Rob Broadfield review: Some of the smartest, tastiest, banging-est mod-Asian
Being late to the party is not a good look, particularly in journalism. It’s not such a bad thing in restaurant reviews but two or three years late? Note to self: must pay more attention to readers’ tips.
For some time we’ve been hearing about Palmer Wines in Dunsborough. People were talking. But it failed to get our juices flowing.
The talk persisted and still we didn’t go. Punters who know a thing or two about the food and wine caper kept messaging us, saying all manner of positive things about Palmer Wines’ dining room.
Which, as it turns out, was all true. If you like Apple Daily or, further afield, Chin Chin or Longrain, you’ll love Palmer. Its mod-Asian plates are just how you want your casual, Aussie-Asian, banging-flavoured, modern share plates.
Fast forward to a wet, windy winter afternoon last week and there we were in a faux Tuscan building, sitting on teak deckchairs looking over an ornamental lake with sculptures in it. One was of giant clasped limestone hands rising from a garden bed.
Let’s talk about the scent of an Asian restaurant. There are Asian restaurants one walks into, where the smells are immediately recognisable as authentic. The scent of roasted belacan, the lingering aromatics of fresh Asian herbs; the spicy sugary aroma of an Asian marinade and the unmistakable scent of black vinegar and fish sauce. Lesser Asian restaurants — where pastes and marinades and sauces come out of a bag — don’t smell much at all and when they do, the smell is muted and muddy.
Palmer smells like the real deal. We were champing at the bit from the moment we walked into the place.
Grilled tiger prawns with son-in-law egg, asparagus and chilli jam, $22, delivered on the sweet, sour, chilli, salty vibe with considerable aplomb. It’s easy to bang these four elements of South-East Asian cooking together in a dish, it’s not so easy to get good balance. The Palmer kitchen nailed it. Plating is a little uninspiring — a geometrical stack of short cut asparagus left us with thought bubbles full of question marks above our head — but the flavour, texture and sheer fine cookery was the business. The son-in-law egg was whole, boiled runny, then deep-fried in crumb and anointed with spiky Asian flavours. It oozed perfectly. Scattered herbs were fresh and punchy.
Slow-roasted sticky duck with spring onion pancake, pickled vegetables and hoisin sauce, $21, was a vibrant, assertive plate of flavours from the sticky richness of the shredded duck to the lively, crunchy notes of a spanking fresh julienne of pickled carrots and daikon.
The pancakes were the right thickness — not crepe thin nor breakfast-pancake thick, but a spot-on measurement between the two which, as it turns out, is the perfect thickness to wrap shredded, moist duck meat in without the parcel falling apart. The batter was embedded with chopped green onion. The entire package delivered flavour you don’t forget in a hurry, flavour that makes you happy.
Balinese betutu duck, $39, is the dish we were told time and again to have. Great advice. There’s a particular Balinese herb which is often used in the Balinese festival suckling pig dish babi guling. It is a dried leaf called daun salam. The flavour is unique and immediately recognisable as a Bali thing. Palmer’s betutu duck had the same flavour. Was it the flavour of daun salam? Couldn’t be 100 per cent certain but the flavour was Balinese to its bootstraps. Spot-on, intelligent and lovely dish. Chef Coby Cockburn put a lot of work into getting this dish right. It showed.
Smoked pork belly with Hawker rice, $38, was almost faultless. No matter the cuisine or flavours, there’s two things all successful pork belly dishes should share: crispy, crunchy, salty, blistered crackling and soft, juicy, sweet, pull-apart flesh. And so it was. The best end of the belly had been rolled and slow cooked before being slammed with fire to set the crackle. The flavours were, again, explosive — somehow bold and assertive and, at the same time, subtle. It delivered on the promise of those food smells we swooned over when we first walked in the door. Flavours of coriander and peanuts provided depth. A cube of compressed “Hawker’s” rice was an unusual, clever garnish.
Rob Broadfield and Manu Feildel say using cheaper cuts of meat and winter root vegetables creates something that will warm the home and the heart.
A side of roasted butternut pumpkin, $12, was all blister, dark bits and soft-as-butter flesh. It was smeared with wasabi butter. Plate-lickable.
Palmer was a surprise. We anticipated the pasta/steak/Atlantic salmon trifecta one expects of these sorts of winery restaurants. Instead we were served some of the smartest, tastiest, banging-est mod-Asian we’ve eaten in a long time.
Palmer Wines: 1271 Caves Road, Dunsborough 9756 7034, palmerwines.com.au