Friday, 8 July 2011

Wild thing.

There’s an edge to the breeze coming off the Indian Ocean and the rain is still drizzling down as we step out into the street. We’ve had a lovely evening listening to classical music – thank you, Duncan Gardiner, I know you won’t mind me dropping your name – and now it’s time for something to eat. We get in our cars and drive through the main Fremantle café strip, out where it is quieter and less crowded to the corner of Wray Avenue where we find Wild Poppy.

I’ve been to Wild Poppy before on a coffee-and-cake visit but haven’t had the chance to try their dinner menu yet. Everyone who has been tells me that it is good, interesting, value-for-money and kid-friendly.  I rang the evening before to make a booking and the cheerful woman on the other end of the phone told me that they didn’t take bookings but if we turned up around 7.30pm there would definitely be room for our group of 6. She was right – only one other table is occupied as we enter.

Inside, there is an eclectic décor style – as if someone has cherry-picked art and china and sofas from a verge collection in one of Perth’s better suburbs. It’s warm, comfortable and unthreateningly boho. I want my own recycled-doily lampshade.

Can I buy one from somewhere or do I have to source and make my own?

Water is poured (and spilled and cleaned up and apologies made), menus are brought and we see that there are a range of ‘tasty plates’ which can be had as entrees or as tapas-style dining and a mains menu. There’s much to love – what we have here isn’t the usual ‘modern Australian’ fare (except, perhaps, the chilli mussels) and to fine a menu where the most expensive dish is $26 is something I thought I would never see again in Perth.

A couple of bottles of friendly Prosecco ($25 each, the mark-up is not huge) get us in good spirits for ordering. Who can go past anything that sounds as delicious as vine-wrapped brie with watermelon-rind jam? The children want squid wings and sausages.

For mains, I choose the mussels with chilli jam and coconut cream; my partner and my friend, Luke, go for the grilled goats cheese with rosti and mushrooms; my other friend, Duncan, has the butternut risotto cakes while my older son plumps for the quail and papaya salad. My small son is not a huge eater so he chooses a tasty plate of Thai pork and peanut sausage.

The grilled vine-wrapped brie turns out to be as good as it sounded. The vine leaves are crisp and scented as you bite through them to get to the oozy, melty brie in the centre. I decide there and then that I need to find out more about watermelon rind jam because it is the perfect fragrant accompaniment to the cheese – sweet but with a tang and astringency that sets of the creaminess of the brie but still sticky and gelatinous and coloured like milk-jade..

Vine-wrapped brie and watermelon-rind jam.

Small son is very happy with his sausage which comes on a banana leaf (on a plate) with a wedge of lime and slivers of chilli on top. I get a bite because I am the mother and I insist. It has substantial chunks of peanut and isn’t super-hot but doesn’t lack in ‘bite’.

A squeeze of lime just gives an extra kick to the chilli/peanut combo.

[Aside: perhaps I will blog about this separately another time, but I like that my kids can choose what they want from any menu in any restaurant and not be phased by new taste sensations and especially that they are not put off by the idea of chilli. Sure they have their likes and dislikes when it comes to food, but they are not picky and that means dining out is something we can do as a family and doesn’t necessarily involve fast-food restaurants.]

The squid wings are substantial and chunky with a decent dollop of fresh, piquant aioli on the side. My older son polishes them off because he is fourteen and over 6 foot tall and has an appetite to match.

Wings not rings.

The mains take a while to come but we are pleased with them when they do. I have to be in a very particular mood to order chilli mussels and these suit me down to the ground. One of the issues that I have with this dish normally is that the sauce is too thin, but tonight the liquid has substance. The coconut cream helps to thicken it up and there are good-sized morsels of fresh chilli clinging to the mussels and the bean-sprouts. There’s an extra dish for empty shells and bread to mop up the ‘juice’. Very nice.

The other dishes are generous. The goat’s cheese is a substantial serve and the butternut risotto cakes come in a cluster of three. The dish I envy most is my older son’s quail with papaya salad, the quail is crispy-skinned and smells glorious. They have even put a boiled quail’s egg on the side – can we say ‘Mother and Child Reunion? – and the papaya salad has burn and is vinegary.

Goat's cheese

A butternut take on arancini

Crispy-skinned quail

I love a quail egg - soft-boiled quail egg, even better!

We clean our plates and some of us still have room for dessert – the standout of which was the saffron crème brulee – not just because of its delicate texture and scent under the crackly toffee, but also because it goes so nicely with the retro table-cloth. It was Luke’s crème brulee but he was very generous about letting me have spoonfuls and when I go back, because I will go back, I intend to have one all to myself.

Saffron is for the dish and for the decor.

This is a great little eatery which won’t remain undiscovered for long. I’m glad we got the chance to visit before it becomes trendy. I hope it won’t become trendy but it is the eternal dilemma of hoping that a restaurant will stay quiet enough to remain under the radar but get above the radar enough to stay in business.