It's hard to believe that Print Hall - the multi-storey, multi venue centrepiece of Brookfield Place - has been brightening up the previously dead night life of St. George's Terrace for two and a half years. In spite of Alissa and I having kept abreast of many of the new restaurants that have opened up around the future Perth City Link and having dined at many of the West Australian Good Food Guide's former and current 1 and 2 Star restaurants, we've neglected the many wonders of Brookfield Place. It's not for want of trying; there were the odd false starts and failed gatherings at the Apple Daily and the Trustee that never came to be, and there have been many wistful walks through the precinct on a Sunday as we planned for future meals. After initial plans for our first wedding anniversary in November were changed to a meal at Co-Op Dining, the celebration of Alissa's birthday seemed like as good a reason as any to finally dine in the precinct, and we decided to go all out with a reservation at the Print Hall Dining Room - the Good Food Guide's Restaurant and Wine List of the Year.
Given the sheer scale of Print Hall's main bar and its Art Deco charm, it was a surprise to see how intimate and relatively modern the dining room was. It wasn't as edgily contemporary as Iggy's in Singapore or Restaurant Amusé in East Perth, but it was not the ornate, super formal Eleven Madison Park clone that I was expecting.
Where we were seated featured a contemporary artwork of plates on the wall, and each table was adorned with stylish, seemingly hand blown decanters. The menu at Print Hall features a 4 course sectional grid with options for each course, an 8 course degustation and an a la carte option. Some daily specials were available for us to choose from as well, however as tempting as the John Dory dish sounded, we had made up our mind beforehand that we would being going for their degustation option to try as many of their dishes as possible. When asked about dietary requirements, I had mentioned that beef is not my preferred meat to eat, and the kitchen was happy to accommodate as long as Alissa and I were fine both going for the duck instead.
With Alissa fine with the swap, we turned to the perusal of Print Hall's justifiably famous wine list. While not comically heavy, it is well and truly an incredible and impressive tome - I've never seen such an excellent selection of wine by the glass, and the pages and pages dedicated to each varietal would have something for just about any budget over $50. Being fans of Riesling as an accompaniment to our meal, we were spoiled for choice - Rieslings alone took up several pages, covering all the usual prime Australian regions like the Clare Valley and the Great Southern, as well as excellent coverage of European regions like Alsace and Pfalz. Wanting to try a more difficult to find import from an older vintage rather than keeping it safe with something from the Great Southern, we selected a 2009 JL Wolf Jesuitengarten Grand Cru Riesling after our Sommelier confirmed it would be a good food friendly wine, displaying a nice minerality and acidity with just a hint more sweetness than Australian examples. Alissa and I were very impressed with our Sommelier's knowledge about the wine and the Rieslings of the Pfalz region, with her excellent service indicative of Print Hall's impeccably high standards - right down to the use of the correct Riedel glasses with every change of wine.
Although we were offered freshly shucked oysters upon our arrival, we declined the offer given that we would be eating more than enough food over the course of the degustation, and would be receiving a complementary Amuse Bouche anyway. While we were still selecting our wine, a trio of single bites arrived. The first, a savoury Cheese Profiterole reminded Alissa and I of our degustation at Caprice which started with a similar hors-d'oeuvre. The Profiterole itself was similarly well made with a flakiness and cheesiness to its flavour. Where the Caprice version was better was in the use of Jamon Iberico inside - though Print Hall's version was still very good. We then moved onto the Quail. Sitting in bowl of some kind of curry, the pieces of Quail were perfectly crispy on the outside while succulent and juicy, with the curry tasting like something between a Laksa and Red Curry - very surprising and delicious. Finally, the crispy cracker on the side was probably the least interesting of the three, and while its creaminess and crunchiness were pleasing it was over so fast we didn't really have time to form a more discerning opinion about it.
The obligatory serve of Bread was apparently free flowing, as we were offered another piece twice. From a selection of three choices, we tried two - a Multigrain Rye and a Sourdough (picture). Both were fairly good, however we felt the Multigrain Rye was the better of the two, with a nice pillowy soft interior and a good crust that went nicely with the accompanying salted butter.
The first true course of the evening was Raw Scampi from Samson Point, Jellyfish, Bonito, Furikake. The smooth, delicate texture of the Scampi reminded us of the Langoustine Ceviche at Caprice, although the crunchiness of the puffed rice was the kind of masterful textural contrast common to dishes at Restaurant Amusé. Combined with the very Japanese influences Bonito Gel and its bright acidity and umami flavour and the seasoning of the Furikake, this was a distinctive and very accomplished dish.
Even better was the Duck Liver Parfait, Salted Plum, Geraldton Wax which was probably the most memorable dish of the entire night. This was the lightest and most super airy of Parfaits, outclassing just about any other version of this dish that Alissa and I have been served. The fatty richness of Liver Parfaits can be a bit one note if present by themselves, however combined with the Sourness of the Cherries and its floral Geraldton Wax glaze and Salty-Sweet-Umami flavour of the Salted Plum made for a very complex and complete taste experience...
