There's a lot Restaurant Amusé has in common with the humble passionfruit. From the outside it looks plain and simple and gives little away; all the magic occurs inside. The enveloping colours are dark and moody, but the bit that counts – the bits you put in your mouth – are electric.
They can also be a little bit exclusive and hard to get.
For the record, a passionfruit costs about $3 at the moment and dinner at Restaurant Amusé costs $130 per person.
Amusé only does degustation. There is no menu and unless you have food allergies (which you need to mention in advance) you are held hostage to the culinary whims of Hadleigh Troy and his team. And what whims they are.
Dinner at Amusé is a bit of theatre, with smoke and mirrors. Except there weren't any mirrors the night we were there (there was smoke though). A folded menu is presented to the table – it's your choice if you want to open it or not. The impeccable service staff give little away until the dish is brought to the table, and even if you read the menu you won't get too many clues. For example this is described as sweet potato, snapper and dashi.
The menu constantly changes, so you will be experiencing something different from what I did, but this is a taste of some of the dishes we were presented with. I'll say it only once so I don't bore you, but the food here is exceptional. There are very good reasons why Amusé has been awarded three hats and practically every other award possible. The flavours are intense, and the more simple the dish looks, the better it tastes.
Two of the four starters (it's quite dim without the flash)
'Oats and lime' and 'carrot and walnut'. These morsels were two of the four starters. The carrots, grown specially for the restaurant in Wanneroo were steamed in their own juices, the puree was made from walnuts with a fresh mint leaf. The 'oats' were actually a crunchy little biscuit on top of which a sauce made of finger limes and sour cream were piped, then decorated with 'East Perth wild flowers'.
A safe way to try blood pudding for the first time
'Bacon, pudding and cauliflower.' When I saw the word 'pudding' I knew I would no longer be a black pudding virgin and I was ready for it. A cube of the blood pudding, a sliver of pork belly, a pat of cauliflower puree, a disk of pickled beetroot and a nasturtium leaf.
'Pumpkin and curry leaf.'
My husband hates mashed pumpkin. At least, he hates my mashed pumpkin. But this mashed pumpkin, served in a dinky little jar with a foil lid you peel off was the most extraordinary thing we have ever eaten. I can't even describe it properly; just pray it's on the menu if you ever go.
'Egg, potato and buttermilk'. This is one of Amusé signature dishes. It is a free-range egg, smoked until runny in a jar with mashed potato, crispy chicken skin and buttermilk. It is brought to the table closed, so when you open the sealed jar, the smoke escapes. It's pure theatre and for us, tasted like breakfast in a jar. I personally loved the fact that we were dished up chicken skin, which is deliciously un-PC in these healthy days, but my husband would have preferred bacon.
Many of the dishes at Amusé have theatrical aspects. The wait staff will bring an assortment of dishes and jugs to the table, you can ponder one aspect of the dish for a moment, before a broth or a jus is poured on or around. There is also a lot of information provided to you about each dish, the providence of the meat, where the vegetables were grown, and how the dish was prepared.
Sometimes you could see the staff mentally rehearsing their spiels as they brought their dishes to the table, but with four starters, six mains, a palate cleanser, two desserts and a finishing dish (which would change constantly), it's pretty admirable how they manage to remember so much information.
'Sweet potato, snapper and dashi.'
Although very pretty to look at, this was probably our least favourite dish. Every individual element was delicious; the balls of sweet potato, the minute pieces of fish, the salty broth, the crunchy mix of grains, the micro-herb salad. For us though, they didn't work so well combined, I didn't see the affinity between the Japanese soup, the grains and the herbs.
However, that is what is great about a degustation menu: you are challenged and often served up dishes you would never see on a normal menu, or might not choose if it was on a menu. Each course is small, and by the time you sample it, you have finished. There will be at least one course that confronts you, or you don't understand. But that's why you're here and not somewhere else.
'Lamb, celeriac and cavolo nero.'
This dish, we were told, comes from a breed of sheep that sheds its own coat, 'so it's rather relaxed'. I could imagine that being man-handled and then attacked with a pair of scissors could make a sheep a bit anxious, so the fact this sheep didn't have to live through that would definitely make it a rather chilled animal indeed. And yes, the meat was ridiculously soft and delicious.
One of our favourites.
'Mandarin, coconut and artichoke.'
Artichoke icecream… we paused when we heard this. It was weird yet it worked. They also carbonated the mandarin segments so they fizzed in your mouth. Not your typical dessert.
'Chocolate, almond and crème fraiche.'
And to finish, one of Hadeligh's extraordinary chocolate creations. They always save the best till last. The picture is so pretty, it almost doesn't need words, but this dish had chocolate mousse, chocolate icecream rolled in crushed Oreos, muesli icecream, cake crumbs and squiggles of velvety chocolate. Yüm.
There is an extensive wine menu and it can get pricey if you flip to the back pages ($1500 Krug anyone?) but for $80pp you can choose the wine pairings, where Carolynne Troy has matched seven different wines (three white, three red and a dessert wine) perfectly to the dishes being served. I am not a wine sophisticate by any measure but even I could detect the enormous difference in each of the wines as I sampled them before and after each dish. Very clever indeed.
They are half glass servings, but I did sometimes feel a little rushed as the next glass would arrive before I had finished the previous one. I would be so engrossed in the food I would forget to drink the wine, and then practically swill it before the next course. Not a particularly ladylike way to drink, I know.
Some bright artworks decorate the otherwise dark room
Amusé has had a bit of a makeover in terms of its décor, and where it used to be a rather bland room it is now more like a cave. The walls, ceiling and floor are all a very dark charcoal, and even though the wooden tables are unadorned (apart from the black linen serviettes) and the chairs are white, the room feels a little oppressive.
The lighting is very low, and the majority of the windows are curtained. I understand about letting the food be the focus, but if you're remotely claustrophobic I would recommend asking for one of the few tables near an open window or floor lamp.
The thirteen courses took us about three hours to complete. We arrived at the first sitting (6.30pm) along with a few others, and by 8pm the place was full. When questioned, we were told Saturday nights are already booked four months ahead, Fridays about three months ahead. Weeknight bookings are possible a month or two ahead. Popular.
For most of us, the multi award-winning Restaurant Amusé is special occasion territory. You will be challenged, you'll probably even scratch your head once or twice, you may need to ask for a flashlight, but you will walk out with a new appreciation for humble ingredients and there will be one dish – guaranteed – that won't be able to stop talking about for a week.