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 March 29th 2012
There are many things in life I value - good food and wine, loyalty, love, well-written books, friendship. But of them all one of the most highly appreciated is professionalism.
It is always a treat to see someone do a job well and efficiently, whether it is preparing a meal or grouting a bathroom.
And it is here that Stewart's new wine bar excels. Not the grouting, although I'm sure that's fine, too - but the whole experience of eating and drinking in a congenial atmosphere.
Normally if the food isn't up to par I chat about the decor, if both are awful I might treat you to a discourse on the history of the potato from the 16th Century to the present.
But the fact that I want to talk a little about Stewart's decor shouldn't lead you think the food was anything less than excellent, because it wasn't.
The decor of the dining hall is very cleverly done. In its recent transformation from purely a lá carte to wine bar/a lá carte the dining hall has been extended and made more discreet by the use of swags of curtains that can be drawn back making one vast room for functions and weddings.
Rough hewn timber and thickly plastered walls make the place seem cool and sturdy, even when the windows make it appear wide open and airy - a brilliant effect added to by the use of bare wood tables, trenchers and heavy cutlery.
The decor is at once welcoming and all-embracing, making one feel immediately that one has come home.
Service was impressive. Our server was Kane, from Canada, and he was a joy. Swift, efficient, knowledgeable and with that inherent sense of when we wanted to talk and when we wanted to be left alone.
Service is often the failing in Western Australia where we train some of the best servers to work in the East and overseas, but can't seem to hang on to for ourselves.
Stewart's has just undergone a sea change in its approach to dining. Leaving a certain portion of the restaurant for the service of a lá Carte dining, the rest has been transformed into what they have called a wine bar, with a fascinating take on the menu.
It offers a wide range of smaller dishes together with an impressive range of wines - local, Eastern states and imported.
If you're thinking 'Oh, tapas. Tried it, don't like it', think again. This is not tapas - it is rather more a range of dishes about the size of entreés, but cooked with great flair and imagination and served with some amazing wines.
James and I (Angela was working) metaphorically threw ourselves into Kane's arms and asked that he and chef should choose our meal and the accompanying wines.
Chef is Jamie Skinner, a young man with a great future in food. His approach is exactly what I value - keep it simple, keep it fresh and have a certain amount of fun.
The vegetables and herbs are all grown on site and the freshness shows, believe me. His ingredients are absolutely of the highest quality, and I know this because he serves them almost naked, not hidden under heavy sauces or masked with strong flavours.
Over the course of what proved to be a very long luncheon indeed we ate some seven courses and they were so well chosen that they flowed from one into another, each adding depth to the previous and resulting in a final experience far greater than the sum of its parts.
We began with the quirkily named 'Chicken Liver parfait with onion jam and grilled ciabatta'. This is what we used to call 'Paté and Toast', but that's a bit like saying 'The Mona Lisa is a painting' - accurate, but lacking.
The paté was so smooth and light and subtly flavoured that it perfectly balanced the fabulous onion jam (caramelised red onion, but light, not sticky).
This we accompanied with a glass of bubbly - Plozner Prosecco Non-vintage doc grave del fruiti Italy. A wine unfamiliar to me but crisp, fruity with strong overtones of citrus - a lovely and loving wine, perfect for a warm autumn day and that superb paté.
This was followed by a dish of 'South Australian clams, crispy Jamon white wine, garlic, parsley and mopping bread' ($18).
The Jamon (Spanish ham) was very crispy indeed having the wafer-thin crispness of a well-dried autumn leaf and the melt-in-the mouth taste of very superior bacon.
Oh and don't eat all the bread with the clams - you will need it to mop up the remaining sauce. This came with a Wild Rock Pinot Gris, Sur Lie 2011 from New Zealand. Very much more subtle than I expected but robust enough to balance out the flavours of the Jamon and clams.
The next dish was probably the simplest, but almost the best - a simple salad of marinated beetroot, feta cheese and toasted pinenuts ($12) under a wonderful light dressing - simple, delicious and a truly impressive example of allowing the food to speak for itself.
We drank a local wine with this - the Olive Farm sparking Tempranillo - a newish wine for the Swan but one rapidly growing in popularity. It is not quite like anything else, which comes as a surprise on the palate but one worth attempting.
From salad to game next - quails barbecued in a light Peri-Peri sauce served with a salsa fresca. ($21). A light Peri-Peri sauce may seem a contradiction in terms, Portuguese Peri-Peri being normally so strongly, even violently, flavoured. But quail is quite delicate as game goes, and the lighter seasoning worked well.
A glass of Upper Reach's Reserve Chardonnay 2010 made an odd, but very agreeable meld. This is the advantage of allowing someone else to choose from time to time - it wouldn't have been my choice, but the two went so well together I was very glad to have tried it.
The next dish shows what I mean about Chef Jamie's sense of fun. A deconstructed hamburger. Formally 'Steak tartare, fried egg, sesame seed toast, tomato relish, hot mustard and crispy onion rings' ($17) as well as a pickle, cherry tomato etc. The egg was either a bantam or possibly a quail's. Deconstructed dishes are very popular in the trendier restaurants and are mostly pure affectation; this one was just fun - and very tasty. Steak to be served raw has to be very good meat indeed, and so it proved here. The beef was spiced quite strongly, but not overwhelmingly and the cornichons just splendid.
We washed this down with a South Australian Sons of Eden Kennedy Grenache Shiraz Mourverde 2009. Rich, warm and full-bodied.
We concluded our outstanding meal with a sweet - Spanish doughnuts (churros) and 'molten chocolate dippy eggs' ($12.50) more fun and this mock breakfast dessert is simply fantastic. The doughnuts - served in long fingers were fresh, hot from the kitchen and the creamy dark chocolate sauce was just heavenly. It was with great restraint and being pretty full that I only just managed not to lick the eggshells out.
Some of the dishes we had one each, some we shared, but if you dine here, and I recommend it - under no circumstances share your churros - there's no way you won't want eat to them all yourself.
We finished our meal with very superior coffee, some assorted macaroons in enticing flavours ($3.20 each) and a brandy snifter of a lovely sticky - James Talijancich liqueur Verdelho served over ice, something I had not previously tried but will insist upon from now on.
Great meals are never just one thing - it's always a combination of circumstances - mood, service, weather, food, wine, price and that indefinable quality I call professionalism. The meal James and I had at Stewart's was a great meal that I will remember with fondness for a long time.
I am sure that with the degree of professionalism we were shown that Manager Neil Reveler, Chef Jamie Skinner and waiter Kane Clarke would make your meal great too. Consistency of excellence is the mark of a great restaurant and I think I see it here - but I may have to go back a few times to check and make sure.
Like Lewis Carroll I 'mark this day with a white stone'.