Chesters, Swan Valley

on Food  

The day of my 29th birthday was cold and stormy, which doesn’t really sound like the best weather for lunch in the Swan Valley. But with a log fire and a lot of food and wine at Chesters Restaurant, it didn’t feel like such a bad deal.

About 25 minutes from Perth, Chesters Restaurant was originally a fruit drying shed and then a stable for a riding academy. This made me worry it would be cold and drafty, but it was actually quite cosy and appropriately casual and rustic. Their own wine label, Heaford Glen, is served alongside an unusual fusion of cuisines. We were advised to arrive a bit early to make sure we ordered before a large group booked in for the same time as us, and thankfully this didn’t seem to impede the service for us.

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For entrée The Boy ordered the oysters with gratinated Mexican salsa ($21), a combination I haven’t seen before. Although the kick of chilli was nice on the cold day, the salsa and cheese seemed to hide taste of the oysters themselves. I couldn’t help comparing them to the oysters we had in Tasmania, which were cooked far more simply (or not at all) to let the oysters really shine, although I suppose that’s a bit unfair considering those were freshly caught nearby.

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My entrée, a lamb fillet with chickpea and sweet potato cake, baba ghanoush ($19) was probably my favourite dish of the meal. The lamb was perfectly tender, but my favourite part was those chickpea and sweet potato discs – I’ve made a mental note to have a go at making them for vegetarian friends or meatless meals at home.

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The Boy’s main, a lamb rump with aubergine pickle, heirloom carrots, fried ricotta ($36) was nice but largely forgettable – even with his excellent food memory, which seems to stretch back years for some meals, we were scratching our heads trying to remember anything to say about this dish. The lamb was a bit sinewy and almost comically difficult to cut in parts.

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My main was a free range chicken ballontine with serrano jamon, green wheat freekah, mapled pumpkin, tarragon cream ($32.50) which looked very impressive – if a bit odd – coming to me on a gigantic slate platter. Here’s another view to show that height:

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The chicken was beautifully moist and tender, and each element on the plate was well executed when tasted individually. But together, I felt that the dish – like the plating – was odd and somewhat confusing to me. Between the shredded pumpkin, dollops of fig paste and currants in the freekeh there was a lot of sweetness, and to me it felt quite disconnected to the chicken ballontine. I didn’t still enjoyed eating it, but to me it just didn’t feel completely cohesive or well thought-out.

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We shared a dessert, an apple strudel with rosewater creme anglais and yoghurt sorbet. Again, the individual elements were well executed – especially that yoghurt sorbet, which was nice and tangy – but together they didn’t really seem to make sense.

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It could just be me, but I felt that Chesters has a bit of a personality crisis. There’s clearly a lot of skill and creativity going on in the kitchen, with inventive combinations of flavours and some modern plating, but for me most of them fell a bit short of the mark. The menu skips around from classic French to Mexican to Chinese, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing but feels like a lot of competing styles and flavours to balance with any cohesiveness. It’s a pity because all the right ingredients for a great casual valley restaurant are there – I just wish that menu was a little more refined. A tidy Entertainment Book discount, the excellent service, the fireplace and the clear effort that went into the food certainly softened the blow, but I’m not sure this is one I’ll be returning to.

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