Sing a song of praise
Picture: Robert Duncan

I have been pondering definitions of modern Australian cuisine and here is a paraphrase of one of them: a style of cooking which uses high-quality local ingredients and draws heavily on influences from Mediterranean cuisines and, more recently, Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian and South-East Asian cuisines.

It has been very much influenced and popularised by TV chefs and the books they write. Sound familiar? Well, that was actually a definition of modern British cuisine. But it might as well have been a description of Blackbird, although owner/manager Sonia Joseph describes her cuisine (somewhat tongue in cheek I suspect) as "rustic European".

To the extent that a restaurant location can be said to be bucolic in a place like downtown East Perth, Blackbird overlooks what the local council has rather unkindly called Claisebrook Lake and Drain. Ditch the drain. The setting is tranquil, wildlife abounds and the occasional turtle has been known to cross the restaurant threshold.

Having crossed the threshold ourselves, my socially reclusive pal started with the plat du jour. At $15, this is a real bargain. Among other things, it contained a torta salata, a smoked fish arancini, and hard-boiled eggs with a tuna and anchovy mayonnaise.

The centrepiece was an ajo blanco with grapes. This is a Spanish cold soup made from ground almonds, bread and garlic. The garlic was eventually a bit overpowering since it didn't appear to have been strained and consequently accumulated at the bottom of the serving glass. But, on the whole, this was a remarkable dish, particularly at the price.

Sauteed mushrooms with castello ($18), a mixture of field and king oysters, were buttery, unctuous and meaty. They rested on a thin, rectangular cuboid of fried polenta liberally sprinkled with crunchy sea salt and redolent of fresh sage.

Absolutely first class.

A pasta partisan, pal had the house-made ricotta and parmesan ravioli ($29) for main. These were giant-sized parcels, browned in the pan, garnished with almonds and accompanied by perfectly cooked courgettes. If anything, they were a tad dry as the advertised sage butter was not sufficiently in evidence. As with most other dishes, the serve was unstinting.

This generosity was certainly true of the caramelised pork belly ($33) - a ubiquitous dish I keep promising to renounce. My self-destructive preference is for the crisp skin to sit atop a skyscraper of near deliquescent pork fat.

Alas, the Blackbird version is from the healthy handbook: lots of crisp, and the porcine flesh was beautifully cooked - but a famine of fat. What I particularly enjoyed, though, were the accompanying buttered boiled chats.

Desserts are in the $10-$15 range and include a feathery, sweet, chocky mousse with berry ice-cream, and a sprightly apple cake with intensely flavoured orange jelly pastilles.

The wine list is something of a marvel. This is not a big restaurant, so while the wine list is necessarily compact, it nevertheless has considerable diversity. The varietals are particularly well chosen, and there is a nice balance between Old and New World wines. There are only four red and four white wines by the glass but they are all crackers. It gets 10/10 from me.

Service was informed and informative.

Blackbird Restaurant

Address Suite 4/10 Eastbrook Terrace, East Perth

Phone 9225 7880

Open Lunch: Tuesday-Friday noon onwards; Sunday: noon onwards; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 6pm onwards

Web blackbirdrestaurant.com.au

The buzz At last, a Perth restaurant where the price represents value and not what you think you can get away with. Relaxing setting, cosy, clubby, ambience, engaging food and a most remarkable wine list. Well done.

14/20

The West Australian

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