It had just ticked past 11AM on a Thursday morning and after fumbling around for my phone, I realised that the name of one local Perth restaurant had studded line after line of my notification centre. I don't think an Urbanspoon offer had sold out faster, once the food enthused citizens of Perth had realised that No. 4 Blake Street would be offering 50% off their opulent degustation menu. That very same week, I had left a memo for myself to book a degustation for M's visit to Perth - the timing couldn't be more perfect! I would have happily paid the full price to experience No. 4 at night after my impressive breakfast and lunch experiences, but this seemed fated to occur. Thankfully, I was awake bright and early which enabled me to score a reservation as soon as the offer was realised after finding out about it through email. I know that a few of my friends had missed out, with the offers being completely sold out by midday.
What makes this a double degustation is that both M and I ended up attending No. 4 for dinner two weeks in a row; once as an anniversary dinner and again the following week with my cousin YH and our wine enthusiast friend, Tree. Unfortunately, when Tree made the reservation she had just missed out on the Urbanspoon offer. No. 4's degustation dinner is normally priced at $90 per person, not including drinks - for those who claimed the offer in time, they were able to enjoy the same at a very affordable $45 per person.
For readers who have stuck with me since the beginning of my time here, you'll know that my degustation posts are especially long and usually comprise of a lot of photos. I like to take my time when I'm talking about degustation meals; there's a lot to taste, observe, feel and note down and this time, I really did have take some brief notes in between courses! It was a blessing in disguise when I forget my camera's SD card the first time around - M and I really got to enjoy each other's company throughout the six course meal instead of having to "photoshoot" around. She's a great sport whenever I'm at restaurants and most of you will know that it was her that actually pushed me to get blogging in the first place - ever since, she has been a great little "plate shuffling" assistant and definitely deserved this night off!
The lighting at No. 4 is perfect for romantic dinners and cosy conversations, but maybe not so great for food photography. Admittedly, these won't be the sexiest photos you'll ever see on dinewhitme.com but in these circumstances, there's only so many toggles you can play with before a flash is absolutely necessary. I do have quite firm beliefs as a food writer and have no qualms with getting out of my seat if necessary to take a photo. However, I believe that my rights as either a paying consumer or an invited blogger extends only to photographing my own table's food and my surroundings. In such an intimate setting, I tried my very best not to disturb my fellow diners and bringing the flash out would have been complete overkill!
Booze and Breads
"All the world's a stage, and all the food and wine mere players." After unscrolling the menu before us, on came the soiree of fancy terminology and unexpected pairings. Although at first glance it may appear like there are only 3 courses in their menu, in actually, you get six courses, including the Amuse Bouche, Al Dente (pasta course) and the Palate Cleanser.
Our resident wino, Tree got to work on selecting a bottle for the table and we debated on a few before No. 4's sommelier, Romain Bastianel set us to the beat of D'Arenberg's The Laughing Magpie (2004, Shiraz Voigner). Tree did specifically say that we weren't looking to try Shiraz tonight, but the Laughing Magpie was opened and poured before us regardless. Personally, I'm a lot less picky about wines and could go without it all together but I can see how this style of wine suggestion may not work for everyone. By the time our main course came, the wine had decanted and even I - the resident non-wine drinker found it to be very pleasant. For me, it's commendable when a sommelier has that much faith in a product, however we'd all be singing a very different song had the wine gone down badly, especially after having to let it breathe for half the meal.
The first time M and I came around, a slightly different plate of butter was set before our table, featuring cultured butter, lavender butter and also the above orange butter. I found the cultured butter to be my favourite first time around, closely followed by the orange. I love restaurants that make their own butter; it's that extra step of care that I really appreciate as a customer. The truffle and caviar won my heart the second time around - I loved how the salty caviar popped alongside the earthy, truffle infused butter. Warm olive bread was passed around the table, which had a beautifully crust crust and was incredibly aromatic.
Beef tenderloin seems to be a recurring theme at No. 4. The week before, it had been dressed in a celeriac puree with orange and fennel. I plunged my golden nugget of beef tenderloin into the turnip foam like a marshmallow in a mocha, before taking my first mouthful. The amuse bouche was a touch on the salty side, which is what I discovered across both of my visits. The kitchen staff do get a little salt happy on a few of the courses, which is a shame as it does spoil the delicate flavours that have obviously been so carefully thought out and put together.
This was my entree on our first visit; where I found the combination of tender yabbies and blood sausage to not exactly be to my taste. It's a very interesting dish, which requires just enough of the blood orange to balance out the earthy blood sausage. M loved it so much that on our second visit, she chose this for her entree instead of the new season asparagus dish that she'd been eyeing the week before.
