I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of a Heston groupie. When I heard from @megandel79 that one of his former underlings Nigel Horton was soon to be Executive Chef-ing at a new restaurant in town, it was a matter of seconds before I was excitedly texting fellow Heston groupie V with the clap-your-hands-yay news.
Never mind that neither of us knew who Nigel Horton was or whether he was any good – if we were going to be eating food that was possibly made by Nigel who has made food with Heston then it would be like we were eating Heston food. In fact, if we were eating food that was possibly made by Nigel who has touched Heston’s hands that hat he has fed himself with then it was like we would be totally kissing Heston! omg
La Fiorentina is the third outlet of the Fiorentina group, joining the patisseries of North Perth and Fremantle but also taking it up a notch to include a trattoria and oyster bar. It had been open just over a week before V and I headed down on a sunny Friday afternoon to enjoy a late lunch surrounded by businessmen who had decided the working week was indeed over and the drinking hour had arrived.
After walking inside I was very warmly greeted by the King of Oysters himself, Jerry Fraser (view this website at work with your sound unmuted at your own peril!), who was behind the Oyster Bar doing what he does best. He invited me to sit at the bar, or wait to be seated at a table by one of the servers, which I chose to do. I waited, and waited, trying to get someone’s attention, and I started to worry that this was a sign of things to come. I need not have worried though, as when V (who arrived during the wait) and I were finally seated, our lovely server was so friendly, attentive and knowledgeable that the wait was soon forgotten.
She brought the menus out to us, explaining our choices – there was the lunch entrée (starter to you North Americans) choices, the lunch main choices, the oyster bar options and also a selection of panini. She left us to mull over the decisions to be made, and we looked at each other wide eyed. This was going to be tough.
Although the panini options looked tasty, we soon disregarded those. We could have panini any day. It went without saying that we would be starting with some freshly shucked oysters, so we decided on a half dozen of the natural ($16) and a half dozen of the Oyster Fiorentina with finely diced pancetta, aged balsamic vinegar, first pressing Sicilian olive oil and finely diced shallots ($20).
The next decision was much tougher, and we had to enlist the assistance of our server to make the final call. I was tossing up between the “whole baby pink snapper baked and stuffed with rosemary, sage, thyme and fennel, and served with lemon and extra virgin olive oil” ($26) and the “avocado and blue swimmer crab salad with basil, olive oil and a roma tomato emulsion” ($27). She told me if I was hungry then I should go for the snapper and the salad was a more petite serving size, so obviously I went for the larger snapper. V was having similar issues, considering the “swordfish carpaccio with Salamorigghio grappa dressing, shaved Pecorino and mixed herb salad ($29) but settling on the larger “loin of pork braised in milk on a bed of green beans with pancetta and salami dumplings in a white mustard sauce with fresh herbs” ($29).
We also ordered a couple of soft drinks, and if you’re not a fan of much ice with your drinks I suggest you let your waiter know this – the glasses were filled up with super fine ice particles that turned our drinks into watery slushy versions of themselves. I don’t mind this but I have friends who would be groaning at such over-iceage.
It wasn’t long before we were presented with our oysters. I remember reading on the Oyster Bar board that they were South Australian but can’t recall exactly where from. They were mid-sized, meaty and tasted of ocean freshness. I really enjoyed the natural ones with a little squeeze of lemon, and even managed to not squeeze lemon juice on my shirt or in my eye. There is hope for me yet!
I was surprised to re-read the description for the Oysters Fiorentina when writing up this post, as I am quite sure there weren’t any diced shallots in with the oysters and don’t recall catching many of these tastes. It was actually difficult to even pick up the taste of the pancetta over the taste of the oysters, and I somewhat felt like I was eating slivers of piggy fat for no real benefit. Although overall enjoyable due to the freshness of the oysters, I would not order this dish again and would just stick with the natural ones. I guess the Fiorentina may be good for those who prefer their oysters cooked, though I think that people are either oysters lovers or haters, cooked or not.
