I had wanted to eat at Lalla Rookh for ages so when the opportunity came I jumped with both hands, and my mouth and my stomach. It was a classic case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach (for once) and the fact that someone else was footing the bill.
Lalla Rookh, the name comes from a no-hoper gold mine which in turn was named after a Kalgoorlie 'showgirl', is an Italian trattoria headed by chef Joel Valvasori-Pereza. Unlike the gold mine with no gold, Lalla Rookh has lots to offer, from the lounge and bar, garden, dining room and separate wine store. The kitchen makes its own pasta, even its own sausage, and when the dishes come out there is plenty to ooh and aah about.
Unlike many places, the menu at Lalla Rookh is all-day, and it's actually quite small with a selection of salumi (meats) and cheeses, four pizzas, three pastas, five salady-vegetable type dishes, and twelve meat dishes. Ok, maybe that's not that small.
With so much choice, the easiest option was the 'il capo' chef's selection, where for $55 per person (the entire table must participate) the chef will choose six dishes to feed you, including two starters, a vegetable, a pasta, a main and a dessert. Oh, and complementary bread.
We were there for lunch, two women both of whom have a healthy appetite, but we were completely done in. We couldn't finish the last three dishes (although we found space in our dessert stomach for sweets). So while it may be tempting to take the easy option, be warned that the servings, though they may look modest, add up over time. I think four dishes at lunch time would have been more than sufficient.
First up was the delectable kingfish 'marinato' ($19), generous slivers of raw kingfish sitting on a block of pink salt, with segments of blood orange and shavings of fennel and sweetened capers. This is exactly my type of dish the flavours were huge and I love the texture of raw fish. My friend was less enamoured, but that meant more for me. I did wonder though, just out of curiosity more than anything, how a block of salt is washed or cleansed, as surely it would dissolve if washed.
The next dish I would recommend in a heartbeat. A simple salad of peas, lemon ricotta, grilled bread, mint and lemon was close to perfect ($17/$24). It looked pretty, the flavours were unbelievable and most amazing of all it was a salad! I have said it before, but I totally believe that all salads should come with deep-fried bread. If it was the only dish I had eaten, I would have gone home happy.
The next dish was less enticing. A slab of soft polenta was topped with a rich, slow cooked salted cod sauce. The fish flavours were delicious once I figured out what it was, but I had misheard the waitress so it was unexpected. I don't mind polenta, but I had to agree with my friend who said she would have preferred it to be toasted and crispy, rather than a bit sloppy, to give the dish extra texture.
Next was the pasta dish, the house special of fat, slippery parpardelle with a ragu of beef and pork mince ($27). The dish was saltier than expected, and with both pork and beef, it was solidly meaty despite the gentle cooking. I found this a substantial dish, and thought it was the last until we were told, we still had another main coming.
Our main was the house-made pork sausage, made to an old family recipe, served with apple, fresh horseradish and sauerkraut ($30). Although there was only one sausage for us to share, we couldn't hope to finish the dish. The sausage was rich and chunky you could see the giant bits of meat and fat and it was curved suggestively on the plate and sprinkled with a generous covering of curly, freshly grated cheese. It sat atop a pile of fruit and veggies, and despite the presence of sauerkraut and horseradish, it wasn't overpowering or sharp.
Knowing there was still dessert coming, I had to decide between finishing the dish (and the pasta was still unfinished next to it) or being able to survive dessert. We both agreed that we should have ordered a la carte, as four dishes between the two of us for lunch would have been ample, and we wouldn't have suffered the guilt of sending uneaten food back to the kitchen.
My friend's tastes are a little more particular than mine, shall we say. While I will happily eat almost anything, she has a few foods that are no-go. So the rich pannacotta with roasted cocoa and walnut crumble ($14) was out of the question, as was the house-made tiramisu ($15).
Luckily she leapt at the bombolini ($16) Italian doughnuts with semifreddo, toasted almonds and dark chocolate. It was excellent, and I don't know where the almost were sourced from or how they were cooked, but they were exceptional. Nuts, I know! The only thing that would have made it better would have been a sauce or syrup to add a tad more moisture.
At the end of our six courses, we merely leaned back in our chairs and mused a while. Being a Monday, the place was busy but nowhere near being full. About half of the dining room was occupied, mainly by business-looking types. The front bar (much more stylish than it sounds) was empty, except for the friendly bar staff who made an effort to greet you on arrival and departure.
Lalla Rookh is separated into 'rooms', and while there are no walls as such, it creates different dining spaces and lounging areas which can also be booked for private functions. The service was friendly and prompt, though sometimes a tad difficult to understand. I appreciated that we were asked if we wanted new drinks not just once but twice (as sometimes you change your mind part way through a meal, but no one bothers coming to serve you again).
The food was served promptly, so even if you only had a short lunch break, it wouldn't be a problem having a few dishes and then sneaking back to work. But definitely try the peas.