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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Nine - Fine in name, fine in nature

If I had to name one Perth restaurant as my favourite, it would be Nine Fine Food on the corner of Lake and Bulwer Streets in Northbridge. Every time I have dined here over the past few years I have been struck with how consistently well presented and delicious each dish has been. In fact, the only two things I can fault with the restaurant are the less-than-glamorous toilets and the one time that my dining partner and I were aurally assaulted by a fellow diner keeping himself amused whilst waiting for his food by tapping his metal chopsticks together over and over and over... Oh, and one time I was there we were in such a daze from the dishes we accidentally left our wine cooler bag behind and never got around to picking it up again, so perhaps you shouldn't be going here if you are a Forgetful Jones and were thinking of taking your favourite jacket or bag.

This was actually meant to be a review of Nahm Thai, also located on Bulwer St a (very girly) stone's throw from Nine. However after calling Nahm to make a reservation I discovered that they have a set menu on Friday and Saturday nights, which if I recall correctly is $65 per person. Given that some online reviews of Nahm suggested that the food takes some time to come out, and that our dinner on this particular night was not going to be overly leisurely as my friend and I had a cocktail party to get to, we decided that perhaps a $65 dinner that would have us eating at least three courses (more by the time we shared dishes) was not the best idea and we may have paid for this decision by missing out on valuable bar tab time at the cocktail party.

There was a small moment of disappointment when I called Nine on Friday afternoon to book a table for 6pm on Saturday and was told they were fully booked, but after promising to have the table free by 8pm we were granted a table. Huzzah! So, first lesson in eating at Nine - book ahead! Not really necessary on weeknights, but in my experience it is essential to book for Saturday nights. I have been disappointed on two occasions when trying to organise an impromptu dinner for non-Nine-knowing friends and being thwarted by my lack of foresight.

Another thing to mention while I think of it - Nine is only BYO, a fact which they remind you of when you make a reservation and again when they call you on the day to confirm your booking (even if you only called to book the day before). So if you are planning to pair your fabulous Japanese fusion meal with some alcohol, you'll need to take it with you.

The decor of Nine is nicely understated - mood lighting, dark warm colours, some Japanese style floral arrangements. The tablecloths are made of leather, which I don't recall seeing elsewhere and I think is a great idea. It feels nice to lean on, has a bit of grip to it and cleans easily when you've had a chopstick related mishap. Not that I would ever experience such a thing but I could imagine that it would be useful in this manner. Yes.

The specials at Nine are always displayed on two blackboards on one side of the dining room, and always described to you by your waiter. There always seems to be at least one tasting plate special - one hot and sometimes one cold. These are a great option for a shared entrée, as my friend and I chose to do this time. Last time I was there was with 3 friends, so we went for the hot tasting plate and the "Sashimi Nine Style" to share as an entrée. The actual menu also has the option of paying (I think) $55 per person and choosing from a couple of options for entrée, main and dessert. They also now have an "Omakase" option for (I think!) $70 where you essentially trust the chef to give you a number of tasty courses. Not sure how many courses exactly, but I know that I trust the chef at Nine and thus will happily put myself in their hands next time I am there.

The hot tasting plate on this occasion consisted of (starting from the bottom of the picture) seared tuna on little dollops of creamy sauce, chicken karaage, marinated beef with scallops, Japanese omelette, tempura prawns, tempura barramundi fillets and barramundi mash (all sitting on a little sauce).

The tuna was perfectly cooked, with a wonderful texture. The best of both worlds - a lovely seared outer layer with a beautifully soft rare centre. The outer crispy fried deliciousness of the chicken karaage was perfectly complemented with the tender meat inside. I am sometimes disappointed with chicken karaage (on the rare occasions I allow myself the guilty pleasure of eating it, most often after my sister has twisted my rubber arm) when all you seem to get is the fried fat and no decent amount of chicken. At least when you have a good mouthful of meat inside you're able to somehow justify eating it by telling yourself you're getting some protein.

