There is nothing better than looking at the surprise on someone's face when they walk into a restaurant and see an unexpected group of friends. Especially when this is a restaurant they have been wanting to visit for ages.
We were assembled for a surprise birthday party, but the hushed, overtly sophisticated (and red) tones of Red Cabbage aren't really conducive to spontaneous choruses of happy birthday. In fact, the dim lighting and attentive service certainly make you feel like you must be on your best behaviour. The food is small and good quality, the prices are big, and the reputation is bigger.
One of the rare appearances of red cabbage at Red Cabbage
Getting into Red Cabbage is the first hurdle. Especially if it's raining. There is an undercover carpark beneath the building you can use (out of office hours) but there is no discernible staircase or lift up to the restaurant (turns out there is, but it is swipe card access only). The only way is out into the rain and up the stairs.
Similarly, if you are looking for the toilets once you arrive, you need to leave the restaurant and walk across the foyer to the toilets located in the main office building (Red Cabbage shares the premise with a number of other businesses). It's a lonely walk, and a little discomforting.
Once you're in though, you are in for a treat as long as you have a fat wallet. For food prepared by the West Good Food Guide's 'Chef of the Year' no less (2014, 2013) you need to expect to pay for the privilege. Red Cabbage has a bounty of awards and a page of enthusiastic reviews, but what do you actually get for your money?
There are a number of different dining options, and it can be a little confusing. There is the ever popular degustation menu, at the reasonable price of $95pp or $155 with matching wines.
Alternatively, you can choose the fixed price, three course meal (chosen from the a la carte menu) for $85. Or you can do what we did, and choose off the a la carte menu with its five first courses ($18-$19), eight mains ($29-$39), and five desserts ($16).
I would be remiss in not mentioning the curious mathematics behind the fixed priced option. Even if you select the most expensive option from the first course, mains and dessert menus (not including the $29 dessert tasting plate) the most you will pay is $74. I am not sure what else you get for your $85 then, but the discrepancy was enough to put us off choosing the fixed price meal.
We were all presented with a complimentary amuse bouche – a tiny cup of soup that was busting with flavour and adorned with a piquant pickled apple. It was welcomed and devoured instantly. At the time we visited, the starters varied between seafood (scallops or marron), vegetarian (mushrooms or farmers market) and quail.
The scallops and yabbies ($19) came on a puddle of pureed sweet corn, with crispy fried broccoli tips, a dressing of soy caramel, and sprinkled with pulverised popcorn, which was a lot more fancy than it sounds. The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the flavours so unusual yet delicate it made you want to take tiny little bites to make it last as long as you could. If I dished up crispy broccoli at home I am sure I would be accused of making a heinous mistake, but these were quite incredible with their texture and flavour.
The miniature quail breasts ($19) came out looking like an exotic breakfast. The quail was wrapped in serrano ham and the astonishing egg yolk, which looked raw but was actually perfectly cooked, sat on a bed of pureed parsnip and dotted with creamy hunks of feta.
For mains I had the 'fish and other stuff' ($39). It was a rather ocker description for such a beautiful dish. The fish of the day was ocean trout, which came on a bed of yoghurt mashed potato, charred corn, roasted capsicum salsa and the thinnest slices of sashimi squid I had ever eaten. It was, simply put, exquisite.
Others at our tables dined on the slow cooked lamb which came with salt baked carrot and ginger, and the rump cap, with olive and celeriac and one of the few appearance of the namesake, red cabbage.
The food is presented beautifully on a range of pleasing Japanese styled dishes which were almost as visually arresting as the food. The serves are not massive, and we ordered some sides ($9).
The desserts were not the most expensive we have seen in Perth but at $16 they were approaching the top level. Each had an unusual, savoury element you wouldn't expect to see on a pudding menu, such as beetroot, witlof and cornflakes.
The 'old school' treacle tart ($16) with ginger and sticky toffee looked a bit of a hodge podge, but was declared 'bloomin' brilliant'. You will notice that the chef also included a birthday greeting for our friend. This was an unsolicited but very thoughtful gesture, as was our waiter's efforts to store all her birthday gifts and create a clever contraption out of a wine cooler stand to keep her flowers in good upright condition.
The 'little bit of everything' at $29 is probably designed to share, as it is four miniature versions of the desserts on offer. The girl who ordered it had no intention of sharing (fair enough) but eventually she was outdone by the richness and quantity of dessert on the plate. The coconut sorbet with apricot, raspberry and cornflake crunch was cleaned up, as was the rhubarb frangipane tart. The beetroot that accompanied the chocolate and hazelnut dish was declared 'too beetrooty' for dessert, but otherwise the sweets were a complex and delicious end to the meal.
Even with the benefit of two Entertainment cards which took $80 of the meal, we still paid $100 a head, so it was an expensive night. Red Cabbage is perfect for couples and small groups celebrating a special event, or those looking for a long, sophisticated degustation. It is less suited to larger, rowdier groups, it's not that type of place. You will not go home starving, but the serves are small and designed for contemplation and appreciation – not scoffing. You won't need your fat pants here.