TA­BLES HIGHER SCALE

There’s more to Fre­man­tle’s Red Her­ring than a seafood plat­ter, dis­cov­ers Vic­to­ria Lau­rie

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

IT’S early on Fri­day night and the Red Her­ring is al­ready buzzing. Restau­rant pa­trons usu­ally turn up early, our waiter cheer­fully in­forms us, be­cause they like stand­ing on the out­side deck at sun­set, look­ing for shoals of fish in the clear, shal­low wa­ter that gen­tly slaps be­neath the floor­boards.

The place started out as an oys­ter farm in 1921, jut­ting into the Swan River with crates full of oys­ters sus­pended in the wa­ter. Then for sev­eral decades it op­er­ated as the Oys­ter Beds restau­rant un­til, from 1997, new own­ers re­named it and re­fur­bished it into an el­e­gant, brightly lit glass pavil­ion over the wa­ter.

When four of us meet in the con­ve­nient river­side car park, the air has the salty tang of fresh oys­ters and the view across the wa­ter is splen­did: there’s a turn-of-the-cen­tury cricket pavil­ion sur­rounded by con­dos owned by Fre­man­tle’s nou­veaux riches. Me­tres away from us, fish­ing boats and fam­ily cruis­ers lan­guidly criss-cross be­tween the blue and red chan­nel lights. In a mo­ment they’ll turn a bend, pass the wharves and reach the sea.

You could drop a line over the veranda balustrade where our party is seated, ex­cept it’s win­ter and the restau­rant drops clear plas­tic blinds to keep out the sea breeze. Per­haps it’s the cheer­ful red splash of colour on the en­trance wall, but the Red Her­ring has a warmth and panache about it from first en­counter.

A young waiter pours iced wa­ter into our glasses and hands out menus with a wel­com­ing flour­ish. We settle back to watch Bren­don, the Ja­pantrained grill chef, sear­ing cut­tle­fish skew­ers and crab cakes be­hind an is­land bar a few me­tres away.

The restau­rant is al­most full and the noise level is high: pol­ished floor­boards and lots of glass look good but don’t make for great acous­tics. A round of mar­ti­nis ($15 each) has the ef­fect of numb­ing any mild ir­ri­ta­tion, and the waiter has so­lic­i­tously checked whether we want a base of Bom­bay or Gor­don’s gin.

That seafood pre­dom­i­nates on the menu (by head chef James We­ston) suits a party of four I’ll nick­name Fish Boy, Oys­ter Lover, Sushi Freak and Any­thing Seafood. Fish Boy’s en­tree ar­rives first, a gen­er­ous bar­be­cue seafood tast­ing plate ($19.50) fea­tur­ing lo­cal garfish with a pleas­ing smoked taste, prawns and fish sliv­ers, two cut­tle­fish skew­ers, a bowl of Ja­panese rice and a small, crisp salad with bean shoots and ginger. It’s the best value dish of the night.

Bren­don, the grill chef cum sushi maker, is clearly work­ing over­time. The sushi and sashimi en­tree ($18.50) or­dered by Sushi Freak (me) is fault­less, with plump salmon slices perk­ily rest­ing against a pal­isade of ex­pertly sliced cu­cum­ber. Lit­tle taste sen­sa­tions im­press, such as the rib­bons of pale pink ginger that don’t re­sem­ble the over­pick­led, over-coloured ginger served by some restau­rants. (It’s brought in from Ade­laide be­cause it’s not too tart, Bren­don tells me later over a cool­ing grill.)

The dozen nat­u­ral oys­ters (at $3 a shell) get high praise from Oys­ter Lover for ar­riv­ing on a bed of crushed ice, not salt. But her dis­cern­ing palate tells her they are not as fresh as they should be, which is sur­pris­ing in a place that makes a big play of its oys­ters be­ing freshly shucked and pre­sented in six ways.

Any­thing Seafood judges his homemade braised lamb gnoc­chi en­tree ($18) as too soft and doughy, even though I taste-test and ap­prove of the sinewy meat and tomato and veg­etable sauce that goes with it. We tell him it serves him right for not stick­ing to the seafood, as we share an ex­cel­lent fifth en­tree of salt-and-pep­per squid ($18) by dunk­ing the crispy squid pieces in a lit­tle pot of chilli jam (tomato, onion, cap­sicum and chilli).

None of us is a big drinker, but af­ter down­ing two bot­tles of Chest­nut Grove Verdelho from Man­jimup in the state’s south­west ($35; $8 a glass) we get gig­gly think­ing about the im­pact on din­ers of the over­pow­er­ing pong from ‘‘ New Zealand love boats’’ at the nearby Fre­man­tle port. The am­mo­nia smell from decks full of ner­vous sheep can waft on a sum­mer breeze, so we de­cide Red Her­ring pa­trons may want to check wind di­rec­tion and the ship­ping news be­fore book­ing a veranda ta­ble.

Our mains ar­rive: for Fish Boy, a gen­er­ous serve of whole New Zealand floun­der with lemon ca­per sauce, ku­mara chips and red onion wedges ($37). Mine is char­grilled fresh Rot­tnest Is­land cray­fish with a tangy lemon-but­ter sauce, cos let­tuce salad and mashed pota­toes. The meat proves hard to ex­tract from the half shell and is cu­ri­ously bit­ter where the grilling process has seared the edges of the del­i­cate white flesh. Un­less you are a gi­ant eater, a half serve ($32; $55 whole) is quite enough.

Oys­ter Lover’s roasted At­lantic salmon fil­let, with beet­root and steamed as­para­gus and salsa verde ($34), is per­fectly bal­anced in taste, al­though the creme fraiche on top is un­nec­es­sary. And Any­thing Seafood is pleased with his grilled fresh snap­per, served with scal­lion and parme­san mash, steamed green beans and saf­fron beurre blanc ($47.50).

The most eco­nom­i­cal way for a group to get its sugar fix is the sweets tast­ing plate to share ($24.50), with lit­tle sam­ple serves of steamed ginger pud­ding, baked white choco­late cheese­cake and pe­can and caramel tart­let, plus ice cream va­ri­eties. It is all too sweet and cloy­ing for my taste but I spoon-fight Fish Boy for mouth­fuls of my favourite, a warm poached pear with cin­na­mon-scented ri­cotta.

We sit around feel­ing sated and no one tries to hurry us along, even though a sec­ond shift of pa­trons could eas­ily be squeezed in, if only at the grill-sushi bar. The restau­rant rates points on an­other score: when book- ing, I ex­plained that one of our party was in a wheel­chair and needed easy ac­cess to the ta­ble. No prob­lem, they said, and dis­creetly with­drew a chair from the ta­ble when we ar­rived. And a gen­tly an­gled ramp built into the stylish en­trance makes it easy for all of us to roll out. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Check­list

The Red Her­ring 26 River­side Rd, East Fre­man­tle. (08) 9339 1611; www.redher­ring.com.au. Open: Daily, lunch from noon to 3pm, din­ner from 6pm to 10pm. Cost: About $125 for two for three cour­ses and wine. Rea­sons to re­turn: Re­li­ably high stan­dard of food; ef­fi­cient ser­vice; won­der­ful out­look.

Pic­ture: Andy Tyn­dall

Fish for com­pli­ments: A great view and a Ja­panese twist in the cook­ing en­hance Red Her­ring’s ap­peal

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