I love Sydney because people are happy to recommend restaurants to you. In Perth, people are reluctant because if the food is good, then the prices are ridiculous. If the prices are reasonable then the service is atrocious and if the service is good then… well, anyway.
My friend didn't hesitate. Blue Ginger, she said. Her husband thinks she may go twenty or thirty times a year. That's a pretty serious recommendation.
I loved it from the front door. It felt like we were entering another time. The doors - ancient wood, carved and bolted with brass - have been taken from a temple and are over 150 years old. You have to be a regular to get a seat out the back, but the main room with its enormous communal table down the middle is dark and moody and the plain white dishes let the food be the star.
We played the game where the regular asks the newbies to choose dishes off the menu, to see if you can choose the favourites. Too hard. They all sounded delicious.
One of the largest communal tables I have ever seen
Wagyu beef spring rolls with spices and sweet plum sauce ($16), fried eggplants stuffed with pork and prawn served with garlic soy ($16), slow braised Angus ribs with chilli tamarind sauce and cucumber relish ($29), crispy skin chicken Maryland with chilli, basil, and black vinegar dressing ($25).
There are twelve items on the starter menu, nine on the meat and poultry mains menu, and six on the seafood menu. Then there are the curries, noodle dishes and sides. Mains range between $20 and $32 and all are designed to share.
It is an eclectic mix of South East Asian cuisines plus one Indian curry. Careful ordering will prevent awkward pairings, but no matter what you order, you will be served tasty, ultra fresh food.
We started with a betel leaf topped with smoked trout, chilli, garlic, galangal and fried shallots ($4.50 each). The bright green leaves (not to be confused with the carcinogenic and teeth staining betel nuts) are folded around the filling and everything eaten at once. It was an explosion of flavour and I wanted more, but it still wasn't a patch on our next dish.
The crispy braised pork belly with green papaya, mint, kaffir leaf, fried shallots and chilli and lime dressing ($18) is a Blue Ginger favourite. This was one of those times when you start looking at how much your dining companions are putting on their plate, and you watch them lift their food to their mouths, as you calculate if they are having more than you.
This dish is almost worth losing friends over. Or making friends, if you are smart enough to introduce them to this amazing combination of flavours and textures.
Our mains arrived at the same time and it was then we realised that perhaps we hadn't ordered as cleverly as we might have.
Rice noodles, three types of meat and egg. Protein heaven
We had all agreed the Char Kway Teo ($22) sounded brilliant (as any dish which has more than one protein usually does) and it didn't disappoint with its freshly fried fat flat rice noodles, chicken, prawns, eggs and Chinese sausage.
But we had forgotten we had ordered the salad of fried salmon, green papaya, Vietnamese mint, fried garlic and cashew nuts ($27). This was another superbly fresh and tasty salad, but it was quite similar to the pork belly one we had just finished, and the snappy flavours didn't go brilliantly with the comfort food quality of the noodles.
A bit of gastronomic confusion was a small price to pay for a genuinely delicious meal though.
As well as their own wine list (wines by the glass from $8, bottles from $26 to $110, beers from $6.50, cocktails from $15) Blue Ginger is licensed for a hefty $4.50 per person.
There is an interesting dessert menu ($12-$14) if you can fit it in. Delicious Asian flavours in classic dishes: for example kaffir lime cream brulee and coconut panacotta with pineapple sorbet.
They also have a takeaway menu.
I wish I had a restaurant like Blue Ginger near me in Perth.