Oh. My. Goodness.

Star Anise. It was amazing. I was there last night for a birthday dinner [unexpectedly ran into old friends too!] and it was truly special.

When I booked a fortnight ago, the nice lady on the other end of the phone offered an apology, “It’s degustation only on Saturday nights. Is that alright?” “Um, ok,” I replied, salivating. I just love the little bitty tastes you get with degustation service. The only issue I had with previous experiences was the lack of fullness at the end of the meal. This gastronomic adventure was, however, to turn my prejudices on their head.

So. Star Anise. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has lived in Shenton Park and at the top of WA restaurant listings for more than 10 years. In fact, it had been almost that long since my last visit.

We arrived right on time, were seated promptly, then made the fatal mistake of reviewing the wine list for a pre-dinner drink. The drinks themselves were great [my partner ordered a Picardy Pinot and I had the French 75 cocktail – gin, lemon juice, caster sugar, Pol Roger. Very refreshing], but the thinking time meant that we wound up at the end of the food queue [translation: a long wait between first and second courses].

Entree. I was worried that our tapas-styled first course of jamon serrano, spiced almonds and octopus would be too smoky. Each flavour and texture, however, was different enough to give this plate a subtle balance. It was my first taste of jamon serrano, after wondering what all the fuss was about, and I wasn’t disappointed. The wine match of Pol Roger [my 2nd favourite champagne, after Veuve – Bollinger tasting to come] also didn’t hurt it any.

ok, so I ate it before I could take a picture...

The second course of marron and gourmet vegetables in a Thai-spiced broth was delicious. Thai food is completely moreish to me and I was tempted to lick the marron shells afterwards. The Thai basil leaves were an authentic finishing touch and I was also amused by the spaceage bowl in which it was served. I wasn’t really excited about the wine match – which surprised me, because I normally like Alsace wines [it was the Alsace Hugel et Fils Riesling 2006. I was enamoured with the lychee flower finish to the bouquet…] – but I was excited about the top up our lovely waitress gave us to compensate for the long wait (~45 minutes) on this course.

I was probably the least taken with the third course: the sugar and spice cured venison. This dish had so much promise and, despite the lightly sweet aftertaste left by the combination of baby beets, labne, radish and baby chard, it was a very understated dish. Maybe it was the fact that I expected a robust, gamey flavour from my venison. Or maybe it was the fact that I had already eaten a cured meat this meal.

The venison. Well, it looked great.

The Rimauresq Cru Classe 2007 tasted of fairy floss and did not impress, though this French rosé was a reasonable pairing with the course. [I continue to be largely unimpressed by French wines, unless they be champagne.]

The fourth course saw us discover what was in the huge bowls our next-door neighbours had consumed so quickly just before us. Duck cooked two ways on a bed of choy sum. This was the true gem of the evening. At first, I thought there was an overabundance of the watery sweet and sour valencia orange sauce; I realised the wisdom of the dish’s design as the freshly-carved duck absorbed the amber goodness. It was glorious. After every morsel had been devoured, I sat back and hugged myself gleefully. Then I collapsed into the back of my seat [aptly enough, a padded wall] and fell into a duck-induced coma of sheer bliss. An unapologetic food addict.

the famed crispy aromatic duck

And the wine match for the duck? The delightful Picardy Pinot Noir 2006 – the same wine that my dining partner had selected pre-dinner.

The cheese course. The delicate curls of the semihard tome d’abondance meshed harmoniously with whitlof, minted carrot wheels, courgette ribbons and olive specks. This was also the course where the wine, Borsao Riserva Rioja 2004, was most perfectly matched. I savoured every mouthful.

tome d'abondance just became one of my favourite cheeses

At no more than 60mL, the palate-cleansing pineapple and coconut spider was a refreshing treat. Like a liquid fruit tingle.

Dessert. The mini cinnamon doughnuts were simply awesome dipped into runny semi-set mousse and sherry-raisin icecream, but the best part of this course was the Stanton & Killeen 12yo Muscat. I do love a good sticky.

mini doughnuts are the bees knees

We ended the meal tipsy and content, with burst-in-your-mouth caramels and orange-scented fairy floss. The 3½-hour experience was sublime. I highly recommend it. At $195pp for the meal with premium wines, it remains a special occasion treat.

…and thank you to our gorgeous waitperson, whose name I did not catch, for her smiling service and the loan of a pen, which enabled me to bring the pure, unadulterated experience to you so quickly. I hope you enjoyed 🙂

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