We’ve all heard the feedback. Whispers amongst diners that while it looks beautiful, and it has all the right successful names behind it, there was something amiss at Andy Freeman and Sam Astbury’s Asian inspired venue, Darlings. It had all the right potential, and some flair thrown in to the mix, but it failed to impress some. And they took this very seriously.
Like all great moments in life, this one started with cocktails. There were two on offer – one an adorably named ‘Hello Kitty Spritz’ ($15.00) which was made up of Kizakura Sake, coconut and blueberry jam, fresh citrus, aromatic Peychauds bitters, prosecco and fresh mint.
I indulge in a Hanzo Slipper ($18.00), a revamped Midori Slipper comprised of J&B rare whiskey, Midori, lemon juice, absinthe, gomme syrup and finished with orange oil and dandelion bitters. It’s bright, frothy and just tart enough to make it the perfect companion for a sunny Sunday. It’s in hand as we all mill about in the front part of the restaurant, catching up with other bloggers and shooting the breeze.
I’m particularly excited to see Bri from Eat Meets West as I’d stopped by to see at Mr Drummond’s Foods stand at Subiaco Farmer’s Markets to try their crack pie. It was (insert expletive) amazing. So I was all gushy when she walked in, proclaiming a deep love and new found addiction. It was also lovely to see the married duo behind Ministry of Gluttony as it just happened to be their first wedding anniversary so we got to mini-celebrate with them! But there were so many bloggers there, it was impossible to talk to everyone!
Lunch is served at a great long table arranged into a square in the covered outdoor area. It’s bright and airy, with lots of greenery and fresh air whipping around us. I love the wooden barrels hanging from the ceiling in a natural chandelier representation. I can imagine this would be a popular part of the restaurant for private functions – especially in the warmer months when these types of spaces are a hot commodity!
The dishes that soon come out are all chosen by our hosts and form part of their revised new menu. I’ll try to include prices where possible, but some dishes weren’t on the website just yet that I could see.
Starting our meal of with “wwaaarrrrmmmm sssaaakkkkeeee” (or cold if that’s more your thing), we’re presented each with the first course of our lunch. It’s a lightly crumbed half of a quail egg, topped with tobiko (roe) and presented alongside lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and micro red cabbage leaf.
For me, life is all about egg. I’m such a huge fan and a massive creeper of yolk porn so my eyes immediately go to the gooey centre which is made even more vividly orange from the fish eggs spooned on top. It’s a pleasing taste and texture – creamy egg, crunchy crumb and juicy pops as you bite down on the tobiko. Simple, but very yummy and a nice way to ease into the eating portion of the lunch. I may or may not have accepted a glass of red wine at this point and was happily on my way to getting rather tipsy (naturally chaos ensued throughout the meal with talks centring around some deviant behaviour stories that had me almost snorting with laughter. Almost. I’m a lady after all).
The Rottnest scallops come out on the half shell, topped with potato foam, coriander pistou and five spice black pudding. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a properly cooked scallop and this dish was on the money. In fact, it was actually one of my favourites for the meal!
The scallop took a bit of negotiation to effectively separate from the shell, but once I inhaled it all niceties went out of the window. I fell hard and fast, proclaiming a deep, immediate love for that coriander pistou in particular.
The five spice black pudding isn’t as strongly flavoured as I would have expected, but having a palate that’s born and raised on Chinese/Taiwanese cooking, I can imagine that more Western palates would find it well balanced. The actual taste of the pudding though is really enjoyable. The potato foam is a little bit of French faire that offers a cold sauce to bring some subtle nuances to the other ingredients included.
The next plate to touch down is the pork and prawn rice paper roll with satay sauce. Pretty as a picture these rolls were vibrant and cool – just what you’d expect from this traditional Vietnamese dish. Normally you’d dunk this in a hoisin dipping sauce peppered with crushed peanuts or nuoc cham sauce, but I really liked the use of the chunky and slightly spicy satay sauce served at Darlings.
The rolls themselves are well wrapped, though the end of mine has rice paper that’s slightly harder than I’d personally prefer – however asking the others around me theirs were all spot on which was great to hear it was a rarity rather than the norm. I’d have loved to see the herbs used amped up a notch so you get that satisfying smack of freshness but in saying that, texturally the ingredients inside these ones were still fresh and tasty.
The teriyaki baby octopus and soba noodle salad with wasabi mayonnaise ($15.00) is definitely a crowd pleaser as it’s set down on the table. Collective oohs and ahhs are heard echoing around as we all eyeball the glistening seafood meat. I’m rather obsessed with soba noodles, which feature regularly in my lunches at work that I pack, so I’m analysing every detail on the plate to see if it’s something I can attempt to do a poor rendition of in my own kitchen.
