I belong to a dinner club where a group of us take turns selecting a restaurant, and every month or so we all get together to eat, drink and generally be merry. For the past few months I had been so underwhelmed by our dining destinations, I didn't feel the need to write about them - until this week, when we went to Habitue in North Fremantle. It's my new favourite restaurant.
The front courtyard is leafy and decorated with lights and Moroccan themed cushions
I had parked outside it without realising initially, as the front courtyard is heavy with trees and dripping with lights. Walking inside there is a sense of openness, as rooms give way to more rooms, each with their own style. Even when full, the separate spaces give the impression you are still just eating at a friend's house –whether in the cosy lounge-room at the front, on the long wooden tables in the back room, or under the vine-covered pergola out the back.
The menu is refreshingly simple, and designed for sharing. There are seventeen items on the main menu – and only five of them are meat or seafood based. So while this is a vegetarian's dream restaurant, everyone is well catered for because the food is just so good. Without exception, the entire group began devising ways of how they would return to Habitue again.
We started with a small bowl of pickled vegetables ($8) a rainbow of piquant and crunchy snacks, perfect to whet the tastebuds, soon followed by the smoked eggplant dip ($14) which arrived with a stack of flatbread (which came in useful later for wiping up every last drop of tasty sauces and dressings from the other plates).
My personal favourite was the cauliflower dish – which came in perfectly al dente florets, flavoured with cumin and matched with dates, almonds, chick peas and pine nuts ($18). I could have eaten an entire plate of this by myself. No one could ever say they hated cauliflower after trying it cooked like this.
A plate of stuffed zucchini flowers ($16) quickly exposed who were the polite members of the group (taking only half a piece) and who would have shot their grandmother for a second (me). Stuffed with a creamy cheese, battered and fried, and doused with fresh basil these morsels were perfection.
We only wanted to order a single meat dish, and the choice was individual oysters ($4 each), chargrilled prawns with couscous, fennel and dill ($19), baked fish with potato, leek, mussels and speck ($34), chargrilled rump with smoked pumpkin and chimichurri ($34) and charcoal chicken with parsnip puree ($24).
I doubt we could have gone wrong with any of these dishes – and seeing the looks on the faces of other diners as waiters approached them with the giant chargrilled rump, I imagine that dish was also a complete winner. However we chose the charcoal chicken and it was delicious. A moist and generous thigh piece on the bone, nicely crisped by the fire and sitting on a small wodge of parsnip puree. My only complaint - I would have liked more of the puree as it was scrumptious.
A dish of corn ($16) was a lively affair of three types of corn – grilled off the cob, halved baby corns and popcorn, served with a tasty sour cream dressing. It was another favourite.
Service was friendly although there was a bit of a wait at times, as it probably looked like we were too busy chatting to order. But once we had ordered, the food arrived quickly, each coming as it was prepared, although there was none of the awkwardness of some other restaurants where you fill up on all the veggie dishes before the giant meat dish arrives. There were always a few dishes on the table, and whether it was timed or just good luck, everything worked well together.
The debate then came as to whether we order more savoury dishes or try the desserts, and naturally desserts won. There are four on the menu, plus a cheese plate. Most of the desserts are $15 each, with the exception of the coconut and pineapple sorbet with was $7 on its own, or $12 when spiked with a jigger of rum.
I had the chocolate marquis, a slice of thick mouse, with perfectly tart raspberry sauce, and shards of wafer. It also had a separate bowl of whipped meringue, which was not my favourite, but others on the table enjoyed. For someone who claimed they only wanted a 'spoonful' of dessert, not only was I was the first one finished but I practically licked the plate clean.
Habitue is the type of restaurant you wish was your local. I am now considering moving to Fremantle just so I can be closer.
The menu is exciting yet comforting, the food is excellent quality, the space itself is calming and the prices extremely reasonable. There is live music on Fridays and Saturdays, but even the recorded music adds to a fun, friendly atmosphere – like a party at a friend's house – who has a sense of adventure and very good taste.