... when served on the most buttery, crispy and yet unbelievably soft Brioche Buns. Aliss and I could have easily been happy to have kept eating this dish for the rest of the meal. Looking at the double size serve of the dish offered as part of the four course option, Alissa and I would probably go with the fewer courses next time just so we could eat more of this dish in a single sitting.
Stinging Nettle and Potato, Fermented Bean Curd, Almond, Fat Hen followed. Listed as a risotto on the degustation menu, the risotto was actually pieces of potato finely sliced. A nice play on the 'potato ricer', these pieces had a nice, rice-like texture and a certain amount of bite that suggested a waxy potato capable of holding its form. The creamy, richly herbaceous Stinging Nettle sauce it all sat in reminded Alissa and I of the complexity of Heston's Snail Porridge dish, with the nice use of almonds for some textural crunch. This was a very tasty and clever dish, although it was perhaps a little overshadowed by the Parfait that preceded it.
I love expertly cooked fish, so was delighted to see Pan Roasted Barramundi, Coorong Pippis, Courgette, Dill as the next course of our meal. The Barramundi was indeed cooked well, with a nice soft texture to the meat while having a nice and crispy skin on top. The Pippis were small little explosions of marine, sea salty umami, and the blanched courgettes had enough crunch left in them to provide additional texture alongside a freshness of flavour. The flavour of the white fish with the Dill on top reminded Alissa and I of the Vietnamese dish Cha Ca La Vong, perhaps enhanced by the light, seafood broth poured over. I still contend that the 'Fish and Chips' dish served at Vue de Monde is my all-time favourite Barramundi dish, however this was nevertheless a very strong contender, with its lightness a good respite from the heavier courses that preceded it.
Having informed the Sommelier that we would like a glass of the bythe glass Nebbiolo to go with our Duck, we expected to see some Burgundy or Pinot/Nebbiolo glasses placed in front of us as we awaited the next course, but instead she placed two different glasses in front of us instead - one that looked like either a Shiraz or a Cabernet Glass (hard to tell apart, but I'd hazard a guess on Shiraz) placed in front of Alissa and a Montrachet glass in front of me. Knowing it was Alissa's birthday (and perhaps guessing correctly that we were bloggers), we were treated to an additional wine paired bonus course - giving Alissa and opportunity to try the Beef dish I'd swapped out of the degustation and me an opportunity to try the John Dory dish that was being served as a special! Alissa's wine - a lesser known Spanish varietal - was very good its own right, however the Etienne Sauzet Bourgogne Chardonnay that was paired with the Dory was truly superb. A Burgundy Chardonnay with a delicious, and well balanced buttery oakiness, Alissa was almost jealous of my good fortune to be served such a wonderful wine. As the Sommelier said; 'the glass says it all'.
The wine went very well with the Wood Grilled John Dory, Oyster Emulsion, Dehydrated Sea Lettuce, Chia Seed Cracker, and was probably the more memorable of the two fish courses. The Dory was nicely cooked, with good sear lines and a texture that was not dry. Its rare to see John Dory on the west coast, so I felt very fortunate indeed. The rich oyster flavour of the Oyster Emulsion bolstered the dish with added heft in what could have been an otherwise light dish. With the cracker's slight bitterness providing crunch and the intensified flavour of the Dehydrated Sea Lettuce working as a herbaceous seasoning, this was a wonderful modern dish that was definitely worthy of making their actual menu in the future.
I caught a snap of the Peppered Wagyu Bavette, Leek, Green pepper, Beef Tendon just as Alissa started cutting a piece of the beef off to sample. Rolled in a peppery crust, scored repeatedly across the top and seared all around, the Wagyu was cooked to a perfect, soft medium rare. The Leek was nice and charred; soft but not overdone with good, roasty flavours from the char. The oniony flavour of leak and the vinegary flavour of the pickles played apt support to the Wagyu, with the pickles cutting the unctuousness. Initially thought by Alissa to be fat, the collagen-rich tendon was really soft, chewy and yet meaty at the same time. It was not like anything we've had before, but went really nicely with the pickles and the meat. With a sauce providing nice pepperiness and richness of flavour, Alissa liked this course better than the following Duck dish, although for my tastes it confirmed my preference against bovine consumption.
With our bonus courses cleared and our Nebbiolo glasses yet to arrive, an unknowing server topped up our Riesling glasses before I could say anything. Good service though it was, we had no intention of drinking the Riesling with the Duck course, and in fact wanted to save this mildly off-dry wine for the cheese course. When the Burgundy glasses were brought out and the Nebbiolo poured, the Sommelier did something we had not expected - she offered to take the two filled Riesling glasses and place them in the temperature controlled White Wine Cellar. As a stickler for wines being served at the correct temperature, I gladly accepted, and was thoroughly impressed by this attentive and very high level of service.
