Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published February 13th 2013
Local produce, great food, good wines
Nestled in the heart of the Swan Valley is the Madhatters restaurant, in a previous life Milston Gardens, but for some years now operated by a young couple, Clint and Rachael, who collectively have over thirty years experience in hospitality.
The 'Smash Plate'
If pressed, it a bit hard to classify what kind of restaurant Madhatters is, other than 'good'. I suppose 'Modern Australian' would be about the closest - whatever that means.
The entryway is shaded by a huge quince tree, which supplies the restaurant with fresh quinces in season.
One may dine inside or outside, which is what we chose when we dined there en famile one hot and steamy summer's night.
Seated at sturdy timbered tables on comfortable seats with a light breeze blowing we wondered aloud what the poor people were doing that evening.
The menu is informal, offering 'bread and stuff', 'something bigger' and 'things in bread, stuff in bowls'.
After quite a long debate - choice was difficult - we settled on a 'Madhatters Smash Plate' ($23) and a bowl of chips with two sauces - tomato and aioli ($9).
The chips, which Angela was kind enough to share, were absolutely delicious. Very lightly beer-battered, seasoned well and crisply fried and served piping hot, they were among the best chips I've been fortunate enough to throw a lip over.
The 'Smash' tasting plate was something new to me and very welcome knowledge. The idea is that a large platter of goodies and hot bread rolls are presented to you and you construct your own rolls from the ingredients at hand.
These are a whole round of baked Margaret River brie, seriously crispy bacon a la Americane, and small bowls of cheddar cheese grated, mild home-made mustard, smoked sea salt (the smoking gives it a deeper, more profound, flavour, and caramelised shallots.
Rolls split and stuffed and we spoke to each other with our mouths full; 'Tis is welly goog', we said. And it was.
The pulled pork roll
The portions were all generous and uniformly tasty. James had, as his main, a dish very popular in the States, where he met it - a deluxe pork roll ($18) of slow roasted pulled pork shoulder in a crusty bread roll with cheddar, caramelised onions and gravy, served with more of those delicious chips.
I had a dish I have had before at Madhatters and which mightily impressed me - creamy garlic prawns ($27.50). A handsome portion, again, of a dozen or so tiger prawns in Chef Clint's light garlic sauce. The sauce is sipid, rich but delicate and perfectly in tune with the meaty, strongly-flavoured prawns and the timbale of Basmati rice.
There is a kids menu for the under 12s (there is a surcharge of $4.50 for adults sneaking into the kids food).
Angela also had a roll - hers being the continental meat foccacia ($17.90) of fresh continental meats with melted cheese, basil pesto and a pimento cream cheese on a toasted Parmesan and herb foccacia. This is also served with some of those chips.
Continental Meat Foccacia
Madhatters is licensed, with a nice smallish range of moderately priced wines. We chose a late picked Vedelho from Houghtons and were very pleased with it.
Dessert was out of the question, we were all too full, so we just ordered one and three spoons - a berry meringue ($12). It was excellent. Not too sweet, not too tart and beautifully presented, as indeed were all the dishes.
By the way, if you're wondering why hatters were particularly mad ... it's because in Victorian times, they really were - the mercuric oxide used in curing felt is toxic and drives the users mad.
As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice - 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.' But as the Spanish Monk said: 'There is a special pleasure, sure, in being mad, which none but madmen know.'