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Gallery of fine offerings

I ASKED myself, have I stumbled through a magic looking glass? I was approaching the entrance of Friends Restaurant and was greeted by a collection (or should the collective noun be a herd?) of remarkable metal statues, all life size, some rusting others painted to preserve the welded works of art.

A wonderfully bizarre, but imaginative collection of animals led by a laughing iron clown at the doorway to a culinary jigsaw.

Curiouser and curiouser became the Friends experience.

This is the domain of people of passion.

Restaurateurs Clyde and Lesley Bevan are two unique people who oversee their gastronomic dream of excellence.

To a large part they have achieved that.

Friends Restaurant is a special place in the pages of Perth’s dining dictionary. Here you dine with class, but not with the boring formality of absolute silver service.

The service here is efficient without being intimidating, and sauced with a warmth and friendliness that reflects well on WA attitudes. Much of the clientele here are international and I can see this as a traveller’s comfort zone.

You are a guest in a gallery of fine things.

The art extends from the sculpture’s masterpieces at the entrance, other works are within the main rooms along with some spectacular paintings and all are for sale.

“I’m sad if we sell one, but when it’s replaced with something new, the restaurant takes on a new feel,” commented Clyde with great sincerity.

Certainly, wine is another of the collectables he likes to show and hopefully sell.

As much as Clyde has a love of art, his knowledge and fervour for wine is exceptional.

All this is evident in the room where giant wine storage racks divide and add atmosphere.

The wine directory is a weighty handful, hardly a simple list but rather an international document.

I would suggest this is one of the most complete cellars available in this State.

Outstanding quality wine by the glass is a fine feature and there are plenty to choose from. Considering the quality of the wines available, the prices are quite reasonable.

Managing wine-by-the-glass is all-important in my view.

To often I see it tardy and limp because the bottle has been opened too long, not preserved with inert gas and not checked before service.

In answer to my question of preservation methods used at Friends, the answer was a simple, “there is no preservation, we and the staff enjoy constant educational wine tastings.”

Like all the fittings and table dressing, little has been spared in the quest for excellence.

Wine is served in magnificent Riedel glassware with the edict that good wine tastes better from fine glassware is followed.

The new menu is a case of chef Gwenael Lesle putting a challenge to diners.

A dare to interpret his food that is described as modern Australian cuisine.

There seems to be few boundaries in his creative expansion with ingredients married that would be unlikely to normally meet at the alter.

He promises clarity, harmony and a surprise or two.

Certainly, the latter is the case.

Nobody could question the chef’s dedication to crafting breathtaking visions that are served attractively on virginal white crockery.

Gwenael Lesle is a cook that believes patrons should enjoy food as he prepares it.

I have seen him serve a restaurant full of people, veal cutlets, totally rare as part of a set menu dinner, platters were returned to the kitchen in vast numbers.

The reality is that most Australian’s like meat with the juices intact but they like it sealed at the minimum.

Of course, the age-old debate comes to the fore of who determines to what level a dish should be cooked—the chef or the patron?

I believe the answer is the chef, but in consultation with the customer.

Pigeon is often served rare and that’s how my entrée came, a dish I was pleased with.

The breast of pigeon is tasty flesh and when filled with chicken liver, black-trumpet mushrooms and olives the bird is even tastier.

But the triumph was the robust flavours of the truffle reduction ($18.50)

With that success a companion was served a magnificent concoction based around our fabulous blue manna crabs.

A conical tower of intertwined julienne sliced apple cucumber and slithers of corn-fed chicken came served tall on the white plate, dabs of sesame oil and Vietnamese mint dressed the plate ($18.50).

A visual work of art breathtakingly handcrafted with great care, but where oh where was the expected sweet flavours of the crab?

I had no trouble in finding the fresh crayfish in a very adventurous dish.

Described as a ragout of olives, white, string field mushrooms bathed in a crustacean sauce ($38.50).

Local lobster has powerful flavours that are often difficult to find food and wines to accompany it, but this creation is out-of-square.

The broken pieces of steamed rock lobster flesh were dressed in what was akin to a crustacean flavoured tapenade.

With this I ordered an excellent spinach leaf salad that was generously laced with an excellent creamy feta blocks, macadamia nuts, avocado and walnut kernels and tossed in a walnut oil vinaigrette ($14.50).

Because the handcrafted food takes time your patience is soothed and spoilt with tiny taste tidbits that inspire your tastebuds.

* This is Stewart Van Raalte’s last wining and dining column for Business News. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Stewart for his contribution and wish him well.

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