TA­BLES Shore bet

Vic­to­ria Lau­rie savours lunch be­side Perth’s Swan River

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

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.

Pic­ture: Marie Nirme

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