The octopus is cooked perfectly. It’s slightly softened but still has that bite to the texture, with the flavour strong but not overpowering – it definitely lets the octopus be the hero it should be. The soba noodles salad is tasty though saltier than I would normally prefer. It’s not unpleasant, but rather just takes away from what could be seen as quite a refreshing dish. Regardless, with the protein cooked so deliciously I find myself going in for a few extra bites.
The agedashi tofu with pickled mushroom, watermelon radish and char grilled asparagus ($10.00) is just plain gorgeous. It’s so bright and pretty, with the fried tofu rolled in a nice chilli spice mix to bring a little heat to the flavour profile. I love the miso sauce which has that lovely umami taste.
The watermelon radish is something I’ve seen and eaten before but never known what it was actually called. Love the name, love the look, love the crunch. Enough said. The little pickled enoki mushrooms are like a light noodle hidden amongst the other ingredients but should never be ignored – they’re a favourite of mine and highly underrated in my opinion.
You could have heard a coin drop out the front of the restaurant when the next course is announced. I think for any venue, pork belly on the menu is a must. A couple of weeks ago I met another blogger who joked that anyone could write about pork belly so she tried to avoid it, and perhaps that’s true but I’ll never waiver in my adoration for this magnificent cut of meat. I stand firm in knowing what I like and if anyone tried to deny me my piece of pork… well I’d safely say I’d cut them. Seriously.
The skin on Darling’s pork has been expertly treated into a thin, crisp shard of crackling; the confit cuts of meat doused in a liberal serving of a sticky chilli palm caramel dressing. Underneath sits a salad of fresh shaved coconut, lychee and bean sprouts. As expected the crackling is bang on the money and there’s a course of loud crunching echoing throughout the back area of the restaurant as everyone happily gorge away. There’s a generous layer of fat (i.e. goodness) which melts in your mouth. It’s so tasty and while yes, lots of restaurants are doing pork belly these days, who the hell cares. Meat good.
The final savoury course for our lunch is a braised black bean beef cheek with coriander pesto, a red cabbage marmalade reduction and cashews. It’s served with a knife that actually isn’t really needed because the meat is that tender it basically explodes apart with the slightest nudge.
Secondary cuts of meat are so in vogue at the moment and with good reason. When cooked respectfully and properly, these cuts can actually shine more so than our standard primary cuts. With beef cheek it’s all about patience. Slow cooking and suitable flavours to elevate the meat are a must and in this case, the meat has broken down completely, becoming almost gelatinous and oh so satisfying. I love the crunch of the cashew nuts – it gives a nice contrasting texture. This is the dish of the day in my opinion!
By this time it’s around 3.30pm in the afternoon and we’re all feeling quite full and perhaps yes, a little happy from the delicious free flowing alcohol that’s been present. Nonetheless, as I always say, dessert is a different stomach so I’m all too happy to partake in a sweet ending to our epic lunch.
The ‘snickers bar’ of spiced condensed milk, caramelised peanuts and Valrhona chocolate brownie ($12.00) is so rich and decadent. Definitely a chocoholic’s dream come true, though perhaps a bit too intense for me personally. I’m more of a cream/custard and fruit dessert girl but I know my boy would love this with a deep passion. I do really like the addition of the slightly salty, slightly sweet, but very crisp peanuts which offer that savoury focal point to keep returning to for a quick palate cleanse.
Lunch at the newly improved Darlings Supper Club was a really tasty event – one that I have to admit surprised me a little since I’d heard not so favourable reviews. To me, it really seems like they’ve taken everyone’s feedback, admitted their mistakes and worked to really and truly improve what their offering consumers.
While I wish I could have tried some of their staple menu items like the dumplings or noodles, I’ll have to make a trip out one night to give it a go and see what I think about those items. But from what I did try, I really do think it’s on the up. There’s something very in vogue about Asian flavours in the market right now and with a heavy weighting of Asian immigrants in Western Australia, it’s definitely a hard market to please. I think Darlings can do it, if they keep tweaking and adjusting to suit what the customers want without losing the integrity of their talented chefs. I’m looking forward to following their success!
If you liked the sound of this meal, head down from 3pm to 3am for your fix of food, or stop by for lunch on Sundays where you can get dimsum I hear. A big thank you to the team at Darlings for looking after us and putting on a great catchup with old and new friends.