Cauldron casts spell

IF THE pungent aroma of garlic wasn’t wafting around the corner of Rokeby Road and Hay Street as it has done for 30 years, it would be an unlikely but sure sign that the Witches’ Cauldron had closed its very popular doors.

The garlic reek intensifies as you enter the Subiaco restaurant and it takes a moment or two to adjust, but subconsciously you are being influenced in regard to your choice from a menu that rarely changes.

If we are to recognise “signature dishes” then the garlic prawns at the Cauldron should be as familiar as mother’s lamb roast and nobody would be surprised to learn that 35 per cent of Witches’ Cauldron patrons succumb to the garlic bouquet.

To ensure Subiaco has the correct smell and the King and Tiger prawns the correct flavours, 50 kg of peeled garlic is used weekly – a huge 2.5 tonnes a year.

At some stage in their dining life, the Witches’ Cauldron has been most hedonists’ favourite. But, still I manage to overlook the place when computing the grave decision on where to dine de jour.

However, twice lately when my small army of fellow “knife and forkers” have asked where are we going to lunch, my suggestion of the Cauldron has been met with exuberant enthusiasm –most of them ordered garlic prawns of course.

Difficult decisions are not called for in the Subiaco icon when studying the menu for as ageless as it is, the document is equally uncomplicated which is unlike the wine list, where an exhilarating cellar of choices has always been available.

Subiaco is the current hot spot currently with some exciting drinking and dining venues. Like Alto’s and the Subiaco Wine Room, even the lovely Subiaco Hotel where the management is still puzzled at just what made the joint buzz.

But, Geoff and Tanis Gosling, owners of the Witches’ Cauldron, seem unfazed at the city’s popularity glare and continue with their formula – doing what they have long been doing – and doing it well!

The place is like a stretch limo that has grown a Boeing 747 bubble on top. On Rokeby Road there is cosy ground floor dining, upstairs is another niche, a central room is the business class and a long thin economy section extends through to the street behind.

The restaurant is always well attended by an assorted clientele that enjoy chef Tony Humphrey’s offerings. Reservations are very wise.

This is an affordable dining room but like most, the “extras” tend to make people blink at the bill.

French salads add $4 for the small and $7 for the large. A very clever and traditional Caesar salad $12.50 and a Greek salad $10. A basket of French bread (and it is good bread) is $1, garlic flavoured $3, rye bread $3.50, and fries small bowl $3, large $6.

The prawn cocktail, the ageless entrée where prawn flesh is served with crisp iceberg lettuce and a savoury cocktail sauce, is just another way you can enjoy the crustacean at the Witches’ Cauldron ($16.90).

For $15.80 shelled prawns served with avocado and a cocktail dressing is another option.

As I have already alluded to, the star of the prawn dishes are the garlic prawns (entrée $16.90, large $31.50).

These are done Spanish style in blistering oil, flavoured with not only the garlic, but also a hint of chili.

The best potage is the cream of Dhufish with chunks of this precious local delicacy gently poached added to what really amounts to a bisque ($10.10).

Seafood is very prominent throughout the menu. Another speciality is the Dhufish, which is prepared on the grill, or a lemon butter Meuniere (small $15.70, large $27).

I find the kitchen tends to add a flavoured salt to the delicate fish and, quite frankly, my preference would be sans this extra.

Rottnest squid is nicely handled with a breath of chili dusted over it for a lift and served with a sweet chili sauce (small $11.80, large $18).

However, for those red-blooded souls who love their meat, the Cauldron is one of the steak houses of the town. There is a page of different steak cuts offered simply grilled or served with a béarnaise, pepper or chasseur sauce and you pay from $23.60 up to $29.50.

I rarely tackle a steak cut, but if the mood takes me, this is one of the places I come to – that’s after the garlic prawn of course.

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