arrive and this seemed to make up for the feeling of wanting more of those canapés earlier on.
Everything was adapted to be gluten free including gluten free bread and crackers. There was creamy pea soup, an antipasto platter, a cheese platter and plate of fresh fruit.
Breakfast is included for both mornings of our stay and consisted of a continental buffet in addition to a choice of a main dish from their a la carte menu.
The buffet had an array of freshly baked pastries, sliced meats and cheeses with a few gluten free and vegetarian options.
For my main dish I ordered the house baked beans with goats cheese, wilted spinach and poached eggs on gluten free toast.
The beans had wonderful depth of flavour but sadly the gluten free toast let the dish down being quite tasteless and crumbly in texture.
We had minimal plans for our weekend, in fact I was hoping to do very little other than relax but as is always the case with us we cannot help but do a little exploring. The Daylesford Sunday Market operates each Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm and contains a wide range of stalls selling all sorts of antique bric-a-brac, locally grown produce, clothing and crafts. We already had suitcase filled with loot from Christmas so I made do with purchasing a refreshing beetroot, carrot and ginger juice. Oh, and I bought a book about cats
We also visited Lavandula, a Swiss Italian lavender farm. It was a melting 40 degrees Celsius and we lingered only long enough to smell the fragrant flowers, scull a lavender lemonade in the shade and then retreat back to our air-conditioned car.
For our second evening at Lake House, our package included an eight course degustation with matched wines in the restaurant. We started the evening off again in the Library with some canapés before taking a seat by one of the large windows to watch the reflections of the setting sun across the Lake.
Our degustation took us on a journey using local seasonal food some of which is harvested from their own gardens. This is a restaurant that has repeatedly earned two hats and as our dishes started to roll out I began to see why.
Our amuse bouche consisted of a mouthful of veal tartare and mojama which is a salt cured tuna. This was served with some bonito aioli on a nori crisp so light it dissolved on the tongue like a wafer.
Our second course of spanner crab and white fish sashimi had a Nobu-esque twist with the addition of jalapenos and an elegant dollop of green gazpacho. Some tapioca pearls on the side added another element of texture.
The next course was a pasta dish which meant I received something different in replacement. The Boy’s pasta was a bug agnolotti, which are similar to ravioli. It was served with house made kimchi butter emulsion and crisp shallots.
My gluten free alternative was some mixed tempura served with the kimchi. I was so chuffed that they could do the tempura gluten free as this is so commonly off the menu for me. It was crispy and light and the kimchi had a decent kick to it.
The next dish was inspired by Chef Alla’s Russian heritage and we were told that a variation of this dish is always on the menu. Smoked eel is considered a delicacy and features in many Russian dishes.
The eel was sourced from the Victoria based Skipton eel factory. Wrapped in pancetta the smoked eel was paired with some locally grown organic beets and served alongside a toothsome mustard crème fraiche. This was one of my favourite dishes of the evening.
The next dish was some addictive little morsels of tempura quail wrapped in nori.
They were accompanied by dollops of umeboshi puree, coriander puree, wasabi mayonnaise and the cutest coriander flowers.
Our final main dish was locally sourced pasture fed beef; cooked carefully and slowly such that it had the consistency of melting butter. The hearty flavours of the beef had an added surprise of some chilli and togarashi for an interesting kick.
Pre-dessert consisted of a platter named “Playtime”. This consisted of a number of little palate cleansers including a strawberry compote with white chocolate sorbet and strawberry granita, a “plum shot” and blackcurrant marshmallow lollipops.
For our final course, the Boy and I had different dishes as mine had to be adapted to be gluten free. The Boy’s “Summer Ramble” was a garden of gorgeous components and I was gutted there was no more natural light for a stunning photo. His dish had pistachio sponge, almond praline, almond milk pannacotta, honey ice cream, almond tuille chocolate bark berries AND honey comb….all on one plate. It looked heavenly and despite all the different elements it didn’t taste over complicated or flamboyant.
