Published on December 5th, 2013 | by Magnus Reviewman2
Review 19 – Pata Negra
Burgers, Mexican, share plates. These are the three trendiest foods in Perth right now. Everywhere you look someone’s opening a gourmet burger joint or Mexican burrito spot. Go to any new restaurant and the wait staff or menu will tell you that the food is “designed to be shared”. But as is so often the case, there are some diners that are a cut above. The Flying Taco wipes the floor with the up & comers. Jus Burgers has a justified stranglehold on the meat-and-two-bread market. And the Godfather of share plate joints, for me, is Pata Negra.
Fairy Lamington and I recently partook in the $86 per person “Vamos a darle de comer” (“let us feed you”) option. And darnos de comer they did.
Check out some photos here.
Pata Negra is Spanish for black foot or paw, and is a term often used to denote the pigs that produce the Holy Grail of hams, Iberian Ham, which is just one of the smallgoods on offer here. Our plate of three included Serrano Ham alongside slices of fennel and pork sausage and chorizo, both made in-house. While the Serrano Ham isn’t quite to the level of Iberian, it still shines purely because it is what it is. However, the in-house sausages have a concentration of flavour you just can’t get from store-bought produce. It’s a sausage mouth party… the best kind.
The cured meats were served with a small dish of beautiful olives and a platter of smoked and spiced almonds, which somehow have a ham-like flavour to them, like a pig mated with a nut. Trust me, it’s far more delicious than that poorly conceived descriptor implies, and you’ll never be able to enjoy inferior almonds again.
The bread and babaganoush that rounded out the appetizers is out of this world, with the Middle Eastern condiment packing incredible flavour, like the kitchen has captured the pure essence of a bonfire of eggplants and conveyed that into your mouth.
The next three courses were oceanic all stars. I don’t normally condone the burning of babies, but at Pata it’s justified. The wood-fired baby octopus is smoky, meaty and tender, a perfect pairing for the fresh herbs that accompany it. Scallop and swordfish fritters are an awesome take on the classic croquette, full of smooth fishy flavour and encased in a crisp crust. But the star of the show is the arroz negra, or black rice. Indeed, it’s one of Perth’s truly great dishes.
It’s unassuming in appearance, just a black dish filled with rice so dark it practically sucks in the light from around it, topped with aioli and a lemon cheek. But this is special. The top is crispy, and lends that trademark Pata Negra smoky flavour and contrasting textures to the dish. The overall taste is rich and deep, unlike anything I’ve ever had. The cuttlefish is perfectly cooked, and the lemon and aioli give welcome brightness to this dark master of the Pata Negra menu. It’s like Lionel Messi at Barcelona, a hero of a dish that’ll go down as an all-time great among top-class players.
Next stop was the land, in the form of two earthy sensations. The roast baby carrots are cooked to that magical mark somewhere between firm and soft, like a comfy couch. And like a comfy couch, you’ll want to sink right into these carrots and stay there for a long, long time. They’re nothing special per se, but they don’t have to be when they’re executed like this and united with crumbly, tangy cheese and sweet onions. Good produce speaks for itself.
The quail pie resembles some kind of pastry UFO invading a salad of sliced courgettes. And while the pie filling is rich, earthy and surrounded by an exquisitely delicate pastry, the salad is crisp and full of tang. It’s a flavourful and textural magnum opus. It’s just a shame you can’t buy these pies at the store instead of a shitty Mrs Mac’s.
For dessert, it was a new take on a Spanish classic – Crema Catalana – a baked custard infused with citrus flavours, topped by a glass-like layer of caramelised sugar. The Pata kitchen serves theirs on a soft rhubarb base. Even a crap Crema Catalana is better than most desserts and this one is as far from crap as things get. Firm but with a slight wobble, the custard is smooth but zesty, the surface is glassy and cracks delightfully, and the jam-esque rhubarb base is a welcome addition.
You’d be mad if you ate all this without some form of beverage to wash it down. Red Sangria was the obvious choice, and it’s one we didn’t regret. Top class alcohols and fresh fruit make a quality, super refreshing drink.
This ripping meal is complemented by staff who are efficient, knowledgeable and keen to have a laugh. Lovely stuff.
So what’s bad? If I had to be fussy, and I do, I’d say the tables are too small. There was precious little room to fit all our dishes, and at times we felt we had to hasten our eating to keep up with the kitchen, which plates up each course at a cracking pace, maybe too cracking.
There’s a cliché that does the rounds whenever a season of Masterchef or My Kitchen Rules goes to air: “respecting the ingredient”. Though I’m not a fan of clichés, no one respects their ingredients more than Pata Negra. The produce is fantastic, the execution is outstanding but at no point does technique overwhelm what dining is all about – the food. If this is what respecting your ingredient is, then eateries should take note – to approach the greatness Pata Negra does, have some more god damn respect.