Tree took a little coaxing when it came to settling on the rabbit entree; I tried really hard to convince her to give it a shot and we ended up both being chuffed by the end of it. It's such a beautiful entree, especially with regards to the varying "textures of peas" which stood out amongst the intricate cuts of pink rabbit. Of all the entrees (except for the Asparagus, which we never got to try!) this was the most well executed in both taste and presentation.
I love the use of fresh apple with anything, especially when used creatively and beyond just being paired with pork. Squab falls under the same category as venison, lamb and kangaroo for me and I'm sure many other diners; sacrilegious if overcooked. The squab was perfectly cooked; tender, amongst the rich sauce and paired well with one of my faovurite grains, green buckwheat.
This is probably not something you'd expect when "pie" is advertised on the menu but if there's anything that I've learnt from fine dining, it's to expect baby food sized portions, that are plated like contemporary art.
As far as ticking all the boxes go, I think this dish did it for me. The only thing that didn't take my fancy were the highly alcoholic tasting cubes of jelly - I had one completely on it's own and boy was it strong! The runny quail yolk, fresh venison, beautiful seasonings and even that little bit of pastry left me feeling greatly satisfied and excited for the next course!
AL DENTE - PASTA COURSE
My first (and so far, only) trip to Italy took place about 5 years ago now. I vividly remember beautiful six course suppers in Florence that always featured delicious pastas; it was the first city that I truly dispelled my previously picky eating habits in. I enthusiastically slurped up tomato-based pasta sauces which I had sworn off as a kid and ate rabbit for the first time.
The Al Dente course at No. 4 was one that I was highly anticipating and was elated to see gnocchi in a beautiful slow cooked rabbit braise placed on the table. The rabbit was so incredibly tender and I enjoyed this course very much, except for the fact that the heavy-handed salt sprinkling seemed to strike again.
The week after, the delectable slow cooked rabbit was replaced with fresh spanner crab, which also accompanied tomato sauce based gnocchi. However, this gnocchi disintegrated upon my first bite, a bit like papier mâché and was a far cry from the perfect al dente that I experienced last week. I had a try of everybody else's around the table and have to say that this course held the most inconsistency. The quality of the pasta was different within the week and amongst a table of four, we had two under seasoned gnocchi, one that was just right and one that was as overbearingly seasoned as our first try.
If given the chance, I'd still try my luck with this dish again - when No. 4 get their gnocchi right, they really get it so perfectly right and it's a shame that we didn't get to experience it the second time around.
If there was one dish that stood out as dish of the night, it was the seafood main course. There was deep fried elements, pate and a little bit of molecular gastronomy magic! The flavours were beautiful and rich with everything that you would associate seafood with, but surprisingly so - it wasn't the fish that became the star of the show. I personally found the rankin to be cooked perfectly, but YH and M both disagreed saying that it was a little over and slightly flakey,
"You can eat the shells", informs Venue Manager, Majdouline Dahbi, "they're made from potatoes." My double take only lasted a few seconds before smacking my lips and tugging on M's wrist, whispering, "this is the moment I've been waiting for!" I'm usually quite against ordering fish when dining out for it's tendency to be overcooked, but in the end it was her persistence that enabled us to experience some theatre magic, allowing us to then recommend it to YH. The "mussels" were my favourite part; not only were they delicious, but the potato shells actually crackled and crunched like real shells - I think these potato shells would unconventionally so, probably make the most perfect bar snack!
Lamb was my pick for the night; I was fascinated by the light olive oil foam and the Kalamata (olive) crisp. Funny how olives are one of those ingredients that I never grew out of not liking as a kid...but turn it into a crisp, and it'll intrigue me endlessly? This is why I love dining at restaurants like No. 4; I always walk out with a lot of food related questions in my head about adapting ingredients and crazy flavour combinations. I'm an advocate of chocolate and cheese, beef with cocoa, peaches and rosemary...whatever that might seem "wacky" to the norm of diners is something that tends to get me incredibly excited and eager to explore further. Plus - what's not to like? The vegetables were crisp and the lamb was cooked perfectly.
Tree's spectacular choice in dishes just kept on coming in - I loved her beef main course and she was extremely kind about letting me occasionally eat off her board. Tree, like many of my close friends have been huge advocates for my having a food blog and we have quite a lovely tradition of going out to try Harvest Espresso's seasonal menu every time there's a change over. Parsnips sometimes fall under the "forgotten vegetables" category, but I loved them - give me textures of any root vegetable and I'll happily sing it's praises - the puree was just fantastic. It was the beef though that truly brought us into our food induced happy place; it cut like butter and was such a delight to eat.