I could have nearly developed a case of food envy if it wasn’t for my rich peanut butter parfait. It was topped with sesame ganache, peanut praline and sesame ice cream. A perfectly balanced blob of lemon curd added a hint of acidity and a black sesame tuille gave it some crunch and texture.
We had such a relaxing stay at Lake House in Daylesford giving the perfect amount of “us” time that we needed together. Having stayed in a number of Luxury Lodges around Australia now, I would have liked to have seen a bit more luxury in our rooms to justify the room price and feel that in these sort of “never want to leave” styled lodges a complementary minibar can encourage you to really enjoy your accommodation more.
We found the Spa to be of a high quality and actually went back for a second massage in the couple’s room. The restaurant is well deserved of its Good Food Guide Hats and is worth a visit even without a stay in the Lodge. Their wine list is enough to impress my father which is saying something and I heart how they focus on local and seasonal produce.
Disclaimer: Chompchomp and the Boy paid in full for a Lake House Luxury Package for $1200/night. This package included two night accommodation in a Waterfront Suite, light supper for the first evening and a degustation with matched wine on the second night, a full breakfast each morning and a massage and facial at Salus Spa.
4 King Street, Daylesford, Victoria 3460 | www.lakehouse.com.au
Being gluten free and having a mostly vegetarian husband, Korean restaurants are not usually our type of thing. From my experience it is a type of cuisine that tends to use marinades containing gluten and will also have a lot of meat based dishes. At the beginning of the year I was invited to visit The Gaya in Applecross where I was amazed at the number of gluten free options on their menu. I got so excited I nearly ordered everything and struggled to sleep that night as I had eaten way too much. It was a fabulous night out with the food exceeding our expectations in both its presentation and taste. We both agreed we should make plans to return but never actually got around to doing it. Six months later Gaya’s Head Chef Leo invited me to return back to his restaurant to try a few of his new dishes.
In contrast to our previous visit, the restaurant was much busier with most tables booked and the lights dimmed to create a more ambient atmosphere. I scanned over the menu and noted there were still a reasonable number of gluten free dishes available however a few that were previously gluten free were no longer so including the arancini. I enquired to Leo the reason for this and he informed me that he has had difficulty obtaining gluten free panko crumbs. Such a shame as his arancini were really good! Never mind, we were here to try the new dishes and not stuff our faces with favourites of the past!
Our first dish was the grilled tofu with homemade kimchi. The tofu was silken soft with the texture of egg custard. The kimchi was mild without too much kick in it much to the relief of the Boy who can get quite grumpy if I order spicy food that he cannot eat.
Our second starter was yook jijimi, a type of beef pancake. Thin slices of beef coated in glutinous rice flour and egg were fried and served with Korean garlic chives, crispy fried enoki mushrooms and roasted pine nut salt. In traditional Korean herbal medicine garlic chives are commonly used for a variety of benefits. Chef Leo loves adding them to many of his dishes to help give his customers “good health”.
For this visit to Gaya I managed to show much greater self-control and only ordered us three starters instead of the five that we ate last time. Our third starter was the beef brisket salad. Leo informed me that brisket is a popular cut of meat used in Korea however he has discovered it isn’t one commonly sold in Perth. He has managed to source his brisket from a specialised local Korean butcher. The brisket was sliced and lightly grilled to give a strangely buttery texture due to its high fat content. It was served with a mixed salad of mesclun leaves, tomato and cucumber. As the Boy doesn’t really eat much meat he left this one for me to enjoy.
To accompany our main meals we once again each received the complimentary side dish. This dish changes most evenings so regular customers won’t get the same dish twice. This night we were served Korean meatball with chopped tofu and vegetable, white kimchi and radish kimchi.
The Boy got little choice with selecting his meals as it was my goal was to try to order anything on the menu that fitted my two criteria; one that it was gluten free, and two that it was a new, yet to be tried dish. For our first main I ordered the grilled salmon.