I was also glad that we went with the excellent Didi Nebbiolo by Shobbrook, as its aromatic and powerful flavour went very well with the boldness of the Duck from Wagin, Clarence River School Prawns, Black Barley. The Duck flesh was desirably soft and pink, with the skin very nicely rendered and crispy. As simple a pleasure as it is, I couldn't get over how perfectly seasoned the dish was. The black barley had a nice malty flavour and chewing texture, while again being perfectly well seasoned. The prawns were a divisive point for Alissa and I - Alissa is not as bit a seafood fan and was not as convinced, while I liked the buttery, herby goodness of the prawn meat and the crispy fried prawn tails.
A salad of Iceberg Lettuce was served as a side to our mains. Much maligned due to their involvement in the fast food burger industry, I've never really given Iceberg the time of day until trying this dish. Crunchy and fresh, the leaves were bathed in a very nice vinaigrette and then tossed with black and white sesame seeds, pepitas and sunflower seeds. This salad was simply amazing - it was incredibly simple and straightforward, but Alissa and I just wanted to keep eating it as it was addictively tasty. Alissa said she really wanted to try and recreate something like this at home. Who knew Iceberg Lettuce could be so good?
Having seen cheeses on display as we entered the Dining Room, Alissa and I were excited to see what Print Hall would serve us for our cheese course. Going for the contemporary plated course style, the cheese selected was Monte Enebro served with Macadamia, Lavender Honey and Diced Apple. A good Spanish Goats Milk Cheese, the Monte Enebro had a bright, tangy saltiness while the mould on the outside - the same mould used for Rochefort - had that nice, metallic flavour Alissa and I love in more stinky cheeses. To accompany this flavoursome cheese, the chunky Macadamia butter added sweet, rich nuttiness, while the Lavender honey and Diced Apple provided floral sweetness and acidity respectively.
After the intensity of the cheese, a palate cleanser of Watermelon Granita with a Lime Verbena was a welcome intermission. A fairly familiar and recognisable flavour choice, the sweet watermelon and acidic citrussy flavours performed their task well in resetting our palates for the sweets to come.
After clearing our palate cleanser spoons, a waiter brought out a menu card for us to choose the strength of our 'cigars', ranging from a fairly high cocoa milk chocolate, to a rich dark chocolate. Being not one for overly rich chocolate desserts, I decided to err on the side of caution with the milk chocolate while Alissa went for their richest dark.
This brought us to Print Hall's justifiably famous signature desserts - Whisky and Cigars. The 'Whisky' - a Creme Caramel and a Chivas Regal and Smokey Tea Creme Patissier - arrived on a wooden board, with Alissa's featuring a nice birthday greeting...
... while a waiter holding a humidor offered us our cigars housed within the box. The theatricality of the dessert was a nice touch, and getting to choose what level of intensity we wanted was a great innovation as it allowed me to avoid the richness overkill that sometimes happens in chocolate desserts. That said, the Whisky component really balanced out the richness of the chocolate, and taking a bite of the Cigar's Chocolate Ganache wrapped in a paper-thin wafer and then taking a scoop of the Whisky was a real treat, with the caramel, vanilla, chocolate and smokey flavours coming together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This is a truly great chocolate dessert; quite possibly one of the best and most balanced that we've had.
We were well and truly full by this point, and I felt like a cup of tea would be a nice end to the meal. The tea 'menu' was well presented in a series of text tubes as a visual display of the teas and tisanes on offer, and I choose to go with a nice jasmine. Accompanying the tea were our Petit Fours which were unfortunately not photographed but consisted of a Caramel Slice, Lemon Meringue and Tonka Bean Cheesecake. These were a good if simple end to the meal, with a nice nuttiness to the Caramel Slice, a Lemon Meringue that was light and airy, and the Tonka Bean Cheesecake displaying a pleasing bitter chocolate and ginger flavour.
The Verdict: Exceptional
Having won Restaurant and Wine List of the Year in the 2015 Good Food Guide, Alissa and I had very high expectations for our meal at Print Hall - as well as slight concern that the restaurant would be more about style that true substance due to the grandeur of it surrounds. Thankfully, the Print Hall Dining Room delivered on all fronts for a truly memorable and delicious dining experience. Service was of an international high standard - being as good as what Alissa and I experienced at the then 3 Michelin starred Caprice in Hong Kong as well as Cutler & Co and Vue de Monde in Melbourne, with one of the best wine lists I've had the pleasure of choosing from. The food of Print Hall's head chef Shane Watson was thoroughly well executed as well, and while there is an inevitable ebb and flow to a degustation there was not a single bad dish throughout the service. Being a lot more classically driven than avant-garde modernist restaurants like Restaurant Amusé and Attica, Print Hall's dishes were perhaps less memorable from that standpoint, but when a restaurant is accomplished enough to turn Iceberg Lettuce of all things into a dish you want to just keep eating, its hard to argue that Print Hall is not one of Perth's best.