I have been told off on social media and in letters to the editor for commenting about restaurant decor.
The arguments — eg “stick to your knitting” or “what would you know about interiors” — of these experts are asinine and wilfully ignorant, because the way a room relates to customers, whether it be welcoming or calming or edgy or playful, is critical to the enjoyment, or not, of the entire experience.
Food and service will always be what a restaurant is most judged on, but get the room wrong and it will detract from the experience, which, in turn, is directly related to revenue. It matters.
Petite Mort is the realised dream of one of Perth’s best chefs, Todd Stuart. Stuart is one of the city’s hardest working commercial cooks and the most affable bloke you could hope to meet. His is the long, hard journey of the chef-owner doing his fine dining thing on slim margins and long hours. Why does he do it? Because he was born to cook.
But, boy oh boy, does his dining room need a makeover. It has the atmosphere of an undertaker’s office and the decorator touches of a suburban financial planner’s waiting room. And yes, it does make a difference to the experience. It sucks the life out of you.
Here’s our advice. Ignore the decor if you can. Squint and pretend you’re in another room, because Stuart’s cooking is original and fun and exceptional value.
When Stuart started this enterprise a few years ago, it was a confused offer — not quite share plate, not quite degustation and not quite the old-school entree/ main/dessert approach. One was instructed to order several large and expensive plates as one would for a sharing format but with main courses. The price and the size of the dishes and the explanation of the rules were confusing. Stuart obviously listens to his customers. He now offers so many ways to eat, you’re spoilt for choice.
The three-course prix fixe costs $64 and gives the diner an ample choice of five entrees, five mains and three desserts. It’s a brilliant offer for such recherche food.
Rabbit entree was plated cleanly and artistically on a large white dish with the elements spread across in an abstract line of globs and balls and tweezered things and little nuggets of other stuff. It was beguiling plating and it wasn’t just about looks — there was substance, too. The kitchen uses fresh, never frozen, Baldivis rabbit. Chef bones out the legs and stuffs with a chicken mousse, seasoned with chorizo. The bunny is plated with pickled iceberg (very nice), carrot puree and pickled carrot.
Porcini gnocchi with “one hour egg” lacked the finesse of the rabbit. It was six large pillowy gnocchi laid out in a circle around a sous vide egg — perfectly cooked — and a circlet of reduction sauce applied around the rim of the plate. Not great plating. The gnocchi were pleasantly soft and light, if a little gluey.
Cured salmon with kimchi, ginger, kombucha and cucumber was a righting of the ship and a startlingly good combo of flavours, techniques, textures and artistry. This is Stuart at his classically trained best. The cure was short and simple — just sugar and salt — and was plated stylishly with a banging kimchi sorbet, cucumber and cashew nut.
Souffle, always on the list at Petite Mort, was best in breed. The service is old school and informed. The wine list is OK.
Go to Petite Mort and revel in high-end food with big ambitions from a chef who really gives a shisho.
Just don’t mention ze room …