The thick salmon steak had been marinated in yuzu allowing the flavours to penetrate right through the fillet. I prefer my salmon to be served rare and it was cooked a little bit past this point however still remained quite soft and flaky.
It accompanied a warm stack of vegetables including zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant and enoki mushrooms with a polite sized ball of sticky coconut rice. The dish was an interesting balance of sweet and citrus ending with a spicy finish from the Korean chilli sauce drizzled over the top. The fusion of more Western styled vegetables with the remaining Korean components worked well to my relatively untrained palate.
Our second dish was the samgyetang; a type of ginseng chicken soup. Samgyetang is a dish commonly served in Korean during summer as it is claimed to help replenish the body with nutrients lost through sweating. A whole baby chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, red dates, garlic and ginger. Traditionally a number of medicinal herbs are also added to the broth.
Whilst this appeared to be a simple bowl of chicken soup, once I sipped the broth I realised what care had been taken in its preparation as the flavours were very nourishing and heart-warming. Whilst I struggled to imagine drinking this soup in the heat of summertime, I could easily picture myself snuggled up to the cats, sick in bed with the flu whilst sipping on this delicious medicine to aid my recovery.
As an interlude whilst we made room for dessert, we were given the second complementary dish of the evening. It was a serve of small shortbread-like biscuits that I correctly presumed not to be gluten free and left them for the Boy to nibble on. He told me the biscuit was nothing particularly special but I thought it was a nice touch for customers to receive something extra for free.
For dessert I caved and ordered the Gaya Ho-tuck, one of my favourites from our previous visit. Ho-tuck is a type of Korean pancake that is served by street food vendors in Korea. They consist of small pancakes made with glutinous rice flour and stuffed with brown sugar, sunflower seeds, peanuts and pine nuts before being deep-fried. The ho-tuck are then dusted in cinnamon and sugar before being torched to caramelise before serving. Not something I would recommended if you have a heart problem or diabetes, but for the rest of us a delightful treat.
The new dessert on the menu is the Gaya’s homemade Gold Pave chocolates. Three different flavours of homemade chocolates topped with flamboyant gold flakes certainly made a sparking bright end to the night. The three flavours were cacao, matcha and mixed grain.
The cacao and matcha flavours were gluten free but the mixed grain contained barley along with rice, bean, sesame and adlay (a type of millet). Leo advised me that he is likely to remove the barley from this in the future to make this third chocolate gluten free like the others.
It was wonderful to return to the Gaya once again and see that Chef Leo and his team’s hard work is paying off with a fully booked restaurant, an interesting and changing menu and very affordable dishes.The Gaya Applecross Shop 3 & 4, 3 Kearns Crescent, Ardross WA | (08) 9364 8887 | www.the-gaya.com Chompchomp dined as a guest of The Gaya Applecross. As it is too hard to be 100% subjective with a complementary meal I will refrain from giving a review or score and will purely just document my experience.
My past experience of Korean food has been limited to the typical BBQ style restaurants that have been spotted around Perth for years. As most of these places heavily marinate their meats in soy based sauces I have avoided them because I presumed my gluten free options would be limited. When I received an invitation from Head Chef Leo to dine at his new Korean restaurant The Gaya Applecross, I came very close to dismissing this offer as a waste of my time. Luckily before doing so, I had a quick look at their menu and was blown away to see not only were there many gluten free options but over 80% of the menu was in fact gluten free!
The Gaya Applecross is tucked away in a cluster of restaurants on Kearns Crescent off Riseley Street in Ardross. We visited them on a week night and arrived to find the higgledy piggledy parking area packed to the brim. I would dread to see how busy it looks on the weekend. There was a surprising hive of activity about and on a brief glance into some of the other restaurants I noticed that they all looked relatively full of customers. The Gaya is BYO which allowed us to bring one of the many bottles of wine we recently splurged on during our recent two Margaret River trips. We chose a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot from Clairault Winery as I figured its medium bodied flavour and subtle oak would be a fair match to the very beef orientated menu.
