More than a decade ago, Blake’s on Blake Street in North Perth was known for its delicious cakes. I used to ride my bicycle to Blake’s to get a slice of wonderful hazelnut torte, with layers of sponge, crushed hazelnuts and hazelnut cream. Years after I moved away from North Perth, the same building became home to Riki Blake’s, serving up North African and middle eastern cuisine. These days, chef Riki Kaspi owns and teaches at The Cooking Professor and can be found on Friday nights serving up authentic Moroccan food at the Twilight Hawkers Market in Perth. And Blake’s has now been taken over by a new chef – Tom Randolph, the Tom behind Tom’s Kitchen in Shafto Lane in the city. The new restaurant on Blake Street is now known simply as No4 Blake Street.
Across the top of the dinner menu is written Tom Randolph’s twist on the famous quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the food and wine mere players.” At No4 Blake Street, Tom seeks to create a memorable dining experience, driven by what he calls “the theatre of dining”, with culinary creations presented to intrigue, surprise and delight guests. He invites diners to let go of any preconceptions and just enjoy the experience. If you’re a meat and three veg kind of person, this style of dining may prove challenging.
Following the theatrical theme, No4 Blake Street operates under multiple guises. During the day, it’s a friendly neighbourhood cafe, serving breakfast and a children’s menu from 7am to 3pm, with lunch from 11.30am to 3pm. High tea is served on Saturday afternoons from 2pm to 5pm. On Tuesday to Saturday evenings from 6pm to late, the restaurant is transformed: linen cloths cover the tables, the cafe’s display of pastries and muffins whisked away, and a plush red curtain is drawn, concealing the usually open kitchen and creating an intimate space for fine dining.
We were introduced to the fine dining No4 Blake Street, along with others invited to a special dinner last week. We were advised to allow 2-3 hours for the meal, which began with house-baked crusty and warm sourdough bread and olive bread, served with a selection of shiny soft flavoured butters: orange, Pedro Ximénez and green onion. The bread was excellent, especially with the Pedro butter, and it was tempting to keep eating it at the risk of filling up.
The “amuse bouche” was bigger than an amuse bouche should be but I had no complaints. If chef Tom’s goal was to delight his guests, he certainly succeeded with this dish: summer corn custard served with truffled popcorn and delicate renditions of mushroom: pickled shimeji, porcini foam and mushroom glass, sprinkled with dainty micro herbs. This dish is available on the regular dinner menu in a main course size, which is brilliant news for vegetarians and fans of corn and mushrooms.
For our meal there were two entrees, two main courses and two desserts, served alternating between guests, much like a wedding. Ordinarily, if you will be able to choose your entree, main and dessert from the menu.
For entree, I had the goat’s cheese ‘gnocchi’ with aromatic oils, baby herbs, viola flowers and marigold petals in tomato water, which was poured into the dish at the table. Tom later told us the tomato water is made by squeezing cooked cherry tomatoes wrapped in cloth and collecting that juice that drips through. It’s a clear, warm, sweet-tasting broth that bursts with fresh flavour. The flowers are pretty, but the ‘gnocchi’ looked like a cross between wet Plasticine and marsupial embryos. But please don’t judge them on appearance – they were exquisitely smooth, creamy and melted in the mouth.
Jac was thrilled when her entree was placed before her: rabbit charcuterie on a slab of wood, with rabbit parfait, belly presse and loin and kidney terrine, with a curl of gingerbread tuile and blobs of pomegranate that almost looked like unintentional dribbles. The parfait was her favourite; I exchanged goat’s cheese gnocchi and spoonfuls of tomato water for bites of the juicy layered belly presse.
Every night at No4 Blake Street, there’s a course between entree and main. Called “al dente”, it features fresh pasta handmade that day on the premises. Tonight it was a dish that exemplified chef Tom’s advice to “let go of any preconceptions and just enjoy the experience” – tortellini filled with caramelised sweetbreads and orange, served with champagne cream and parsley puree. For those unfamiliar with sweetbreads, they are either thymus or pancreas, both of which probably sound hideously unappealing. But caramelised and wrapped in pasta with fragrant citrus, they were delicious, and I wouldn’t have known I was munching away merrily on organs. In fact, I’d have happily polished off more tortellini.
For main course, Jac had the barely cooked ocean trout, ink rice cracker, miso, cuttlefish and compressed cucumber. I’ve had confit trout that was jelly-like and didn’t feel much like fish; this trout still flaked like fish and was tender and mild in flavour. The squid ink rice crackers and strips of chargrilled squid were a hit but Jac craved more sauce than the tiny blobs of miso on the plate.
My main course was the glazed pork, white eggplant caviar, mustard, cassis with eggplant crisp. The puffy wisps of crackling were chewy rather than crisp and stuck to my teeth but the pork was fine fleshed, delicious when rolled in the mustard sauce.
After the main course, we were presented with a deceptively elaborate palate cleanser: coconut sorbet, pineapple granita, compressed apple, coriander jelly and coconut foam, all on a bed of sesame soil. The coriander jelly and sesame soil combined to deliver a very savoury, spicy flavour that reminded me of Indian food. It was an unusual, complex little dish with elements that crackled, fizzed, slipped and melted. I left nothing on the plate but there was possibly too much going on for it to be an effective palate cleanser.
My dessert was Textures of Passionfruit with white chocolate basil ganache, mango, salted sesame soil, coconut sago. There was not a passionfruit pip to be crunched; instead, textures in the form of creamy bavarois, a very tart blanket and feather-light fluff. Once again, the salted sesame added a savoury surprise.
Jac’s dessert was a Heston-esque chocolate garden, served in a small chilled terracotta pot, eaten with a spoon. Beneath the chocolate biscuit crumbs were layers of rich Valrhona chocolate mousse, salted caramel, peanut dacquoise and buttery rich macadamias. Head pastry chef Jo Ward should consider planting (har-har) something worm-like, or even better – grub-like, within the layers, so there are screams and squeals between the oohs and ahhs. Just to make the ‘theatre’ a little more Puckish (bet some of you are glad I’m not in charge).
The wine list includes carefully selected Australian and international wines that will interest and impress wine lovers. Sommelier Romain will make recommendations and happily talk wines with you. Wine lovers, you’ll want to give serious consideration to taking a cab home.
We had an enjoyable evening at No4 Blake Street, though I think I’m more into the discovery and leisurely pace of fine dining than Jac. I’m keen and curious to dine there during the day, especially to try high tea.
Ultimately, if the food and service prove consistently good, both the casual and the posh No4 Blake Street should do well. Now that chef Tom’s in the house, looks like we’re in for another engaging chapter in the history of Blake’s on Blake Street, North Perth.
No4 Blake Street
4 Blake St, North Perth
Telephone: (08) 9444 6678
Brunch 7 days 7am to 4pm
High tea Saturday 2pm to 5pm
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6pm to late.
TFP and Jac dined as guests and with compliments of No4 Blake Street.
The menu we experienced was a cut-down version of No4 Blake Street’s dinner menu.
Dinner (prices per person):
4 courses, no dessert (AU$70) with matching wines (AU$100)
6 courses, with dessert (AU$90) with matching wines (AU$135)
Cafe Gourmand option – with coffee/tea served with homemade petits fours (add AU$12 per person)
Cheese Plate option – with soft, blue, semi firm, house lavosh, chutney and fresh apple (add $15 per person)