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Aristocratic seafood

Aristos is difficult to pigeonhole. One could hardly call it an intimate dining experience. It is brilliantly lit and boisterous. One won’t find haute cuisine here. This is, after all, a fish’n’chips shop, albeit with a superb standard of seafood cooking.

‘Atmosphere’ is not big on the ground at Aristos, yet it is wholly welcoming. One feels good just being there. It seems almost to have the feel of a large family dinner party.

Aristos is popular, and the delightful aspect of tha place is that it seems to attract a crowd that covers just about all walks of life. The night we were there, beefy business blokes predominated (gabardine must surely be an endangered species in Nedlands). There were a couple with their baby, a group of Mediterranean lads with Don Johnson shaves, base ball caps and shell suits and a table of fifty-something couples which included two glamorous dowagers fairly stooping under the weight of their jewels.

We began with the king prawns in beer batter with chilli sauce ($12.90) and a special of the day, a mixture of scampi and scallop meat lightly pan-fried in parsley herb butter ($14.90).

The servings are substantial and the king prawns were excellent. The prawn meat was tender and juicy, the batter flavoursome and light. Deep fried prawns (ie those odious

butterflied crumbed abominations ubiquitous in fish and chip shops) are notoriously easy to over cook and render dry, tough and flavourless. Here they were as they should

be. Succulent and sweet.

The commercially bottled Thai sweet chilli sauce was a disappointment, especially in a restaurant that has Gold Plate Award status. The five large prawns were offset by a mound of garnish comprising finely julienned carrot and salad greens.

The special of the day was just that. It was delicate, buttery and aromatic with the scent of fresh green herbs, finely chopped. The two meats, scampi and scallop, were carefully cooked in a buttery liquor before being spooned onto flat scallop shells. The subtle pungency of the fresh fines herbes bathed the small seafood chunks in the bucolic aroma of wild herb fields. Simple. Terrific.

The main course menu has four mix and match dishes not unlike the ‘reef and beef’ phenomena, except at Aristos they’re more reef and reef. At first glance it smacked a little of the Sizzler style of food presentation, but it makes a lot of sense for those who want to try a few different flavours on the same plate. Everything is served with chips. Salads are extra and there is a choice between green, Greek and Caesar ($6.50).

Of the fourteen main courses we chose the Atlantic salmon, grilled with olive oil ($24.90) and the red emperor, also simply grilled ($25.90). These are significant prices for grilled fish and a side of chips when you consider that for the same or less one can get a main course at, say, Jones’ in Subiaco which typically demands high levels of labour to create a complex and sophisticated finished product, and which utilises an array of raw product, sauces, vegetables, reductions, techniques and so on.

Perhaps the cost of seafood plays a role, and anyway, one would be hard pressed to complain. The serves at Aristos are large. The fish is so fresh you want to slap its face and the cooking is minimal.

With both our main courses the chef managed to create a crisp, just-browned crust on the outside of the fish without over-cooking the inside. His grill plate must be extraordinarily hot to achieve this as the fillets, although big, are only ten millimetres thick. This was the best simply cooked piece of fish I’d eaten in a long time. Translucent at its core, moist and firm; an indication also of the fish’s freshness and condition when it arrived at the kitchen door. This chef buys well.

The dish arrived at the table alone on a large white plate. A small serve of chips came on the side. Good chips too. Home made, sun-tanned and crisp.

A tartare sauce which accompanied the Red Emperor was also home made — after the chilli sauce episode I was half expecting the Masterfoods’ catering pack version. But no, this was subtle, tasty and less viscous than the commercially produced glug: a perfect match for the Red Emperor.

There’s not much more to say about this food. It is after all plain grilled fish. No other technique was applied to the cooking other than flipping it on the grill at the right time and ensuring the plate was warm. The chef’s dedication to sourcing fresh seafood is another key factor in the enjoyment this simple food provides.

At $6.50, the green salad is a big profit item at Aristos. It also comes with char-grilled, wilted red capsicum and a none-too-subtle dressing. The leaves were crisp and fresh.

Before we get to pud, a word on the wine. Aristos, like many Perth restaurants, has taken the safe (and commercially astute) approach to the wine list — a hit parade of top 40 wines, all young, low to medium priced, high turnover favourites.

Aristos invites diners to bring their own. Corkage is $3.50 per person — that’s $21.00 for a table of six. Seems a little steep for opening a bottle and washing six glasses.

Perhaps Aristos considers corkage a de facto penalty for not buying off the list, rather than its original intention; a small cost recovery for providing the service of opening and

serving wine.

This is a growing trend in Perth, with some restaurateurs treating corkage as a profit centre in its own right. In a BYO-only situation corkage is wholly justified, as the proprietor has to buy stemware in order to deliver the service. In a licensed restaurant where wine glasses are already part of the inventory, corkage is something of a moot point. Mind you, every restaurateur one talks to has a different view on corkage. Most believe it’s not enough.

Half a dozen whites and three reds are sold by the glass. There is a selection of liqueurs and coffees.

The staff is slick and professional. Older, wiser heads abound and the result is seamless, perfectly positioned service that just keeps on coming. One never feels abandoned or forgotten, and yet one never notices the service either.

To pud, and the less said the better. It’s clear the chef’s metier is seafood. A cassata of mango and berries was surrounded by what tasted like that Cottee’s raspberry topping kids love so much on ice cream. It was hideously sweet, with a commercial aftertaste.

The dish came to table presented as two triangular wedges of multi-layered ice confection. The mango layer — one could tell by the colour — didn’t taste of mango. The middle layer — presumably a vanilla concoction — was creamy, but equally light on any discernable flavour. A final, lurid red berry layer tasted very strongly of almond essence.

Coffee was good.

The best thing about Aristos is its seafood — fresh product well cooked with perfect timing. It’s also a nice place to be. Not a pretentious bone in its body, Aristos is popular and fun. But fish and chips at $26.00 a plate will not be everyone’s cup of squid ink.



ARISTOS

151 Broadway, Nedlands

Phone 9363 1859

All major cards and eftpos

Lunch: Monday to Friday

Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday



THE PLACE

Fish, seafood and crustacea

Good bread. Good coffee

Wine merchants’ favourites

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