Before ordering we were given a complementary serve of rice pancake. I noticed that other tables around me also received this complementary dish so this freebie is standard for all customers. With a thin crisp exterior and a chewy soft centre these triangular nibbles were a perfect teaser for what was to come next.
After ordering a succession of starter dishes, our food soon began coming out one by one and was always presented with a warming smile. The salmon gravlax was an interesting fusion of Korean and European ingredients. Leo informed me they marinate the fish for at least 48 hours in a mixture of gin and plum juice. Topped with tobiko-laced mayo and capers and nestled between spoonfuls of wakame each mouthful was extremely rich in flavour.
Being gluten free, it is not often that I get to enjoy arancini balls. The standard varieties of these Italian canapés are generally crumbed in wheat flour meaning it’s off the menu for me. Of the few I have had gluten free; it seems that it is hard to achieve the classic hard crunchy shell coupled with a creamy cheesy risotto centre. For these arancini, Chef Leo mastered getting the all-important textures right despite restricting himself to only using gluten free flours. I loved the unusual mix of Italian and Korean flavours of basil pesto risotto rice, pan-fried kimchi and dollops of sweet berry sauce. If we hadn’t already ordered so much food I could have eaten a couple more.
Luckily I didn’t because I had already gotten a little carried away and ordered a LOT of the gluten free starters already. In my defence, I am not used to visiting Asian restaurants and being so spoilt for choice. The next starter we tried was the beef cream roll which was another Westernised version of a Korean cold beef roll salad. Thinly sliced, marinated beef was wrapped carefully around spears of asparagus, capsicum, cucumber, enoki mushrooms and cream cheese and topped with crisp garlic chips.
Japchae is a traditional Korean street food made of sweet potato noodles stir fired in sesame oil with various vegetables and sometimes also beef. The Gaya presented this dish a little differently by wrapping the noodles along with beef, carrot and mushroom in rice paper and then re-frying them to make them into some sort of fat dumpling.
Despite their reasonable size they were still easy to eat and really tasty. This was one of my favourite starters.
After the excitement of the previous starters, the fish jijimi was probably my least favourite entrée. This dish consisted of fillets of cod lightly battered in glutinous rice flour and served with soy mayo. The fish was light and fluffy but the dish lack the punchy originality that was present in all our previous offerings.
I was nearly at full capacity by this point having shared no less than six starters and half a bottle of wine. I could have easily got away with squeezing in a shared main and dessert with the Boy but he had a keen appetite and insisted on ordering his own main. While agonising over our choices, we were given another complementary little dish as a palate cleanser. The items on this dish are changed regularly to keep it interesting so don’t expect to be served the same as me if you visit. We received some spicy tomato, pickled cabbage with apple and a ball of grated cooked sweet potato.
There weren’t any vegetarian main options for the Boy to choose from and as he isn’t a totally strict vegetarian he opted for the “36 Pork”. Rather than serving a pork crackling-encrusted style of porky dish that features on so many menus both Asian and Western; the Gaya do things a little different. The whole pork belly is marinated for 12 hours before being cooked sous-vide for a further 24 hours. The end result is near translucent, delicate pork flesh that is as soft as jelly. It was paired with sweet potato puree, glazed apple and smears of fermented soy bean paste. I hadn’t tried soy bean paste before however I have since learnt that it is one of the most commonly used condiments in authentic Korean cuisine.
The dish was topped with roasted garlic chips and a Korean chive salad. Korean chives are shorter and thicker than those found in Western dishes and are added to many Korean dishes for their claimed health properties. Traditional Korean herbal medicine will use chives for strengthening liver function, improving circulation, relieving back pain and treating colds and other ailments. Leo explained that he includes the chives in his dishes in order to provide his customers with these health benefits.
