I love food. I love eating even more. And on the odd occasion, I like to indulge my love affair and go all out with a dégustation dining experience.
Last year, Rich and I went to three of these Perth restaurants with varying, but generally pleasant, experiences. By far, our unanimous favourite was Jackson’s Restaurant in Highgate. Jackson’s managed to perfectly match their exquisite food with an amazing selection of wines. And when you’re going for the full experience, wine plays a big part. Coming a very close second was Restaurant Amusé, in East Perth, for one reason: cheese trolley. Yes, their food was very nice, and they served generous tastes of wine, but we were totally blown away by their amazing selection of cheeses! And coming in third place was Little Cloud in Peppermint Grove. Now, Little Cloud actually had better food. Their chef was young, and really pushed the envelope as far as experimental food goes. But their waitstaff were inexperienced, and their wine selection did not match the food in the slightest. Sadly, Little Cloud has since closed.
Fast forward 8 months, following my adventure in Japan, and Rich and I are back on the gastronomy warpath once more. After chancing upon a tweet from someone I follow, we were prompted to give Star Anise a go. I was really excited; it had been a long time since we’d done something this extravagant, and we were treating it as a Rich’s belated birthday dinner-for-two So, with a new haircut apiece, we got dolled up and headed to Shenton Park.
Promptly seated, we were offered a pre-dinner drink:
Host: Would you like a pre-dinner drink? Champagne? Beer?
Luis: Martinis, please
Host: Gin or vodka?
Host: exit, stage right
Luis & Rich: left wondering how their mystery martini was going to be prepared
Luis: calls out in the host’s general direction, dirty and stirred…
Restaurant Guests: look at Luis
Luis: manages to catch the host’s attention before she places the order
Host: stomps back to the table, yes?
Luis: can we have them dirty and stirred, please?
Host: sure, stomps back to the register with a scowl on her face
Luis & Rich: left speechless at her abrasiveness :/
Thankfully, her sour demeanour improved over the evening, but it was not a great start. After receiving out martinis, crusty sourdough loaf, room temperature butter, and chicken liver parfait, we began to get into the swing of things. Not long after, we were introduced to Adam, our sommelier. He was lovely, and very knowledgeable on not only the wines, but the food as well. He even picked up the slack where our main waitress fell short, and it was a pleasure to have him take care of us throughout the night.
The first wine gets poured, and Adam explains how it matches the first course. Now Rich has a copy of his menu so he knows what his first course is, but, being vegetarian, I’m told to ignore the menu because I’ll obviously be getting something else. It was at this point I got rather annoyed at not having a menu to consult. Every other time we’ve been to a degustation restaurant, they’ve had a separate vegetarian menu, so it was very disappointing not to have something to refer back to over the course of our meal.
And I needed it! Our main waitress really had no clue what we were being served. Again, I’m not sure if it was because I had the vegetarian menu (although Rich still had the regular degustation menu), but she’d put food down for us to eat with very minimal explanation. It was especially disappointing when I’d hear the table behind me have their meals explained in great detail every time Nevertheless, my first course was pickled beetroot and…potato? I think that’s what she said. And the wine complimented it perfectly, so that was a win!
Wine glasses drained, plates all but licked clean, our second wine and course are served. I get informed that my second course was, “…like his first course except with…Jerusalem artichoke instead.” Instead of what? Even if I had been paying attention to what Rich had for his first course, it would have done no good given she didn’t really explain what his first course was when she served it! And of course, I don’t have a menu to refer back to, so I’m left to figure it out for myself. But the thing that confused me even more was the wine; if each wine is supposed to compliment a specific course, how can the second wine also compliment what effectively is the first course?
Again, we polish our plates clean, and prepare for the third course. The next wine is poured, and I’m served a smear of quinoa and a spattering of roast vegetables: baby carrot & parsnip. And although delicious, it takes me all of three mouthfuls to finish my dish, while Rich is only half done with his second protein dish. His second course was Manjimup marron, blue fin tuna, and tom yum jelly, while his third course was smoked ocean trout, crackling, roe, seaweed, enoki, edamame, winter melon, with a brown rice tea broth.
Now the fourth course was by far my favourite! Truffle custard with fresh shavings of black truffle, brussels sprout leaves, and fresh baby peas. But, again, there just wasn’t enough. Rich had crispy aromatic duck, with choy sum, and a sweet and sour mandarin sauce. It was at this point that I looked at the menu, and realised that we were already on to the cheese course. Really? Already? But I wasn’t even anywhere near full! From past experiences, I’ve always arrived at the cheese course with barely room to breathe. But by the cheese course at Star Anise, I was left with a void and craving more food. I asked Rich how his fullness levels were at this point, and he said he felt comfortable, although he could have done with more wine.
We were served three cheeses and accompaniments, and took our time enjoying them. Following the cheese course was dessert: their take on rhubarb and custard with a mountain of fairy floss and raspberry coulis. A sweet moscato was served alongside the dessert, and neither of us hesitated in finishing it all off. Following dessert, we were given the “acid trip”: a shot glass layered with acidic delights! At this point we were asked if we wanted tea or coffee (I had English breakfast, Rich had camomile), then we then received a marshmallow and chocolate caramel each while we finished off our teas.
Did I enjoy Star Anise? It was OK. Would I go there again? Unlikely. Would I recommend it to you? Probably not. If you’ve already tried every other degustation restaurant in Perth, then I’d say give it a go. But if you asked me to choose a degustation restaurant where I’d be certain you’d have a wonderful experience, I wouldn’t recommend Star Anise. I’d definitely suggest you try Jackson’s and Amuse before heading there. The menu really lacked a few courses evidenced by our lack of fullness. Plus, they didn’t serve an amuse-bouche nor palate cleansers in between the courses, which I think are a vital part of any progressive meal.
All in all, I can say Rich and I had an average time at Star Anise. But when you’re paying $180 per head for an extravagant dining experience, you expect to be satisfied above and beyond a two or three course meal. And that just wasn’t the case for us last night.