Onto the beef. I don't eat beef, hence the title of this here blog. I used to, but haven't enjoyed eating it for the past nine years or so. I've had a few experiences of eating it during this time, such as when my Italian friends (in Sweden) made a traditional lasagne and proudly served me up a big slice, and I just didn't have the heart to tell them I don't eat beef. I think I even managed to eat most of it. I mean, I can eat beef, I would just really prefer not to. However, the beef served on the tasting plates at Nine seems to fall outside of this blanket discriminatory ban. Over these past nine or so years, there have been three occasions when I have tried beef and quite enjoyed it. All three of these occasions involved tasting plates at Nine. It is very thinly sliced, beautifully marinated, and cooked to produce a meat that does not remind you you're enjoying a nice slab of cow muscle with every difficult chew. The fact that it is so cunningly disguised as to appease a non beef eater may well turn off those of you who love nothing more than to get stuck into a nice slab of cow muscle, but you could satisfy this urge by choosing the steak for your main.

Anyway, I digress..
The scallops sitting atop this magical beef were just cooked, and thus had a very soft, almost creamy texture. The tempura batter for the prawns and barramundi was nice and light and the Japanese omelette was pretty much like you'd expect it to be. The barramundi mash (the little croquette in the top left of the photo) presented a little problem as there was only one, so we had to get the knife out to share in the little tasty, although not terribly memorable, little parcel.

Onto our mains! Boringly, we both chose to go for the special as it just sounded too damn good. It was cutely described as a "team" dish, with the team members of red emperor (three pieces), soft shelled crab, scallop and prawn. The team's entourage included lightly spiced potato mash, creamy basil and ricotta sauce, and what I guess you could call a fruit salsa. The flavours all worked well together, letting the fresh seafood speak for itself, and again all of the seafood was nice and moist and nowhere near overcooked.

After having such lovely dishes we could not resist going for a dessert even if it meant possibly missing out on the bar tab at the cocktail party we were due to attend. Dessert wins out over potential free drinks, in my opinion. Well, maybe not lumpy custard and tinned fruit but as this wasn't on the menu we decided to forgo free booze for more food. There was a selection of gelati to choose from, where you can go for the "Ichi" and have two scoops of one flavour, or "San" and have one scoop of each of the three flavours. Alternatively you could go for the fried banana and red bean roll served with gelato and fruit. Of course this was our selection, although we restrained ourselves to just sharing the one serve.

Quite simply, it tasted as good as it looked. The banana and red bean was a deliciously gooey mixture and married well with the crunch of the roll, the hazelnut gelato was so good it had little chance to melt before we polished it off, and the little pieces of fruit were all fresh and met a similar fate. To our delight amongst the fruit lineup we discovered a square of coconut jelly, which my friend actually introduced me to last weekend after recently discovering it himself. Clearly we are at the cutting edge of cuisine.

The service at Nine, as always, was excellent. Extremely friendly, eager to please and with great timing, I have never had reason to be anything but very happy with how I have been served here. The last time I was there was on a Tuesday night, for my birthday, and even though we lingered much longer than the other diners as we finished our wine we were never rushed to leave. In fact, as we left we guiltily realised the staff must have been just waiting for us to leave so they could follow suit but we never picked up on this vibe whilst we were in the restaurant.

The cost is not exactly cheap, but neither is it expensive and I am more than happy to pay these prices for the consistently high quality food and excellent service. I think in our three course meal would have been approximately $110 in total.

I really can't recommend this restaurant highly enough! Gush gush gush..

(as a side note, and nice contrast to this meal, I also discovered last night that the catering for functions at The Deen really goes above and beyond. I had no idea there were so many varieties of ready made, foul smelling deep fried hors d'oeuvres on the market.)

Nine Fine Food on Urbanspoon


Tim May 3, 2009 at 12:47 PM  

tingtingtingtingtingting - CHOPSTICKS!

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