I ordered the “TTeokgalbi”, a dish taken from the Korean Royal court cuisine that is centred on beef rib patties. The meat from beef spare ribs is minced and marinated before being grilled on the hot plate. It was served with a variety of different yet interesting elements including some chewy, cinnamon dusted rice cakes that somewhat reminded me of the honey puffs we used to buy from the Greek stall as a child in the Adelaide Centre Markets.
Other elements in my TTeokgalbi included a scoop of smooth, creamy yoghurt potato salad and some rubbery pickled oyster mushrooms. The pickled mushrooms were stuffed with cucumber and capsicum and I nearly mistook them for some sort of dumpling. They had a strong sour taste that wasn’t entirely unpleasant and balanced the sweet and spicy elements nicely. The whole unusual creation was topped with a sunny side up fried egg. All the different components in my dish certainly kept me amused however I did feel the beef didn’t taste any more remarkable than any other well-made patty I’ve had.
On the home straight and truly stretched at the seams we had another look at the menu to order one dessert each. This really was gluttony in its extreme. All the dessert options were gluten free so we were free to share each other’s selections. I ordered the “Gaya Ho-Tuck” which was an elegant version of a type of pancake sold by street food vendors in Korea.
These small round nuggets are stuffed with brown sugar, sunflower seeds, peanuts and pine nuts and then deep fried. Before serving they are dusted with cinnamon and more sugar and torched to caramelise the surface to a near black colour. Soft and fluffy on the outside yet chewy, nearly gooey on the inside these were right up my alley and got snuffled up pretty quickly.
I had already fallen in love with the look of the “Red Misu” thanks to a number of fellow blogger’s beautiful photos so I encouraged the Boy to order himself this instead of his usual ice cream. This curious little dish is Chef Leo’s take on tiramisu with a neat little Korean twist. The sponge was still deeply seeped in Baileys and coffee as one would expect for a tiramisu but there was the surprise element of added red bean paste. The dessert was carefully presented in a miniature pot complete with chocolate soil and pebbles. Some may say this dish was simply too adorable to eat but its cuteness didn’t stop either of us further stuffing our faces despite our bulging waistlines.
I am always suspicious to make a conclusion about a restaurant on the basis of a free meal as the chef knows in advance he is under scrutiny. However looking around the fairly busy dining room I could see plenty of happy customers enjoying their paid experience.
The Gaya offers something a bit different to your standard sizzling Korean restaurant with softly spoken, efficient service, oodles of gluten free options and creative, carefully presented food. Add to that it’s BYO licence and you can be sure I will be bringing my friends back here for a satisfying but inexpensive night out.The Gaya Applecross Shop 3 & 4, 3 Kearns Crescent, Ardross WA | (08) 9364 8887 | www.the-gaya.com Chompchomp dined as a guest of The Gaya Applecross. As it is too difficult to be 100% subjective with a complementary meal I will refrain from giving a review or score and this is purely just a documentation of my experience.
It was only about six weeks ago that the Boy took me down to Margaret River on a prescribed weekend of rest. We wined, dined and came back as fresh as daisies albeit slightly rounder in shape. It was a comparatively unplanned and impromptu trip which is quite out of character for me and I love that the Boy can have this sort of influence on me. I had barely finished writing up all my blog posts from the trip when it was time to head back for Gourmet Escape.
For my non-Western Australians readers; Gourmet Escape is a three day food and wine festival held in Margaret River in November each year. Famous chefs from around the world join along including Heston Blumenthal, Harold McGee, Rick Stein, Adriano Zumbo, Hadleigh Troy, Guillaume Brahimi, Matt Stone, Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry to name a just few!
