17/08/1999 - 22:00

Flute concerto in A1

17/08/1999 - 22:00


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Fine dining’ and ‘five star’. No two phrases exert sphincter-clenching fear quite like these do.

Flute concerto in A1
Fine dining’ and ‘five star’. No two phrases exert sphincter-clenching fear quite like these do.

In restaurant terms, these phrases have come to represent a cuisine which is at its heart conservative and unchallenging: food that classically trained, B-team chefs plate up for successful financial planners and their boufféd wives at golf clubs around the nation.

It’s not restricted to golf clubs either. Fine dining reaches its apogee at resorts. In fact, ‘resort fine dining’ is a sub-species all its own.

At its most benign, fine dining is just boring. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing all that right with it either. It’s ‘classy’ comfort food with big sauces, cucumber in the green salad and where the concession to modern Australian cuisine is to garnish the lobster thermidor with coriander instead of parsley. It’s a style of cuisine that regularly attracts restaurant awards from large credit card companies.

Perth has its fair share of resort fine diners.

Mind you, there’s resorts and there’s resorts: The best are in Queensland. The best of those are Lizard Island and – my personal favourite – the Great Barrier Reef’s tropical high altar to sybarism, Bedarra Island.

These internationally acclaimed islands deliver magnificent food.

The new(ish) management team at Flutes – chef Alfred Quintas and Manager Drew Bernhardt – can claim credit for much of the success at both Bedarra and Lizard, where they worked as a team prior to joining the Brookland Valley restaurant. Since arriving at Flutes eighteen months ago, they have re-energised the food and service.

Although Flutes was always a popular food choice for those on the Margaret River wine trail, in recent years it had edged toward the aforementioned fine dining style. It had become a little tired. Not any more.

Good menus are those that torture with choice. Flutes comes pretty close with some attention-grabbing takes on the classic mod-Aus repertoire.

This is as much a consequence of deft menu writing – which makes everything sound so damn sexy – as it has to do with the dishes themselves. Mind you, the descriptions are novella long, so they’d want to be a good read.

The honey glazed Mount Barker chicken breast on a herbed ricotta tart with caramelised apples ($12.50/$16.50) was a case in point. Read well. Tasted fine. The Blonde swooned.

“Swoz orsum,” she managed after the first few mouthfuls. And indeed it was. Everything about this dish worked a treat – amazingly.

There were so many flavours and layers of technique imposed on the dish, it seemed destined for a fall. It was a triumph. It had more parts than a helicopter, yet was crafted seamlessly into an exquisite exposition of flavour.

The breast was sliced and layered atop the small tart, which added an astringent creaminess to the toothsome flesh of the chicken. The apples added depth and the fine jus gave the palate a final, cleansing slap in the face. A dish with great poise.

The king prawn, squid and fire seared pimento rolled in souvlaki served with a Greek yogurt dressing ($15.50/$21.50) was nothing like the soov-a-larki one buys at four in the morning after a night on the rocket fuel. No, this was the haute version of this most grim of late night junk foods. And it worked. The flavours were refined. Chef crafted the ingredients well, although the pita was dried out and cloying in the mouth, which let the dish down. This was always going to be a difficult dish to present with elan, and it did look a little like – well – a souvlaki. The simple flavours though were exceptional.

The fish of the day ($25.50) was an enor-mous serving of a duo of Atlantic salmon and red snapper on a bed of mash, accompanied with a zesty pesto made on macadamia nuts and a drape of glistening, wilted spinach leaves.

This dish – particularly the salmon – is now a standard in the canon of modern Australian food. At Flutes though, it was above the ordinary. The flavours were delivered with surgical precision. Both species of fish were under-cooked well, although a second wedge of the salmon was a little over cooked.

My steak ($24.50) was terrific. Well aged, it was cooked on the bone (in the cutlet style) and delivered to table medium-rare instead of rare as I had ordered. I love anchovy fillets with a plain grilled steak and the kitchen delivered a small pot of the salty fish on request. Although I opted for plain, the steak also comes with a herbed butter and cabernet jus if one prefers.

There are five desserts, all priced at $8.50. We shared the lemon mousse dumpling with pistachio nut crisps on lime zest syrup. Surprisingly, this dish came to table looking like scrambled eggs rather than dumplings. Although the flavour was exquisite, the presentation was a disappointment.

The coffee is good. The wine list is Brook-land Valley only, although you can bring your own if you’re prepared to pay corkage.

Alfred Quintas quite obviously gets the point of modern cuisine, which is that when east meets west, one doesn’t want a diplomatic incident. He seamlessly merges new world flavours and old world techniques, delivering the culinary equivalent of an entente cordiale on the plate and on the palate.

There is a palpable sense of purpose at Flutes. The new team has brought a highly professional edge to both service and food. The staff are energised and enthusiastic.

The extended and refurbished restaurant is sunny, airy and chi chi. It has an upscale, international fee – perhaps the only restaurant in the capes region where one can don the Pashmina, slip on the Gucci loafers and not feel like an overdressed prat.

Flutes delivers the whole package. Great food, relaxed resort style dining, good views and a delightful, memorable experience.


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