As an aside, does anyone know what that stuff is that the Oysters Fiorentina are squidged onto? I assumed it was some sort of salt mixture, but it had a foamy texture and I imagined Heston out the back with a tube of Selley’s No More Gaps.
I had seriously food envy when V’s pork came out. It just looked so very tender, and the colour of the sauce giving a hint to its level of flavour. I was lucky enough to help him finish this dish off, and can attest that the pork was indeed perfectly tender, melting in the mouth, and the white mustard sauce packed a punch. It may have packed too big a punch however, as towards the end of the dish V began to find it quite overpowering, with one of the notes in the sauce becoming almost unpleasant. I didn’t eat enough to get to this level, but although I really enjoyed the flavour I could see how it would be possible. The dumplings were light and fluffy, despite their dense, well-browned appearance. The pork was served with sugar snap peas, and not the green beans as stated on the menu, but this worked well with the soft pork. Overall a good dish but perhaps not entirely spot on with the flavour.
A whole fish, just for me! I was a little confused when it first came out, as the menu description had me thinking it would be stuffed – did they stuff it to bake it and then throw away the stuffing? Was it just never stuffed? I didn’t ponder long before getting stuck in, and found the fish to be fresh, well cooked and juicy. It was also well complemented by the little pile of greens, though I would have liked more of this. Similar to Victor, I really enjoyed the flavour at first but soon found myself squeezing the lemon with gusto as I tried to cut through the almost cloying quality of the tomato flavours infusing the fish. Overall, a good dish that I enjoyed enough to leave a plate cleaned of everything but bones (and the occasional scale) but again not quite right with the flavour balance.
Having been sat next to the impressive cake display the entire time we were in the restaurant, it was impossible not to have a little taste of something once our savoury processing was complete. The problem was, what to order? There really was a lot of goodness to choose from and I spent an embarrassing amount of time staring through the glass (I stopped myself from pressing my face up against it). V was much more decisive, choosing the Passion Yoghurt Cake with little hesitation, agreeing to the ice cream offered with it. I found myself so paralysed with overchoice that I just ordered a short macc.
It was just as well, really, as the slice of cake was quite generous and we struggled to get through it. Although the back end of the cake was ever so slightly dry, the passionfruit syrup oozing through from the top ensured a deliciously sticky texture to the rest of the cake, and the flavour was right on the money. Just the perfect amount of sweetness too, and finished off very nicely with the ice cream that was flecked through with plenty of vanilla seeds.
The kit out of La Fiorentina is fresh and clean, with some interesting features – chandeliers worth $80,000, apparently – and we found the service had just the right level of friendliness and attentiveness, whilst also being knowledgeable about the menus and willing to offer advice to assist those struggling to make a decision. The prices are definitely heading into the high end, making for an expensive meal which is all the more apparent when there are far cheaper lunch options in the city, but these cheaper lunch options don’t include freshly shucked oysters and the danger of copping $80,000 worth of glass in the head.
I was disappointed with the apparent deviations from the menu descriptions that I noticed in the dishes, but am willing to put this down to the restaurant finding its feet.
Really, I’m not sure if it was due to the beautiful sunny Friday afternoon, the incredibly enjoyable three hours spent shooting the breeze with a good friend, or the subliminal effects of sitting next to so many good looking cakes for so long, but the overall feel was so positive that I was more than willing to overlook all the little things I didn’t quite like about this place. I guess it will take a few more visits to determine if my generous nature is to be rewarded.
So, what’s it like to cop a kiss from Heston? Although the flavours were not quite balanced, I find myself wanting to go back for more (with one of those little bottles of mouth spray for him, just in case).
Address: 16 Milligan Street (cnr Milligan & Hay Streets, entrance on Hay St) Perth
Phone: 08 9321 2799
Opening Hours: Mon-Tues: 7am-6pm; Wed-Fri: 7am-10pm; Sat: 8am-10pm
We paid: ~$50/head for oyster starters, mains and shared dessert