We had a full weekend planned with different events to attend on each day in addition to a two-day pass to the Gourmet Village. The Gourmet Village is held on the spacious grounds at Leeuwin Estate and the whole day is filled with activities, classes, shows and stalls offering wine and food from all around Western Australia. It was a wonderful way to showcase what a richly diverse State we live in and how lucky we are to have such a strong focus on quality produce.
Basic general admission tickets to the Village cost $38 per adult. We opted for premium tickets for $64 which also included 4 “GEMs”. GEMs are your village currency each costing $7 and most items to eat or drink cost one GEM. Despite buying some extra GEMS in advance we managed to guzzle our way through nearly 20 GEMS on the first day and had to buy more from one of the GEMs sellers that can be found walking through the crowd. There were also outlets in the Village selling GEMS but the queues for these were reasonably long.
The Classroom bar in North Perth set up their own Classroom Cocktail Club were you could buy their famous N2 espresso martinis for one GEM. For my review on this signature drink read my review here. The Boy missed out coming along to my cocktail Master class because he isn’t a blogger so we made a bee line as soon as we arrived to get him one to try!
One of my favourite dishes for the day was The Studio Bistro’s Butterfield beef fillet, cooked rare with a sumptuous dark sear on the surface, served with a melting dollop of decadent Café de Paris and some hand cut Royal Blue chips. I actually went back for seconds on day two! It definitely has inspired me to pay them a visit next time I’m in Yallingup. My other most enjoyable dish was the freshly shucked Pacific oysters at 34 Degrees Blue’s stall. These guys got slurped up in a flash before I even thought of snapping a picture. Oysters are best shucked right before serving as they taste completely different when served freshly shucked. I am glad we have our own oyster shucker extraordinaire in our family; namely my Dad!
Some of the presentations were of particular interest, the Boy and I loved Matt Stone’s demonstration on cooking with insects. The Boy is a great lover of eating these crunchy critters and he reminded me of the damage to the environment that farming my luscious, just devoured beef would have caused. I guarantee he would have been happier if there was a stall that he could have bought me a bag of crickets from!
The Southern Forest region is one that is lesser known to interstate and overseas tourists however it is also an area rich in world class produce, luscious forests and fine wines. This is the region in Western Australia where black truffles are grown commercially. The Southern Forests Food Council are committed to spreading awareness of the value of this region as a foodie’s mecca and were selling a variety of fresh and prepared produce including free samples of trufflicious risotto.
There were a number of gluten free options spotted around the Village and every time I saw something that I could eat I felt compelled to buy some. A little hedonistic I know and suffice to say I suffered for my overindulgence for several days afterwards!
As our second day in the Village drew to a close we had to decide how to spend our last three GEMs. We agreed on a cup of Matso’s Mango beer for the Boy, a glass of Snake + Herring ‘Corduroy’ Single Vineyard Karridale Chardonnay for me and a bowl to share of kimchi and vermicelli noodle salad topped with a couple of grilled Augusta whiting fillets courtesy of Cullen Wines. Cullen Winery are very focussed on sustainability and their impact on the environment, operating a biodynamic winery that is carbon neutral. Their restaurant specialises in using organic and local produce and is a must to visit if you are in the region. They have loads of vego and gluten free options. See my review for Cullen Wines here.
Gourmet Escape was a fabulous foodie weekend away and we hope to be able to attend for many years to come. We enjoyed a wonderful mix of satellite events along with visiting the Village although next year I think one day at the Village will suffice. This will leave more room in my stomach for attending one of the beach BBQs which I believe were incredible.
The Studio Bistro, Yallingup WA
Prevali Wines, 99 Mitchell Drive, Prevelly, WA 6285
Leeuwin Estate, Stevens Road, Margaret River, WA 6285
The Apple Daily Bar & Eating House, 125 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000
Ole Paella Catering
Cullen Wines, Lot 4323 Caves Road, Margaret River, WA 6284
There are a lot of things I love about being a food blogger. Despite what some of you may think there is much more to blogging than just eating, drinking, photographing and writing about food. There exists a strong sense of community amongst us, not just locally but across the nation and in some cases around the world. Friendships are easily formed and due to our heavy involvement in social media these are friendships that are relatively easy to maintain! I wish I had enough time in my day to be able to read more food blogs however in a time poor world I find myself having to narrow it down to reading those blogs that I have the strongest connection with.
