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A refined place to dine

SERVICE should never interfere with a diner’s pleasure and one of the finite skills involved in the art of waiting is timing. The service staff have a delicate but business-like function to attend to and it goes way beyond simply serving food.

The restaurant table is the coalface, the selling-field and if that portion of the dining room formula isn’t being worked correctly, the client’s relationship with the entire restaurant will fail.

Recently, in a restaurant where professionalism is a trademark, I witnessed a service stumble that reminded me of an Olympic athlete leaving the blocks before the gun.

In a moment of impatience, a smartly dressed waiter interrupted one of the patron’s telling an interesting yarn to the rest of the table. The disruption was dismissed and the waiter, realising his mistake, disappeared and the story, almost at its climax, was completed. Our waiter, normally a professional, should have delayed his broadcast of the kitchen specials.

This rare incident didn’t spoil a fine lunch at Villa D’Esté where the service level is normally excellent.

Villa D’Esté is an upmarket Mediterranean restaurant in Outram Street, West Perth, a refined place to dine and certainly a dining room with a touch of class, perfect for a special celebration or visiting executives.

Villa D’Esté boasts a cocktail bar that has capacity for pre-dining meetings, unlike many restaurant bars that are too small. There are patio tables that cater for al fresco dining and watching West of Perth plod by.

At the foot of the Alps 50 kilometres north of Milan with Switzerland peering down from the north, lies the Lake of Como. On the foreshore is a majestic estate built in the 16th Century.

Its magnificent villa has been an exclusive hotel since 1873 with renowned restaurants and this place of ancient excellence is the namesake of the West Perth restaurant.

Tables within the restaurant are elegantly dressed and while you are part of the main room with a spacious feeling, small divisional walls serve to pleasantly divide the space, giving a fairly exclusive feel.

The mood is one of friendly formality, the wine cellar is outstanding and the food has a regional, humble feel about it and invariably this leads to ample home cooked flavours.

I would challenge any Western Australian restaurant to match the Villa D’Esté with its selection of antipasti ($14.50). If the restaurant has a hallmark dish, this lavish assortment is a challenge to any palate.

Patrons are invited to make a choice at this point. You may visit the antipasti table and choose your hors d’oeuvres or you might have a waiter serve you a selection. The latter is a massive platter, which is almost daunting.

Having had the experience of both methods of indulging, I recommend you personally go to the table because the variety is a mind-boggling culinary sight to behold. Also you can choose the perfect items to begin your meal.

The menu is a far sweeping document that covers almost every gastronomic taste and considering the tone of the restaurant, the dishes are reasonably priced.

Every person’s taste is catered for from pasta to seafood and veal plus steak cuts. Offal is represented by a simple, tasty dish of chicken livers sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, black pepper and balsamic vinegar ($15.40 and $25.50).

An extra dimension to the menu selection is the daily specials from a traditional wood-fired oven and rotisserie. In fact, I find myself rarely studying the menu, eagerly and greedily going for the antipasti selection instead then rushing to a dish from the oven. Be it lamb, goat or chicken, the flavours capture the commonplace man in me and with a glass of fine red wine and a finger bowl, I’m in paradise.

On my recent visit to the Outram Street restaurant, the rotisserie special was chicken succulently roasted and served in a delicious chilli lifted sauce.

With this we ordered a lavish salad for the centre of the table.

The only specifications given were “olives and cheese.” It seemed every lettuce variety in the garden (except Ice Berg) was included to graze on with a simple dressing of oil, balsamic and ground pepper.

My fellow diners were enjoying oven-roasted lamb and in such elegant surroundings, it was amusing to see a table having a ball, eating the old fashioned way – with fingers.

To help with your decision on why to dine at Villa D’Esté, I have chosen some dishes from across the menu. In the seafood offerings, consider Casseruola Di Misto Mare Con Olive Nere, a clay pot of assorted seafood for two, cooked in tomato, black olives, garlic and chilli and herbs. Like all the eight seafood dishes, this dish is at market prices because fresh fish prices vary daily.

For red meat enthusiasts, Medaglioni Di Filetto Castello ($31.90) the most expensive dish of the steak cuts, is a dish of beef medallions crusted with Castello blue cheese and served with a port and peppercorn sauce. Or try oven cooked veal medallions rolled as an involtini with king prawns and served with an anisette, cream sauce ($29.90). Other steak cuts done on the volcanic rock charcoal without sauces are a 300-gram beef fillet ($29.70) or a big 500-gram sirloin (my favourite cut $31).

Pasta dishes bring down the prices and the pasta in the eight offerings is made on the premises. Try the fresh clams in white wine, parsley and garlic combined with the pasta to make a dish known as Vongole ($15.40 and $19.30).

There’s a page of five daily specials. Included is Rognoni Padani ($14.80) an offal dish of veal kidneys sautéed with marjoram, yellow lentils and sweet sherry and served with sautéed silver beet, or a fillet of tuna baked with black olives, onion and fresh herbs and served with a vermouth sauce ($28.50).

It will intrigue wine enthusiasts to know that the great Penfolds reds have their own vintage selection page and it is nice to see bottle aged wines available – prices are ouch!

But in my opinion anyone who risks cellaring wine has the right to charge whatever he likes and at Villa D’Esté they do. Try 1986 Grange at $790, it was an excellent vintage. Please take my advice and don’t buy St Henri Claret more than 10 years old, the wine was never meant to go that far.

Generally, the wine list is beautifully put together but prices are on the high side.

My advice is do not hesitate taking your local gourmet to Villa D’Esté, providing he doesn’t mind eating with his fingers.

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