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