TABLES Shore bet
Victoria Laurie savours lunch beside Perth’s Swan River
N a clear winter’s day in Perth, there could be no more perfect place to while away an hour or two than Barrack Street Jetty. A brisk five-minute walk from the CBD’s sunless canyons towards the Swan River leads to a neighbourhood of cafes and restaurants with views across blue-green water to South Perth.
The view itself is rather dull: ambitious plans to breathe life into the foreshore have remained in a holding pattern for years. A lone canoeist, a passing ferry, a few tourists downing beers at the Lucky Shag Waterfront Bar are about all the excitement you’ll find.
Nevertheless, Halo restaurant, on the pontoon-like jetty, is a wonderful place to watch nothing in particular. It has a warm, boathouse-style wooden interior and uncluttered river views from many of its linen-draped tables. And the veranda is encased in clear plastic awnings, which block the breeze and admit the sun.
It is surprisingly quiet on the midweek day that I meet my chef friend for lunch. With Perth salaries rising as fast as the city skyline, we’re surprised we aren’t elbowing business diners out of the way. As we peruse the menu, my dining companion tells me he likes Halo because it treats seafood with respect and has impeccable service. The service is immediately evident. Our waiters are attentive, know the menu backwards and are prompt in pouring water and draping napkins.
Our waiter, Michael, pours our chosen glasses of 2003 Clover Hill, a sparkling blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier ($15), opening a fresh bottle at our table, as we watch a pelican launching itself heavily into the air a few metres away.
We choose what we decide are the best winter dishes on the a la carte menu. For my friend, it’s an entree of braised wild rabbit and porcini pie, with creamed leek and crisp pancetta ($21). I favour the wild mushroom risotto with shavings of Manjimup truffle and pecorino cheese ($28). For our mains, my friend suggests seafood, since Halo’s head chef, Shane Keighley, has a reputation for attractive presentation that is not overworked.
I decide on a salmon degustation plate ($39) to sample his skills. My friend chooses the fish of the day, goldband snapper from Western Australia’s northern waters ($38).
A second waiter, Joseph, recommends a New Zealand wine, Nanny Goat pinot noir ($16 a glass), to complement both the rabbit entree and our fish.
Our entrees arrive on square plates with deep circular dimples in which the food sits elegantly. The pie is perfect, my friend says, a combination of gamey meat on its soft bed of leeks and with good pastry. My risotto is a few delicious forkfuls of big-grained rice, glutinous and earthy, though it is under-salted for my taste.
Keighley is a regular competitor in the World Culinary Olympics and was named last year’s West
Water cracker: Halo restaurant is a wonderful place to watch nothing in particular Australian Chef of the Year. At Halo his dishes have none of the flamboyance of competition entries, but we see evidence of his aesthetic approach as dishes appear at other tables: crisp-skinned salmon on lemon confit leeks is a study in colour contrasts, as is the tea-smoked Manjimup marron with mizuna and apple celery salad.
The restaurant’s mood is as leisurely as the passing river traffic. As we wait for our mains, we sip our pinot noir, but WA wines are also prominent on the wine list.
The goldband snapper arrives on a bed of asparagus and mushroom, with a ponzu-like Asian sauce, which my friend enjoys.
My degustation plate includes four servings of salmon: a circle of finely chopped tartare is topped with citrus creme fraiche, accompanied by three slices of cidercured salmon with lime salsa, and two mini-steaks, one lightly smoked and served with a zigzag of sweet mustard and dill dressing, the other seared and served with cucumber lightly pickled in vinegar.
The fabulously fresh tartare is my favourite, but the salmon steaks are also excellent, perfectly pink inside, the crisp skin flavoursome. The salad of rocket, pear and shaved parmesan ($10) lets us down slightly, as the green, unripe pear fails to add the sweetness required to balance the white balsamic and oil dressing.
Desserts are uninventive and lack lighter, fruit-based options. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing: hot chocolate pudding, rhubarb crumble, treacle tart. Michael recommends the steamed banana and chocolate chip pudding, toffee sauce and pecan nut ice cream ($15). I succumb and it’s a great sugar hit, but a simple sorbet would have made a better ending to the meal.
Halo’s attention to detail is hard to fault, from the fresh, grassy West Australian olive oil brought with rolls at the start of the meal to the excellent, steaming-hot coffee at the end. Why this elegant eating place is not busier at lunchtime is a mystery. This may change with its recent launch of an excellently priced set business lunch menu.
As we leave, seagulls chase the pelican across the water and tourists leave the Lucky Shag, clambering aboard their bus. Halo has been the perfect place, on this winter’s day, to watch the world go by. All Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for.