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Cracking the code

There’s something quite refreshing about Code. Code is cool. Not in a tedious, gen-next, I’m-too-sexy-for-my-customers kind of way, but in the best possible way.

Code is elegant, modern and welcoming. Judging by the Friday night drinks crowd, it’s fair to say that the city’s internet dweebs and advertising agency mavens haven’t yet discovered Code, which means it’s blessedly free of mobile phones that play tunes, Armani suits, male jewellery and cargo pants. In fact, good grooming and tailoring seem to have found a home at Code. In a town where well dressed men are a curiosity, Code is a safety house for the sartorially well-adjusted.

Full marks to the architect, who has managed to deliver an interior scheme that is modern yet sublimely restrained; surely the number one virtue of the genuinely cool.

Lunch on a Friday attracts a mixed bag of customers. Tourist blow-ins, guests of the new Chifley Hotel, city business types, shoppers and groups of professional secretaries.

Code is a welcome entrant to the still small band of good CBD restaurants. Once it settles into its skin and builds up a following, there is no reason it should not be a worthwhile alternative to the city’s other successful spots: e cucina, King Street Café, The Globe and Balthazar.

Code is on the ground floor of Perth’s grooviest new boutique hotel, The Chifley.

In fact, it’s Perth’s only small, stylish hotel targeting business travellers and the high-end tourist market.

My guest for this review was Zelinda Bafile, who apart from being a lawyer of distinction, is a sports fan, a witty conversationalist and a zesty eater, with food knowledge that can only come from being the daughter of an extended Italian family. She has almost managed to convince me that American football is an athlete’s game.

To the first play of the day: Zelinda ordered the Louisiana crab and prawn gumbo ($9.50). It came to table as a chunky red, strongly flavoured seafood soup – a sort of hearty Cajun bouillabaisse, with a searing chilli undertone. As it cooled down, the flavours began to emerge and by about the fourth spoonful, the sports fan had proclaimed it a near perfect touchdown.

My entrée was a cold lasagne of asparagus and smoked salmon. A dish like this will live and die on the quality of its pasta. Cold pasta leaves little room for mistake. The chef used first rate pasta which was glossy, slightly chewy and highly flavoursome (I suspect he used bakers’ flour which, along with a higher gluten content, often has more flavour). The colours of the layered salmon and asparagus gave it great plate appeal.

This is neither a difficult nor challenging dish for the kitchen, but it was artfully arranged and delivered with first class ingredients.

It would have been even better had it been taken from the fridge and left to stand a while; allowing it to come up to room temperature before serving.

My main course, a BBQ chicken breast marinated in paprika, cumin and lemon on spiced cous cous with fresh asparagus and yoghurt ($19.50) was fine, although the chicken was overcooked. The cous cous was cold, which I didn’t mind, and fluffy. The flavours of preserved lemon, currants and cumin were North African through and through. The dish was successful and flavoursome.

Meanwhile, Zolinda had been “oohing” and “aahing” over her main, an entrée size charred squid and grilled lime with kiwi fruit, chilli and palm sugar dressing ($10.50). Where the other dishes were from the standard mod-Aus play book, this dish was original and quite exquisite.

Served cold, the tender baby squid tubes were plated up in a fruity, lime and sugar soup (perhaps it was a dressing, but there was so much of it). The presentation was innovative, the flavours were deftly handled and the smoky undertones from the char grill gave the dish an artisanal edge.

We shared a green bean, bocconcini, roast tomato salad ($4.50) which was fine.

The wine list is compact and well formed, with a broad spread of known and popular titles (Pssst: Coriole is in McClaren Vale, South Australia, not WA). Year of vintage details are not supplied which, even given the youthfulness of this somewhat anodyne list, is an omission which should be rectified. There is a good selection by the glass and a high representation of WA wines. All in all a good list with something for everyone.

Our puds were from the cake cabinet and were OK.

The espresso was particularly good.

Code is a great package. The room works. The restaurant’s position, on the street at the serious players’ end of St George’s Terrace, gives it a sense of energy. Its role in the

daily theatre of hotel life gives it a unique, enticing dimension. The designers have cleverly blurred the boundaries between hotel reception area and restaurant, and in so doing have captured some of the frisson and excitement of small European hotels where their lobby cafés are grandstand

seats to the constant stream of bell hops, businessmen, boulevardiers, gigolos, minor TV stars and ladies-who-lunch.

Code is a restaurant for our times. It produces food that is non-threatening and easy to understand, a wine list that offers popular favourites, a demeanour that is welcoming and calm, and service which is crisp, friendly and informed. It is an exemplar of the democratisation of hotel restaurants – a final nail in the coffin for the over-chintzed, chandeliered pomposity of hotel restaurants of the 1980s.

It’s a code you'll crack again and again.

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