Mezzo sings on King

Americans, with their penchant for therapy speak would call it denial. We more plain speaking Australians would call it inexplicable, unfathomable contradiction.

At issue is Western Australia’s extraordinary capacity to deny the very existence of winter. Perth, after Melbourne, is the coldest mainland capital city in Australia. Yet we only ever build with summer in mind.

No where is this more evident than in restaurants, where ugly wall mounted gas heaters are hissing testament to cold weather denial: a quick retro-fitted solution after the first real day of winter or an afterthought at the end of the design process.

It’s as if local architects draw the building, plan the interior, choose the finishes, build beautiful spaces and then...“Oh, bugger me. How we gonna keep the punters from freezing in winter?” How indeed. “I know, lets bang up some of those heater thingies”.

The insurmountable ugliness visited upon the walls of Perth’s cafes in this way is un-fathomable, given the alternatives. Have local designers never heard of hydronic heating? Not only can it look terrific, but hydronic heating is cheap to run and generates an all pervading, gentle warmth without cold spots.

I raise this because Mezzonine in King Street has wall-mounted gas heaters. On the evening we dined there last week, they were about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike, battling against a sub-arctic breeze rocketing through open doors. Architecturally, the interior of Mezzonine is frigid at the best of times. On a cold evening, it’s positively bleak.

This is all just restaurant critic grumpiness really, because the food at Mezzonine is enterprising and, at times, dynamic. The staff are nice and the prices are very reasonable.

Mezzonine’s menu is a mix and match selection of nine starters and eleven mains. It’s also a very good looking menu with every dish a winner, which makes ordering a process of elimination rather than of choice.

The tomato consommé ($9.00) was a clear broth of tomato water with saffron and basil ravioli suspended just under the surface. The consommé was a highly flavoured, drip by drip distillation of tomato pulp with – were it the ocean – the clarity scuba divers pray for. It was slightly scented with fresh pepper. The ravioli were light, fluffy and contained just the lightest smear of filling: a well-pitched accompaniment to the elegant broth.

The Mezzo-plate ($15.50/$21.00) was a selection of amuse-gueule size morsels, which included a single slice of veal carpaccio, lightly oiled and topped with tomato salsa, a small broccoli samosa made with wonton skins and deep fried to a dark brown, a miniature Vietnamese roll made on a sliver of roasted duck breast and fresh julienned vegetables wrapped in rice paper and a single oyster served on the half-shell topped with what the kitchen calls a passion-fruit and chervil sabayon, but which was actually a thick fruit-flavoured mayonnaise. All bar the cloying sweet mayo, were deftly constructed and innovatively presented.

The grilled salmon caramelized grapefruit, coconut, fresh peas, udon noodles ($22.00) was a disappointment. The fish was over-cooked, not just by a few seconds but by a few minutes. It had seized up as a result and was tight and dry. The dressing on the excellent noodles had a bitter aftertaste. It was a dish with a lot going for it, let down by poor technique.

On the other hand the pepper linguini, roast pumpkin, pistachio, sage, fresh ricotta ($15.00) was marvellous. Every element in this simple pasta dish presented well. The fine pasta was perfectly cooked. A large dice of roasted pumpkin added a nutty, smoky counterpoint to the creamy ricotta. Finely chopped, fried sage leaves provided a crisp full stop. The dish was full of flavour and precision.

The cherry nougat cheesecake ($5.00) was selected from the display cabinet as are all the puds, cakes and tarts. It sat on a first class biscuit base made on chocolate biscuits and butter. The filling (where the cheesecake should have been) was a creamy concoction, not without flavour and texture but certainly not cheesecake as we know it. The single-serve sized cake was encased with an extraordinary concoction which was elastic and rubbery, like a thick latex bedspread.

The wine list is well thought out. That’s clear at first glance. It’s not big but it’s perfectly formed. The thirty-four offerings have been selected by an expert hand. Each major grape variety or wine style is represented by about three selections and it’s obvious that the wine merchants didn’t do the selection.

Producers include Jingalla at Porongorup, Jane Brook, Shaw & Smith from the Adelaide Hills, Pierro, Tatachilla from McLarenvale, Tucks Ridge and Coldstream Hill from the Mornington Peninsula. Mezzonine’s list is one of the best small wine lists around. It’s a joy to contemplate.

Mezzonine has a great menu, a groovy new urban look (albeit so cool, it borders on unwelcoming), a wine list to cross town for and warm, chatty staff.

Service from the young staff is professional and sure footed, although – probably as a consequence of pitching the service at the groovy end of the spectrum – they have a blind spot for forty-somethings.

I like the way the chef thinks. The menu reads well and the food plates up exception-ally and with finesse. A lack of attention to detail took the shine off two of the dishes but, on balance, Mezzonine has an innovative and adventurous take on modern café cuisine.

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