In the months before I started blogging back in late 2011 I started following a handful of blogs that I found interesting. One of these blogs was Weny’s blog Weny Wonders Why and his blog remains one of those I still manage to keep up with today. We share very similar taste in restaurants and have been known to unintentionally visit the same restaurant in the space of one week and only find out as we simultaneously post our own reviews. Despite communicating regularly to each other via our blogs, we only very recently met face to face for the first time at the Accento Italian Cooking Class Media Launch in May this year.
A few weeks later, Weny kindly invited me along with a couple of other Perth food bloggers to join him for a Chinese Banquet at Shun Fung down on Barrack Street jetty. I have very fond memories of Shun Fung. Nearly 15 years ago when the Boy and I first started dating the bulk of our weekends were spent partying and clubbing. Back then none of our friends at the time were foodies and would have never considered spending their money on expensive restaurants. The Boy and I felt differently and his love for fine dining was an immediate point of connection for the two of us; a match made in gastronomic heaven! In those days Shun Fung was well known for serving top-notch Chinese cuisine and we went there for our very first fancy dining experience. Together we tried sea cucumber, jelly fish and all sorts of other interesting Chinese delicacies. Unfortunately since those heady heydays, while Perth’s food scene grows from strength to strength Shun Fung has suffered a steady decline in both its reputation and patronage.
Shun Fung’s owner Eva has decided that it’s time to bite the bullet and is investing her time and money to get Shun Fung back to its former glory. She has hired new chefs who have been busy redesigning the menu and will be serving dishes from all the provinces of China rather than just one region. It was intriguing to learn that Shun Fung is actually part of a chain of around 30 restaurants located in China. Some of these are massive establishments having up to 200 chefs working at one time. Perth’s Shun Fung is their only venue here in Australia. Our dining experience that follows is an example of what you can order as part of a $100 per person banquet meal.
I am used to the fact that Chinese food is rarely gluten free as the wide spread prevalence of soy and wheat flour makes choosing suitable dishes hard so I find I tend to avoid dining out at Chinese Restaurants. After taking my seat at the banquet table I unrolled the menu and was very impressed to see that the kitchen was going to significant effort to design a separate gluten free banquet especially for me. I wasn’t expecting such care and attention and was very grateful.
For the rest of the table who could eat gluten there were four appetisers; green chilli in special sauce, ruccola salad, spicy kimchi in Chinese Style and marinated duck wings. Whilst I was not able to try these dishes I was told the ruccola salad was light and refreshing on the palate and the marinated duck wings were very tender and slightly sweet.
My gluten free appetiser was some freshly grilled soft squid with a bean shoot salad and some slices of tomato. Our host recommended that I place a piece of tomato and squid in my mouth as the same time to maximise the flavours. Although it sounded like a curious thing to do it turned out to be good advice. Sometime the simplest combinations of flavours can be surprisingly exciting.
The three season entrée platter was quite a magnificent sight. In Chinese cuisine there are considered to be three important characteristics; aroma, taste and colour. This platter was vibrantly decorated with brightly coloured vegetables and flowers achieving a successful round of “oohs” and “ahhs” across the banquet room. Carefully placed on the platter were golden radish balls, chilli and salt mini dried fish and backed oysters with foie gras sauce.
Golden radish balls are a bit of a misnomer as I believe these tend to contain mainly seafood which is finely chopped and then deep fried. I believe these balls were actually the highlight of the platter for many. The chilli and salt mini dried fish looked like whitebait fries and listening to the audible crunch coming from either side of me they were obviously perfectly crispy! Although the Boy isn’t that big on oysters he did comment to me that they were delicious and creamy.
