Lavish seafood going for gold

Two of this town’s leading restaurants are vying for a Gold Plate to be announced on November 20, in a category known as seafood. Yet, the pair is a fine example of the chalk and cheese syndrome.

They are like a couple of artists, one a realist and the other an impressionist, both painting with the same medium but they will always achieve different results.

Such is this golden contest between the Red Herring and Aristos. The Red Herring with a delicate, Asian influenced approach to seafood and the latter, an extravagant, continental style. I hope the Gold Plate judges are aware of these vast differences that will never meet when they make their decision.

Aristos is a fascinating little restaurant in downtown Broadway. What a breathtaking address this Nedlands eatery boasts. The place seats about 80 or 90 souls and is hugely popular with a regular clientele that must be the envy of many other venues. The business population favours it and many deals are done or at least begun over an Aristos platter.

They do things cleverly here right from the very start. Your vehicle is valet parked behind the restaurant, you simply abandon the throbbing machine at the laneway gates and the keys will be at the desk as you leave. It’s a wonderful service for people like myself who tend to run a little late.

The welcoming greeting at the front door gives a hint of the service and theatre that makes this place so popular. Little touches that impress gold plate adjudicators are in place and always have been, iced water is on the table before you think to request it, tables are well dressed with elegant glassware and white fabric cloths. In addition, this is a restaurant with a good sized bar that wasn’t an afterthought as happens in many dining rooms. After all, the easiest money a restaurateur can make is at the bar or from it.

There is a comfortable mood here. Greeks are family people and the irrepressible owner and chef Aaron Papandroulakis celebrates the family’s seafood, hospitality history with old pictures of his father filleting fish and the Bunbury café that was the genesis of their hospitality industry involvement. Aaron is the popular television chef on Channel Nine’s Post Cards and Just Add Water programs, but will shortly move to Seven for a national series.

He is a larger then life character and even the public side of operating a restaurant hasn’t drained his full-on personality.

“If it starts to wear me down, I simply go out into the kitchen and take a deep breath and march back into the restaurant smiling, it’s part of the job,” he said.

Aristos food is a generous cuisine with a strong local content, a wise move considering the fantastic quality of the seafood from the WA coast.

When questioned on his three favourite fish caught in our waters, Aaron answered, “Dhufish is king of the ocean for all sorts of reasons, you can cook it in many ways – fry, grill, deep fry, poach and even boil. It has great texture and flavours and basically yields more than other fish, including the wing-fins and cheeks.”

I pushed for his other preferences.

“Red emperor and swordfish,” was the reply.

Dhufish is served in three styles and the menu promotes it as the best eating fish in the world and I have to agree. At $31.50 a handsome sized fillet can be grilled, golden fried in a light beer batter or in egg and breadcrumbs, with it comes a tartare sauce. I go for the beer batter because the batter ensures the flaky flesh remains succulent. And while this light batter is very good, don’t be embarrassed to discard it and enjoy healthy, pure Dhufish. A half serve of Dhufish is available with grilled Calamari at $27.70.

Another local, King George whiting, is offered prepared in the same methods at $29.90.

An unusual combination is the dish of smoked salmon and Mandurah prawns ($31.50). The salmon is smoked in-house to Aaron’s recipe and served with the traditional partners of capers and onion rings; the prawns enhance the dish, as does the vinaigrette.

Another combination of locals is the half lobster mornay and Shark Bay whiting ($25.70). However, I must admit that I’ll never come to grips with lavishing any seafood in a heavy mornay.

Predominant sauces at Aristos are creamy garlic and Pernod, tartare, mornay and a clever tomato, celery and onion sauce.

A dish not to miss is the Greek speciality, grilled calamari simply done with oil and lemon and even the pan-fried version with a chilli lift ($13.50 and $14.50). In my opinion, the grilled calamari is one of the signature dishes of this restaurant.

Try his steamed beetroot with a garlic sauce which comes cold and goes perfectly with the calamari as a type of red salad ($4.50). A basket of bread adds $2.50, a small Greek salad $7.50 (how can anyone tolerate a small salad?) – go for the large tossable size at $10.50. Similar charges apply for Aristos green salad at $7.10 and $9.30. Caesar costs $7.70 and $9.30.

Five red wines of good pedigree are available by the glass beginning at $6.50 and rising to $8.25. Of the six whites that can be purchased this way, you should taste the Tim Adam’s semillon from the Clare Valley at $6.25. Wines by the glass are preserved by vacuum pump which removes the offending oxygen from the bottle, but it is far from the best way to keep them pristine.

Far from a grand selection, at least the wines are reasonably priced.

Invite the friendly gourmet for a casual fish feed with class.

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