Posted in Things that go in your mouth
The applause reaches a creshendo, Lou Reed walks on stage, says “Hello”, and starts playing the signature chords of one of his most famous songs, Sweet Jane. The crowd goes nuts. Suddenly, he stops.
“So I thought I would explain to you how you make a career out of three chords.”
“I know a lot of you have been wondering that, and you younger bands, pay attention to this one: So you thought it was three, it’s really four. Watch.”
He plays the famous chord sequence. Bah, bahbah bah bah.
“Three. But what’s really happening…”
Bah bahbah bah bah BAH BAH. He plays the familiar chords again, just once; this time, highlighting the extra chord at the end – the one you normally don’t notice or remember – that joins them together when the whole thing is repeated. The crowd goes nuts.
“As in most things in life, it’s that little hop at the end…”
I was reminded of this the other night as I was having dinner at Balthazar, one of Perth’s finer eateries. That little hop at the end that separates goodness from greatness, that little extra bit that makes a place unique and special and different. And memorable.
That little hop might be the way the signature dish is presented, or the way the service is invisible. It could be the attention to detail, or the way the owners have decided to focus on only one thing, but do it exceptionally well.
I started the meal with some oysters with a pleasant rosewater and cucumber jelly sauce. The sauce itself was very good, but ended up overpowering the sea taste of the oysters. It might have been better matched with a middle-Eastern inspired lamb dish.
Balthazar is known for its wine list and its aged steak. Guess what I had for a main? The steak was served on a bed of aubergine mush (I’m sure it was described better in the menu, but it was just tasty mush) with some celeriac on top. The meat was cooked perfectly, as rare as I like it. Nicely aged too, as far as I could tell.
I had a couple of glasses of some cool climate cabernet blend from Denmark WA. It was properly poured for a by-the-glass: that is, at the table (I noticed other diners also got their beers poured at the table. Nice). The wine wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me want to stand on the table and hoot like an owl. The by-the-glass selection was well-chosen, with a couple of local wines, some European ones, and the obligatory Barossa Shiraz.
I had some cheese after the meal – a very nice hard milky number, rolled in rosemary. Great if you like rosemary, which I do. It was matched with a sweet Riesling from Tasmania that I’d not heard of before. The waitress seemed quite knowledgeable about the wine selection.
Before I wrap this up, I want to have a whinge: A restaurant is not a place to show the world what cool taste in music you have. If you want to do that, become a DJ, get a radio show, or blog about it. Do not open a fine dining establishment and play your music so loudly that people need to shout to be heard. Ambient music. Ambient music that blends into the surroundings, like the chairs.
I’ve been in Perth for the better part of a week so far, and I’m still trying to figure it out. People have said it’s like a big country town that kept growing, a bit like Brisbane. I’m not so sure. There’s something else going on here, but I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on exactly what it is.
The city seems bitsy, as if it’s still discovering what exactly it is, and still learning how to be a city. There are bursts of unplanned development, and things seem to be layered on top of each other for no apparent reason. Nothing really seems to connect with each other, and things are put in places mostly because that’s where there’s enough room for them. There doesn’t seem to be a plan, or even a style; things don’t quite seem to hang together properly.
Balthazar is a microcosm of this feeling I get from Perth in general. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, so it ends up trying to be everything. A bit like a first film from a new director, it’s kind of all over the place. The staff shout orders at each other from across the floor, but at the same time, they try to be invisible to the diners. The room has an industrial ambience when looking up at the ceiling; the floor is right out of an Italian delicatessen or market, and the middle seems all about generic café or Ikea. It’s “modern anonymous”. No style – or perhaps too many different styles.
It wants to be too much, I think. It’s trying to be three or four different restaurants. While it’s managing to pull this off quite well, in order to be great, it needs to have more focus; it needs to figure out what sets it apart from other restaurants. Am I being too picky? Maybe. I was told this is a great place, so I went in expecting greatness. Turns out it was only very good.
Balthazar, good as it was, did not hop at the end.