Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Indulge - WITH TONY LOVE

When it’s din­ner party time, the plan of­ten goes like this: “we’re hav­ing a leg of lamb, what shall we drink?”

Usu­ally that means search­ing the house wine rack or a trip to the bot­tle-o for a clas­sic caber­net or smart shi­raz.

Now let’s look at this from a wine-lover’s per­spec­tive. How about start­ing the din­ner con­ver­sa­tion like this: “I’ve got a great bot­tle of Der­went Val­ley pinot noir that we should drink tonight. What should we serve with it?” That’s my kind of pre-din­ner con­ver­sa­tion.

The colder months cry out for big, bold wines. But let’s start by tread­ing lightly with the trend of the mo­ment, medium-bod­ied reds that tend to have a lower al­co­hol level and brighter fruitier flavours and aro­mas, which suit the more ex­otic cuisines that make up a mod­ern Aus­tralian ta­ble.

Pinot noir and gre­nache (and blends) might ap­pear lighter in colour to start, and per­haps a lit­tle gen­tler in their power and weight ra­tios, but they make up for that in their aro­matic pret­ti­ness and at­trac­tions. Don’t be tricked into think­ing these are less se­ri­ous wines, or less ca­pa­ble of match­ing it with some pretty se­ri­ous cook­ing.

Pinot noir is cel­e­brated for its fi­nesse and sub­tle com­plex­i­ties, so its best com­pan­ions at the ta­ble are those cooked with­out fuss or a myr­iad ingredients; a per­fect piece of roast beef with a red wine jus, or a great steak cooked sim­ply, at most with a freshly chopped herb coat­ing.

Pinot and duck is the leg­endary match-up, from Chi­nese smoky and salty ver­sions to old-school breast French-style with a berry sauce. Other choices in­clude chicken dishes such as coq au vin and also pinker-fleshed fish, such as salmon and tuna, again treated with a spray of herbs.

Now for a lit­tle sur­prise: that same bright fruit ex­cite­ment from a young pinot finds a true friend at the other end of a meal with, of all things, white cho­co­late. Think of all those desserts with rasp­ber­ries and white cho­co­late and you’ll get why this pair­ing works a treat.

Gre­nache is sim­i­lar to pinot, though it also suits more ro­bust to gamier-style dishes, such as lamb that has been roasted with plenty of herbs and gar­lic or sur­rounded by roasted toma­toes.

Veg­etable dishes, such as rata­touille scented with thyme and oregano, also go well. That duck will also soar be­side gre­nache, and like­wise quail in a Viet­namese-like set­ting. And the va­ri­ety’s nat­u­ral sweet­ness sits com­fort­ably with the aro­matic flavours of a North African tagine, or even spicier dishes. t’s in­ter­na­tional whisky sour day, a perky wait­ress in­forms us, as we take a seat by the win­dow for a Fri­day night din­ner at Pearl + Co.

What that means is a whisky sour will set me back only $12 in­stead of the usual $20. And, just in case we missed it, there is also a hand­writ­ten sign on the bar in­di­cat­ing the bar­gain with a flurry of ex­cla­ma­tion marks.

Al­ways up for a celebration, I or­der said cock­tail as we pe­ruse the pa­per menu that also serves as a place­mat. From the drinks list, we select a Der­went Es­tate rose.

It’s been more than a year since I last dined at Pearl + Co, the restau­rant within the 30-year-old Mures com­plex that re­placed long-term tenant Orizuru. Many were sad to see Orizuru and its con­sis­tently good Ja­panese fare dis­ap­pear in mid-2015 and had high hopes for its re­place­ment, which re­cently picked up a cou­ple of gongs at the Restau­rant and Cater­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s 2017 Awards for Ex­cel­lence.

The last time I had din­ner at Pearl was on a win­try night in 2016. To­gether with a group of friends, I shared a se­ries of small plate meals that were well-ex­e­cuted and beau­ti­fully pre­sented.

On another oc­ca­sion over break­fast at Pearl, I can re­call a shred­ded pork dish topped with per­fectly poached eggs and served with a crispy yet creamy cro­quette on the side. There’s some­thing so de­li­ciously deca­dent about pork for break­fast.

A lit­tle over a year ago, long-time TasWeek­end food re­viewer Graeme Phillips raved about its chimichurri prawns and lamb cut­lets cooked rare and served with a salsa verde. But tonight is a rather dif­fer­ent af­fair.

Since ear­lier this year, Pearl + Co has em­braced a more ca­sual din­ing ethos as an oys­ter bar of­fer­ing cock­tails, var­i­ous fruits de mer and “land slid­ers” for those not pesca­to­ri­ally in­clined. It’s so ca­sual, in fact, there is lit­tle to dis­cern the menu from what is on of­fer in the main eat­ing hall next door.

The in­ti­mate vibe re­mains, though, with ta­bles look­ing out on the best vista in Ho­bart – bob­bing fishing boats in Vic­to­ria Dock with the his­toric Hunter St frontage be­yond.

A woman is sit­ting with her tween daugh­ter at the neigh­bour­ing ta­ble, with the young­ster sip­ping a lurid-coloured soft drink be­fore their deep-fried fare ar­rives.

There is a group of women on a high cen­tral ta­ble, punc­tu­ated by five blokes fur­ther along. Out­side, a cou­ple hud­dles to eat fish and chips out of a pa­per-lined wicker bas­ket from Mures Lower Deck.

We set­tle on the Pearl plat­ter at $95. The wait­ress, though a bit vague on what the plat­ter con­tains, as­sures us it will be more than enough for three.

First to ar­rive are the sauces, a straw­berry and chilli con­coc­tion, a lime and co­rian­der blend and a chilli aioli, all in rather util­i­tar­i­an­look­ing brushed metal con­tain­ers.

The plat­ter soon fol­lows. At one end are four un­adorned oys­ters – in my mind, the only way to eat them – and a pair of boiled prawns, which look about as ap­petis­ing as they sound.

A gen­er­ous amount of dill-cured salmon and smoked ware­hou tops a mound of cu­ri­ously un­dressed salad leaves.

At the other end is the hot se­lec­tion – a moun­tain of shoe­string fries with a fil­let each of bat­tered and grilled fish, a salmon skewer, some pretty non­de­script cala­mari and a few Thai fish cakes.

The lat­ter look more like arancini, with a rather dense tex­ture com­pared with the light and fluffy morsels pro­duced by my all-time favourite pur­veyor of fish cakes, the now-de­funct Flat­head at South Ho­bart.

In be­tween, again en­cased in small metal cups, is a se­lec­tion of seafoods – pick­led oc­to­pus, squid and mus­sels – cap­sicum dip, a salmon ter­rine, some olives and a few slices of rather well-toasted cia­batta.

It is, in­deed, an ad­e­quate amount for three but sadly fails to rise above the or­di­nary.

Did the whisky sour me? Well, I ac­tu­ally quite en­joyed the cock­tail.

But I think that Pearl + Co – for this diner, at least – has sim­ply lost its lus­tre.

Clock­wise from top left, the Pearl Plat­ter; the Thai fish cakes; a whisky sour made with Bel­grove Rye Whisky; and in­side the water­side Pearl + Co. Pic­tures: LUKE BOWDEN

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