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 April 20th 2012
Update April 9th 2015
Please note this venue is now permanently closed and no longer trading
We were seated around a table at the prestigious Loose Box in Mundaring, dining off the eight course degustation menu when I began my peroration:
In April of 1987 Brian Burke was Premier, you could buy quite a nice house for $45,000, petrol was leaded and 44c a litre and I was lecturing at the University of Western Australia and writing book reviews for a local newspaper in the hills.
The restaurant critic for the paper asked for a pay raise and was duly fired and I was asked if I knew anything about food.
As it happened, I did. I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents, who owned first a restaurant then a series of hotels, culminating in the Hotel Montrose in Swinburne, South Africa.
Granddad ran the bar, in which at eight or so I had no interest, but Granny ran the kitchens and I accompanied her everywhere.
From buying produce at the market in the early morning to preparing food, overseeing menus and watching chef cook she was all-seeing and as a natural born talker and teacher she told me what she was doing, why and the best way of doing it all.
I was a little sponge absorbing knowledge as fast as I could, as an adult food - the cooking and eating of it had fascinated me and so I figured I knew at least enough to get by so I was sent to review the Chalet Rigi in Mundaring, where we had moved the previous year.
The restaurant was absolutely then at the height of its considerable popularity and Angela and I had a very good time, the food was excellent, exotic enough to make good copy and both the restaurant and the paper were pleased. And I had a new job.
It didn't take very long before the editor and I came to differing points of view. I felt my allegiance was to my readers and it was in their best interest for me to tell the truth as I saw it even if it meant being a trifle unkind about the food, service, ambiance or whatever it was that I felt was at fault.
The editor felt that the advertisers were the ones that deserved favourable treatment and we came to a parting of the ways and I moved to another local newspaper with, as its editor, Howard Gaskin, an English, old-time journalist and who was deeply knowledgeable about his profession.
He taught me a good deal, tamed my extravagance with adjectives and pushed me onwards and upwards. By the time Howard died, tragically early at fifty-two, I was writing for Airline Magazines, Arts Magazines, two weekly newspapers and one weekender. And I was a Gold Plate Judge, something no one knew til I wasn't any more.
The dining scene in Perth and the Hills in the 80s and 90s was wonderful. Eating out was making a recovery from the Fringe Benefits tax, and the new imported cuisines were making an impact on the local habits.
In 1974 when we arrived in Australia, dinner out was Prawns in Pink Sauce for entree, followed by Steak Diane and Fruit Salad - cost $6.
Twenty years later one could chose from Chinese, French, Italian, Mongolian, Thai, Burmese, Indian, Malaysian, very, very French, Bavarian and so on and so forth.
Truly great restaurants like Alexander's and The Vigneron were open and for excellent but slightly cheaper meals there was Ruby's, The Munchner Hof and Chateau Commodore.
With the dining came rubbing shoulders with some very individual chefs and staff, from Maitre Ds who instructed you to have a good meal and watched you to make sure you didn't disobey, to young men with ambition and no talent and young men with huge talent and no ambition.
One couple we met were, like us, having difficulty having a family and were just starting to make their way. They could only afford a converted stable with no running hot water as a restaurant far out in the suburbs, but not very far from us. He was French, diverted from a world motor-bike tour by her, a charming, bubbly blonde.
The Loose Box - 1986 and 2012
They called their restaurant after the building it was in - The Loose Box, and from the first time we dined there, I fell in love with the food, Angela fell in love with his accent and we became friends.
I am very proud to say that even in that humble place I recognised the genius that we all now know as the Chevalier Alain Fabregues MOF.
My first review of the Loose Box was published in my first year of reviewing and was so full of hyperbole that it had to be savagely edited. (I might also add that in twenty-five years as a food writer only two people have ever rung me afterwards to thank me, and Elizabeth Fabregues was the first).
This year as I celebrate twenty-five years of continuous eating and writing about it, there is only one restaurant still in operation from 1987 - and that's the Loose Box, so it was there we took our celebration and I have to say that, in essence, nothing has altered over that time.
Oh, they have running hot water now, and Alain's been knighted by the French Government and the restaurant is in a former Colonial mansion, but the essence, the commitment to good food, the passionate desire that the diner have as best an experience as possible, the truly amazing food (now with more expensive ingredients than a month's rent at the old place) is the same.
Elizabeth, amazingly, looks no older, but Alain has matured and grizzled but his eyes still glow with impish pleasure and his devotion to family, food and friendship is entirely undimmed.
If you have never eaten at The Loose Box, do as I did in 1987 and again in 2012 and many, many times in between and try some of the finest tasting food in Australia, prepared and presented by a master.
An extraordinary walk down memory lane, you evoke some amazing memories, and images for those of us not quite old enough to fine dine in the 1970s... but what about the food? Eight courses... my imagination is going wild.