Saturday, 15 October 2011

Lamont's at The Bishop's House

This week began with my birthday. I like birthdays, though they do come around with alarming regularity. Presents and cake are good but eating out is better and when my partner promised that he was taking me ‘somewhere blogworthy’ as a birthday surprised there was much to be excited about.

The surprise lasted up until  2 hours before we left for the restaurant when my MIL, who was looking after the kids, said, “I hear you’re going to Lamont’s”.


She was very apologetic about letting the cat out of the bag and even ‘fessed up to my partner so I wouldn’t have to pretend surprise when we got there. So, on a balmy spring night we arrived at Lamont’s at The Bishop’s House in central Perth.

A little historic island in a sea of modernity.

The history of this colonial era building is all in the name – it was exactly that, the Bishop’s House. The official home of the Bishop of Perth. It has changed hands a few times since then My MIL remembers a time when it was still a hostel for the superannuated widows of Perth clergy. Now it is in the hands of the Perth-famous Lamont family of restaurateurs - this is their 4th restaurant location in Perth - and part of the the Bishop’s See development. The historic house is hidden in a plaza and park surrounded by high-rise office buildings.It’s an arresting juxtaposition of old and new, wood and glass, brick and steel. I was charmed at first sight.

Entrance to the restaurant

We were led into a room with a fireplace at one end and four or five tables of different sizes. Our table, the smallest as it was just for two, was in the alcove of a bay window which looked into the gardens and across to the lights of the freeway.

 A nook just for us.

We decided to start with oysters because in my not-so-humble opinion, you should always start with oysters if you are in a reputable restaurant and oysters are available. Eating a fresh oyster is like mainlining the ocean – it tickles your taste-buds, fills your palate, dominates your whole sense of smell the moment you suck it out of the shell. If you are lucky, life will have blessed you with a partner who feels the same way. We ordered a dozen; six au naturel and six dressed with chili and lime.

 With chili and lime

Au naturel
To go with these, we decided to try to Lamont’s vintage sparkling pinot noir. This was surprisingly unsparkling – more spritzig than bubbly – and if I had to choose again, I’d probably go with something different. I drink bubbly for the bubbles as I think that the texture is amazing in the strictest sense of the word. The science behind fizz is genius and you would have to be completely jaded with the world not to be amazed by it. Therefore, a slightly sparkling wine is something of a let-down.

 Yes, there are bubbles but not many.

It was pleasant in itself – blush pink and on the sweet side, a perfectly acceptable complement to the oysters which were fresh and plump and succulent. I’m not sure if they were local or not. In retrospect, I should have asked but I hope they were from Coffin Bay or somesuch. I prefer restaurants which source WA produce.

For mains we were given the option of having the degustation menu or ordering a la carte. We decided on a la carte; my partner ordered the port-braised duck leg with gorgonzola polenta and balsamic cherries (and promised me some of the balsamic cherries as he did so) while I dithered a bit before opting for the spatchcock with soft-shelled crab, broad beans and foie gras butter.

While we waited we polished off the dish of olives that had been placed on the table before we arrived and the bread, olive oil and balsamic that we had asked for. The mains took a little while to arrive but we weren’t in a hurry and we had things to nibble on so we didn’t mind the wait.

When the mains arrived, I did experience a moment’s envy when I saw the dark glazed meat of the duck that was set in front of my partner. That, and the balsamic cherries. Not liking strong cheese and not being fond of polenta, it was the gorgonzola polenta that had put me off ordering this, but looking at it, I did wonder if I had made a terrible mistake and could have maybe eaten around the polenta to get to the duck and the cherries which my partner was enjoying so much.

 Can't wait to make my own balsamic cherries at home!

However, my spatchcock had crispy-skin, juicy white meat, was shiny with the foie gras butter, had lovely fat, fragrant broad beans scattered across the plate and the both-crunchy-yet-melting soft shell crab in the middle. 

 All that glistens is foie gras butter...

I think that of all the things I tasted that night, the balsamic cherries that I appropriated from my partner’s dish were the one that I’d most like to try to recreate at home. Sweet and tangy cherries swollen with sweet and tangy balsamic. Divine! I can just imagine them in a feta salad or on a kangaroo steak…

When we had finished, I ordered a cognac. I don’t normally drink spirits but in the right moment, a cognac is nice and hey, my birthday! Special occasion! My partner ordered a coffee (designated driver).

The cognac came balanced on another cognac-glass of warm water which was perfect for getting those cognac fumes a-wafting. I had to wait a while to drink because putting my nose near the glass was almost too eye-wateringly intense to bear.

Then the waiter came out with a little plate of handmade pralines with a pink candle in the middle. I asked my partner if he had ordered it specially but he hadn’t. The waiter had wished me a happy birthday when we had mentioned it at the beginning of the evening and she had taken it upon herself to organise this final touch to the night.  The pralines were utterly delicious; one had homemade Turkish Delight and another had honeycomb, there was coconut, white chocolate, dark chocolate. Plus, I had the candle to blow out. As the age I have arrived at now ends in a ‘1’ (and no, I’m not 21) it was appropriate.

Lamont’s at The Bishop’s House opens for dining from Monday to Friday (which is great if, like me, you are having your birthday on a Monday when many restaurants are closed) but on the weekend it is closed for casual dining and available to be booked for functions.

I’d go back as I’d like the chance to dine outside on the wide verandahs and maybe choose a different wine to have with the degustation menu.

But for now, happy birthday to me and thanks to my partner for the almost-surprise and the blog-worthy experience.