As everyone started to tuck into their entrees my gluten free alternatives arrived. I was delighted to receive some super fresh oysters with some fresh lime and a gorgeous little lettuce cup of sang choy bow. My sang choy bow had a great nutty texture and was packed full of seafood.
Our next course was the abalone soup. I am fascinated by how much flavour can be found in clear Chinese broths. Superior soup always looks so deceptively watery but manages to impart such complexity of flavours. This is brought about by careful selection of ingredients including chicken, Jinhua ham (Chinese dry cured ham that is similar to Spanish Iberico), pork, pork bones, dried anchovy and/or dried scallops. This superior soup was smooth and delicate with rich unami flavours.
With all this food it was hard to believe we hadn’t even started our mains yet. Thank goodness I planned ahead and wore my stretchy dress! Our first main dish was the Coral Trout which was prepared in two styles. The first preparation was gluten free. Soft flakes of steamed trout with medallions of slippery shiitake mushrooms and a scattering of dried Goji berries. The Goji berries introduced a tart flavour to the otherwise delicate and sweet tropical fish. A gorgeous dish. For the second preparation the trout was lightly battered and pan fried. Not being gluten free I didn’t try this style.
As we finished off our fish our host entered the banquet room carrying sizzling stones topped with juicy cubes of Wagyu beef. I had to presume the meat was marinated in soy because I was advised not to eat it and given my own individual serve. My portion of Wagyu was equivalent to several portions for the others and I could feel a number of pairs of eyes staring at my plate longingly. Only the Boy was game enough to try and steal a piece.
The next dishes of honey and mustard king prawns, Szechuan spicy chicken and braised king oyster mushrooms with shallots all contained gluten and so it became my turn to gaze longing at everyone else’s plates until my next alternative dish arrived.
I didn’t have to wait long and was soon presented with a large King prawn served “backed” like how they do it in Thailand. It was flavoured with “special sauce” which has is a slightly sweet, slightly salty sauce is made from garlic, ginger, Chinese rice wine, oyster sauce, sesame oil, honey and white pepper. The prawn flesh pulled effortless out of its shelled and before finding its way very quickly to my mouth!
My next special gluten free dishes included mixed mushrooms in superior sauce and some sizzling runner beans. The beans were very moreish and briny which contrasted nicely with the more delicate flavours of the soup. While the rest of the table tucked into the Dim Sum platter, to finish off my meal the hostess brought me a bowl of seafood fried rice with egg yolk sauce. It was a lovely gesture but in all honesty I didn’t really need any more food!
For desserts, there were three options to choose from; mixed sweet beans with ice cream, deep fried ice cream or the red bean pancake with ice cream. I got a pang of nostalgia when I saw red bean pancake on the menu. Many years ago when we used to frequent Shun Fung, the red bean pancake was one of my absolute favourites. Those days of carefree gluten eating are well and truly over for me! Sigh!
For my gluten free dessert I received some freshly baked sweet yam cakes. Eva informed the kitchen only just baked them that day. These yummy little dumpling-like cakes are made from rice flour and taro. I love the gluggy texture of Asian style cakes and I soon got over missing out on the red bean pancake as I chowed down a couple of these beauties.
I am so hopeful that Shun Fung’s return it’s slumber will be successful. Our banquet evening reminded me how much we adored this place and knowing they are able to cater for gluten free diners is a huge plus in my books. The banquet provided a huge amount of food for $100 a head and we all rolled out of there bursting at the seams. Thank you once again Weny, Eva and all the staff for providing us with such an enjoyable evening.Shun Fung on the River Old Perth Port, Barrack Square, Perth WA 6000 | 08 9221 1868 | http://www.shunfung.com.au/
Chompchomp dined as a guest of Shun Fung. As a result I will not give a score on this dining experience as it is too hard to be 100% subjective when the meal is complementary.