Red Herring won’t throw you off the scent

There’s an old saying with more than a grain of truth in it that one should ‘never trust a restaurant with a view, which revolves or which overlooks the water’. It’s certainly true that a significant proportion of Perth restaurants which fall into this category are less than stellar.

The flip side of this argument suggests that restaurants with no view, no maritime aspect or no capacity to maintain geostationary orbit are predisposed to be a more positive dining experience. The Red Herring at East Fremantle is the wonderful exception to the rule.

When the extended Broadfield clan recently dined at the Herring, the experience was one of undiluted pleasure. From start to finish the evening delivered in all four departments: food, service, wine and ambience. All this, and a river vista as sweeping as it is up close and personal.

The Red Herring was an ambitious project – a seven figure refit of the Oyster Beds Restaurant – a landmark in its day which had been run down in recent years to a point where it barely registered a blip on discerning diners’ radar. The Red Herring is a Cinderella-like transformation of light timbers, sleek serving areas, sweeping verandahs and an interior scheme that is both low key and low cut (in a slinky, sexy kinda way).

The menu boasts twenty-two selections, many of them available in both entrée and main course serves.

The freshly shucked oysters ($2.40 each) come in four variations. The flying fish roe and wasabi dressing version was particularly good. Neither of the two additions detracted from the creamy, ozone flavours of the just-shucked bivalves. In fact the small, crunchy roe delivered a delicious counterpoint, while the wasabi added the lightest of dressings. The effect was bracing.

The Japanese entrée plate ($35.00 for two) was plated up with artistic style. A small mound of cold udon noodles served as a glossy bed for half a dozen wafer thin slices of char grilled beef tataki, cooked on the outside and raw at its core. Two large prawns were served simply, as was a handful of sliced raw tuna sushi with a wasabi dressing on the side. Two large slices of nori roll were exemplary. Again, great produce and a deft hand in the kitchen combined to create a selection of amuse-gueule, incandescent with fresh ocean flavours.

A main course of Atlantic salmon ($26.50) was served simply on a bed of mash the colour of fine bone china and surrounded by a pool of pastel green pea puree, with the subtlest of pea and cream flavours. A dish of just three components, cooked simply and with great confidence. When Mies van de Rohe famously concluded “less is more” he could well have been talking of this spectacularly simple dish.

The tempura soft shelled crab, miso broth, dipping sauce ($19.50/$37.50) showed off this remarkable crab at its best. Lightly battered, the crab was briefly deep fried and eaten shell and all. This version was served with a small noodle bowl of miso soup on the side: a tannic refreshment after the rich, sweet crab meat.

This is the way to eat crab. Cracking shells and spraying fellow diners with juices and shards of splintered carapace had previously been the only, somewhat vulgar way of eating crab in a restaurant. This diner-friendly crustacean imported from Asian waters – with a shell no harder than thick rice paper – has changed all that. Perth chefs can’t get enough of them, and it’s sure to be the signature dish of the summer. Red Herring’s rendition was superb.

They say white men can’t cook Asian. The seafood green curry with prawns, clams, fresh fish, mussels and steamed rice ($19.50/$29.50) was an elegant repudiation of this myth. The slightly thick green Thai curry sauce was the genuine article – fresh with the flavours of lemon grass and kaffir lime, with complexity and richness coming from the fish sauce, coconut milk, chilli and blachan. Served in a bowl, the dish was pregnant with seafood.

Desserts were good. The wine list is a carefully chosen selection of favourites. It is not overly long and caters for most tastes. It’s good to see priority given to champagnes and sparklings, as there’s nothing more delightful on a warm day than fresh oysters and a glass of French.

As anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a waiter with attitude can attest, the most remarkable food and the most sublime views are worth nothing if the service is shabby or impertinent.

Our waiter – I subsequently learned her name is Nikki Brecker – was the secret ingredient. Her service was so knowledgeable, so genuinely solicitous and so professional delivered, it’s fair to say she made the evening what it was – highly agreeable and simply delightful. Ms Brecker, a trainee waiter at the Herring, was a shining example of how excellent service can be achieved without resorting to the cutesy-pie insincerity which so many young waiters mistake for attentiveness. Ms Brecker has a big future.

So to does Kevin McCabe – one of five partners in the Red Herring and its general manager and executive chef. The thirty-four year old Irishman has created a magnificent enterprise.

It’s at the medium to top end of the price scale, but its value for money is unquestioned. It wasn’t always the case.

The Red Herring has delivered some shaky meals and indolent service in the past, but with McCabe’s return to the kitchen (he was previously more general manager than he was chef), the brigade has lifted its game.

Red Herring is now one of Perth’s great restaurant experiences.

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