So, I found out yesterday that I say Clarences the wrong way. Or the whole of Perth says Clarences the wrong way – this point is still up for debate. But I once worked with this french girl called Clarence, who insisted I say it with a bit of a fancy french accent at the end – kind of like ‘clar-ronce’. This was despite the fact she couldn’t say my name, and just called me by my first initial. But ever since then I have had an inability to say it the same way as the rest of Australia, and my suspicions that I say it the wrong way were further heightened when I phoned up Clarences on Beaufort Street to make a booking for Saturday night, and the man on the other end of the phone pronounced it differently to me. Anyway, we pottered off to Clarences determined not to let my dubious pronunciation taint our night too much.
I hadn’t been able to make a booking in the restaurant when I called up, due to my usual state of disorganisation meaning I only decided where to go out for dinner at about 1pm on Saturday. However the kind man on the end of the phone had said we could turn up and try our luck with the tables out the back, and that is what we did.
The set up of the restaurant/bar is kind of strange, although I can see how it is unavoidable. You walk in through the restaurant to the bar and courtyard out the back – it would be a bit distracting to have the constant thoroughfare through to the bar. But the restaurant is really nice, a bit rustic but still maintaining a lot of sophistication. Does that make sense? You should just go check it out. The bar down the back has a few high tables where they do table service, and a very cute little courtyard out the back with a few low tables, where you can still order food but seems to be more a drinks vibe.
We initially sat right down the bottom of the courtyard as all the high tables were taken, and I grabbed a cider and some menu’s. Unfortunately there were loads of people smoking in the courtyard and it just smelt terrible – something I can sometimes put up with when I am just drinking (but will still avoid at all costs), but absolutely cannot put up when I am eating. Nothing worse than trying to enjoy your food and having your senses overpowered with that. So we were about to leave and have dinner somewhere else when a group left one of the high tables so we quickly jumped up there. There was still a vague smoky smell hanging around as we were half inside, half out, but mostly we were saved and dinner was back on!
The menu had a really interesting and varied range of starters, but only really 4 main meals and a couple of more snack type meals (pulled pork buns and the like) that seemed more at home on the bar menu. For starters we went with sweetcorn and saffron arancini ($13), grilled pear, gorgonzola and ciabatta ($11), the wagyu bresola ($12.50) and Ollie ordered one oyster ($4). Yep, just one.
It was a good one though! Ollie enjoyed it, and said it had a simple flavour and the refreshing lemon complemented the fresh oyster well – a perfect summer day (or winter night!) dish.
The arancini was perfectly crunchy on the outside, and the rice on the inside cooked in that way I can never quite manage with risotto – not crunchy but not all mushed together. I don’t know why cooking the perfect risotto still evades me, but it does. Lucky there is places like this to satisfy this niche in my life. Fairly strong corn flavour, and I can’t comment on the saffron because I am not sure exactly what it is meant to taste like (does anyone know?). The balsamic drizzled across the top was a nice touch, it cut through the creaminess of the risotto well.
The wagyu bresola (which I had to look up the meaning of) was like a dried wagyu beef, and came with a pickle and some pickled onion. This was Ollie’s favourite starter dish of the night – I thought it was up there as well. It wasn’t too chewy or too salty, and there was a very generous amount of it.
The pear and gorgonzola was probably the one dish that didn’t quite hit the mark for me – probably because I had such high expectations for it. But the pear didn’t quite have the zing that I had expected. Having said that, the gorgonzola was generous with a strong nutty flavour and the ciabatta delightfully fluffy
For mains I had ordered the pumpkin gnocchi with spinach, pepitas, chevre and sage ($27), and Ollie the scotch fillet with duck fat potatoes, jus, watercress and beets ($39). I thought there was a really nice amount of time between starters coming out and mains – long enough to let the food settle and have a good chat, but not so long you were wondering when the mains were going to come.
Ollie had ordered the stake rare, and it came out cooked just so. It was lovely and tender, super easy to cut through. The duck fat potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the beetroot was crushed and spread under the steak. It was a decent size, and Ollie was really happy with the dish.
The gnocchi was fantastic – this was the standout of the whole night for me. In little potato gem sized bites, the gnocchi was soft in the middle and pan fried to perfection on the outside, and held together well when cut in half – so soft and stretchy! The pureed pumpkin and goats cheese were plentiful, which was important because is the most glorious thing to grace this earth (disclaimer: slight exaggeration). The pepitas were genius, and added the crunch that really finished off the dish. There was heaps of gnocchi as well – or maybe it just felt that way after our excessive amount of appetizers.
By this point we were feeling pretty full – but never underestimate my desire for dessert. We had a bit of trouble attracting the attention of the wait staff as the night went on – it took us a while to get a dessert menu and another glass of wine. The service would likely have been more efficient if we were sitting in the restaurant proper, and it wasn’t really too much to complain about. When we did finally grab someone, I ordered the chocolate pot with marshmallow and raspberry sorbet ($12.50), and Ollie gave me a questioning look that I assume stemmed from his full stomach, but it sounded to good to pass up.
Oh. My. Gosh. This blew my mind – the marshmallow was perfectly burnt so that you got that ‘sitting around the campfire toasting marshmallows’ feeling, without any unpleasant charred aftertaste. It was delightfully soft on the inside, and the chocolate underneath it was so rich. I couldn’t quite work out what was going on with it, it almost had a cake like texture but was really creamy and velvety – some sort of cake/mousse combination where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Whatever it is, I would like some more please. The sorbet was very refreshing, and came on a bed of pop rocks. Pop rocks and sorbet! What is this sorcery? It is almost like the chef at Clarences never wanted me to be satisfied by another dessert ever again.
Clarences was a really nice place to spend some time – the bar is very cosy, the wait staff friendly and the food high quality. It looks like they have specials during the week such as parmi Mondays and shank and shiraz Tuesdays. The courtyard out the back would be delightful on a sunny day (although I still think it would be improved with a smoking ban). The decor is pretty cool, hanging above our semi outdoor-indoor table they had some netting with miniature alcohol bottles hanging from it, and some funky wall art in the courtyard. Worth a visit!