Sunday, 26 June 2011

Love Shak

One place that I often find myself on a Saturday afternoon is Fremantle Arts Centre.  I drop Number 1 son at his art class and then Number 2 son and self walk the short distance to the Arts Centre. We like it because it is (usually) quiet, it is historical, there are gallerys, there is a gift shop and there is a great cafe.

Normally,  we sit in the leafy courtyard and have coffee and cake. However, the last time I went, something had changed. As I sat there with my mocha and muffin, I noticed a delicious spicy fragrance emanating from the kitchen and the waitstaff going past us with bread boards and little frying pans.  A quick glance at the menu revealed exactly what was going on:


I had only had shak-shuka once before and it had left an impression on my palate not easily forgotten. It's a North African dish of eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce and, if you are tired of the standard breakfast fare offered in cafes on Saturday and Sunday mornings, shak-shuka is a wake-up for your weekend and your taste-buds. So it was with excitement yesterday, that I returned to the Arts Centre cafe to try it out.

My son is not into tomatoes or spice. He swears by the apple pie that they have there and declares that while they have it on the menu, he will never try anything else. I get this. When you are 10 and you have the opportunity for a large slice of warm apple pie, made with caramel and topped with cream, ice-cream or both, then you shouldn't pass it up.

It was one of those rare instances when he wanted his pie without anything on the side.

I ordered my shak-shuka, deciding that I would add a serve of chorizo into the mix. I also opted for a glass of local red. I've been a fan (and a mailing-list member) of Madfish Wines for many years now and when I see their shiraz on a menu I know that I can't go wrong. The shak-shuka took a little while to come but, hey, it is made fresh and when you see the little frying-pan come sizzling towards your table you get very excited!

I could have just sat and looked at it all day.

The tomato sauce was thick and still bubbling as the waiter set it down in front of me. I could smell onion, cumin and the generous handful of chopped coriander on the top. There were four slices of soft white baguette, a portion of garlic butter and  some kalamata olives on the side.

It's important to have enough bread for the mopping up stage.

The sauce was spicy without being hot - the last time I had shak-shuka, I'd been offered some home-made chilli sauce to go with it and I wish that I had had the same option this time around. That said, it was warm and studded with slices of quite delicate, fennel-y chorizo. I buttered my bread and got into it. The eggs were poached just the way I liked them, the yolk not too runny and not too firm.

Just-right yolk oozing onto the pan-base.

Such a good mingling of flavours in the mouth was made even better when chased with a slurp of decent WA shiraz. I tried to slow down, really I did, but before long my plate - sorry, my pan -  was clean.

The sign of a happy customer.

I sat, finishing my wine, feeling that I could easily eat the whole dish all over again if they had placed one in front of me. Luckily, things like that don't tend to happen. As it was, I was too full for dessert.

Fremantle Arts Centre Cafe opens for breakfast and for lunch. The staff are prompt, courteous and friendly - most importantly, kid-friendly. The menu is a short one, but a varied one and the wine-list is encouragingly local:

 All WA wines, bar one.

We like it so much there that we will forgive them their appalling typo at the end of the wine-list. In case you didn't notice, here's a close-up.

I don't know about you, but to me 'cockage' sounds rude.

The shak-shuka appears on both the lunch and breakfast menu, the main difference being that if you order breakfast shak-shuka, you can add chipolata as an extra rather than chorizo. Next time, I'm going back with my partner so that we can order a few more extras between us and see what they are like.

On a clear, crisp winter afternoon, sitting under the vines at the Freo Arts Centre is just lovely.

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