The Kefir sorbet was the turning point of the meal for both myself and M. As I mentioned in my previous post from Twenty & Six in Melbourne, M has been living in Russia for the past 7 years. Her exposure to Russian cuisine and European food influences was very apparent when the palate cleanser was served. I loved the sweet and yet slightly bitter cherry reduction and I thought it was a great palate cleanser for gearing us towards the next course.
Kefir sounds a lot like "kaffir", as in kaffir limes, when in fact, kefir is actually a fermented milk drink that is derived from the kaffir grain. It's a popular yoghurt drink in both Eastern and Northern Europe which is right up M's geographical alley. I loved watching her pick Majdouline's brain about the use of kefir - No. 4 cultivate their own which I think is absolutely amazing. It was one of those wonderful moments where the general politeness barrier between service staff and customers are broken. We were able to share stories, laugh and exchange genuine thoughts as if we were long time friends - it's a wonderful way to experience a restaurant and I find Majdouline to be a true credit to No. 4's front of house team.
The kitchen continues to impress with the amazing variety of textures across the menu. M picked the passionfruit and chocolate dessert, which celebrates another beautiful and yet unexpected flavour combination. The parfait reminded me of a creamy panna cotta and I had a great time seeking out those tiny, bursty "caviar" of passionfruit.
The chocolate gel had a very interesting texture; slightly leathery and chewy but once we coupled everything together on the plate, it tasted like a delicious passionfruit variant of a Crunchie bar. Great choice, M!
I was extremely excited about trying the Winter Jar - myself, YH and Tree couldn't help but triple up across the table and it was worth it. Majdouline went to town with spraying the Tonka Bean perfume bottle and it has hand's down become one of my most favourite smells on earth - my next point of action is to find a candle with that exact scent!
This is the most literal representation of "layers of flavour" I've ever experienced. Our senses were awakened with the beautiful tonka bean perfume, before delving into the cooling panna cotta, the tart jelly, the fizz of popping candy and the sweet finish in the cinnamon ice cream. It's all of my favourite flavours in one little jar that I wish could have go on forever. It's an ingenious dessert that is incredibly well put together; it's exceedingly memorable and sure to be the perfect finish to your meal at No 4.
This style of dining at No. 4 by night, I must say...might not be for everyone. If you're looking to suit up, open a few bottles of wine and dine your night away in a swanky venue, you could certainly do so at No 4. But, if you sit there and fall amongst the common social expectation of being stone faced and quiet as mouse, then you'd be missing out. M and I are both endlessly curious diners; whilst we enjoy the sparkle that comes with going to a fancy diner - it's not all about being on your best behaviour and we enjoy talking about the food just as much, if not more than simply eating it. I felt that No 4 really played right into what we love in a restaurant concept and that was largely championed by the efforts of both Majdouline and Romain. I also had the opportunity to meet No 4's Head Chef, Chase Webber after service and we commended him on producing such a creative and interactive menu - particularly the desserts and those truly inspired potato mussels. He informed us that No 4 were having a menu change coming up soon; I'm terribly excited about this and can't wait to experience what the team come up with next!
Although there was some aspects of the preparation process that needed a little more care, I'm basing my judgement on the entire experience. I was very glad that we came the both times that we did; it allowed me to gather a holistic view of Tom Randolph's vision for No 4. Not only have I been blown away by No 4's day time dining, but I've once again walked away in an absolute state of food ecstasy. We were escorted out of the restaurant personally by both Majdouline and Romain, where we proceeded to have a long conversation about our respective backgrounds in food. Their expertise, their stories and what they brought to our restaurant experience was what made our time at No 4 so memorable. It wasn't because I was a food blogger or because they were part of the senior team at No 4 - it was just about 4 people who for that moment, were truly connected because they're passionate about food and sharing experiences. Food can do that to you - I've always known that food could do that for me; food is that one thing that could bring even the most hostile of strangers together, but in less extreme cases - there was tonight, and it's one that I'll never forget.
Brunch - Daily, from 7:00am till 4:00pm
High Tea - Saturday, from 2:00pm till 5:00pm
Dinner - Tuesday to Saturday, from 6:00pm till late.
Neither Majdouline, Romain or Chef Chase knew that I was from dinewhitme.com until the end part of the evening. Most of us bloggers tend to give the game away when we take a lot more than just the one photo of each course, but even on my previous visit, I received the same amount of courteous and personalised service. Their passion for this place is undeniable and I'm sure that I can't be the only one diner who has felt so. As usual, I'll say that credit and criticism were given where either was duly deserved.