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Coco-lossal

I had never been to Coco’s at South Perth until last week. In fact, I had hitherto avoided it. I imagined it full of important sales chaps with microfibre suits and gold jewellery, accompanied by disappointed women with big hair and enough make-up to make a Kabuki wince.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover Coco’s is, in fact, a congenial, busy place pumping out meals at caterer’s pace and which, judging by the crowd, appears to be the caff for prosperous southern suburbs locals, business blokes impressing out-of-towners with the view and social club groups. Not a dot com oik in sight.

Coco’s is not cutting edge. Nor is it particularly glamorous. It has fluffy cocktails on the wine list. But it delivers big, busy meals to eager punters who would have to be one of the jolliest restaurant crowds I’ve seen in years. Coco’s customers are in for a good time, and by and large, I suspect they get it. Most are there for The Big Night Out.

The food is like the Curate’s Egg. It is good, even superb in parts, but clumsy cafeteria-like service and some inexplicable food gaffes drag it down. The menu has descriptions so rich in detail, it might well be shortlisted for the Booker. Coco’s also has a thing for capital letters.

An entrée of Jet Fresh Smoked Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon Stack with Lattice Chips, Pickled Cucumber, Horseradish Cream, Baby Spinach Leaves And Tumeric (sic) Oil ($17.50) was a busy little plate, and it worked. The four large slices of salmon were first class. They were draped over thinly pickled sliced cucumber and spinach.

The horseradish cream was excellent, and the turmeric oil provided a marvellous dark and bitter undertone. The salmon was a little dried at the edges from being plated up ahead of service. Despite the cacophony of flavours, this simple entrée was utterly beguiling.

For entrée I ordered the Fresh Geraldton Pink Snapper Fillets In A Light Egg And Herb Coating Pan Fried, Served With A Saffron And Orange Butter Sauce ($13.90/$26.90). The entrée I was served in its place, Jet Fresh (Yes, yes, I know, it reads like a Peter Stuyvesant ad) Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon Char Grilled Medium Rare Served On Mashed Potato With A Sundried (sic) Tomato And Cashew Nut Pesto ($15.90/$26.90), arrived just a few minutes later. The salmon was cooked back to the stone-age. The dense sun-dried tomato topping was rich and piquant as one would expect and shouted down what was left of the fish flavours.

Despite the fish being ruined, the mash it sat on was perhaps one of the most sublime little mounds of texture and flavour a salmon would wish to be mounted upon. It was entirely original. Creamy, nutty, perfectly seasoned and lightly unctuous. How the same kitchen could produce such subtlety with the spuds and yet commit such a war crime against the fish is puzzling. The staff recognised the mix up with the entrée some time into the course and a waiter readily offered to replace it. In the interests of eating at the same time as my companion, I demurred.

The Fresh Free Range Boneless Baby Chicken Marinated In Lemon, Virgin Olive Oil And Garlic, Char Grilled And Served On A Preserved Lime Cous Cous With Pistachio Nut Butter, Fried Leeks And Lime Vinaigrette ($23.00), was a frenzy of sauces, garnishes and condiments. The generous chicken breast was perfectly chargrilled with penetrating smoky flavours. It was timed with precision to ensure moist and flavoursome flesh. The cous cous was likewise a paragon of cous cous cooking. Light, fluffy, slightly buttered and every grain separated. A small dice of preserved lime was the perfect complementary touch to the wheat.

So far so good. Up until this point, all the chef had to do was plate it up and the chicken would have been a triumph. The addition of an oily, creamy-thick sauce of brash, overpowering flavours (which could have only been the ‘Pistachio Nut Butter’) put paid to that idea. It was ladled on without restraint. The dish was garnished with a fin julienne of deep fried leek and then drizzled with a sort of lime-based salad dressing. This meal was busier than a Bosnian brickie.

The Free Range Muskovy Duckling, Double Roasted, Served With Grilled New Season Peaches And Duck Jus ($24.90), was marvellous. Often with a dish like this – especially at the café end of the restaurant spectrum – the gravy is a sticky, salty, one-dimensional reduction sauce based on caterer pack veal booster rather than the real thing. This was not the case here. The pool of lush, dark jus was excellently rendered. The duck was fall-off-the-bone moist, rich, moschate and deliciously fatty. The grilled peach halves were unripe, rock-hard and inedible.

A salad of Fresh Baby Spinach, Anchovy And Caramelised Onion Salad In A Crushed Macadamia And Reduced Wine Dressing ($6.00), could have been louder than Al Grasby’s tie collection, but instead was first rate. The combination of flavours and textures was a treat. A lot of thought had gone into the teaming of the components. This salad would make a terrific entrée in its own right.

The pud, a lemon meringue pie, was OK.

The small tart was piled high with fluffy meringue and swimming in a pool of nondescript commercial custard mix. The pastry was bullet proof. It had been plated up hours before service and stored in the cool room.

The wine list is big, with a wine to suit every taste and budget.

The service is noteworthy. The blokey waiters deliver a cafeteria-like plate clearing operation notable for the crashing of crockery and the loud scraping of dishes. The guy pouring the wine and at the same time looking backwards over his shoulder to have a natter with another waiter, won the diffidence award. There was a certain cheerful, undisciplined mayhem about the service.

Coco’s is all about ‘big’ food – food so loud it should come with a volume knob. It’s a show-bizzy approach to restauranting which works well, especially given the panoramic city views from the floor to ceiling glass walls.

Coco’s is an occasion restaurant. Next time you’ve something to celebrate, take your mum and dad. They’ll be impressed.

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