1303 Hay Street
East Perth 6005
This is an epically long post. I advises that you invest about 10 minutes to read this one. Your children's children will thank you.
After many months of anticipation due to busy lives, and one near-death experience due to a taxi driver incapable of giving way, three fellow food-lovers and I finally made it to Amphoras Tapas Bar and Restaurant for our 8pm booking.
However, before I go any further about our adventure, perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what exactly tapas is. When I told people that I was going out for tapas, most of them either just looked at me blankly, or heartily gave their approval and started going on about how much they love Mexican.
Tapas (pronounced tah-pahs, not "tappers") is basically a late night meal made up entirely of Spanish appetizers or canapés, accompanied by a round of drinks. The original form of Tapas is from Spain, but the presence of upmarket Tapas bars (like Amphoras) is growing steadily in countries such as the US, UK, Canada and Australia who like to put their own spin on traditional flavours. The same concept of shared dining with small portions can be seen in cuisines all over the world including Argentinian picadas, Korean banchan, Middle Eastern mezze and of course, Chinese dim sum.
The great thing about tapas is it's a very relaxed form of dining. In Spain, dinner is usually served from 9pm to 11pm, so Spaniards will often go for tapas as a snack to sustain them through the afternoon. Traditionally, tapas are eaten standing up or whilst moving about and chatting to others. As patrons don't have to focus on an entire meal in front of them, this means that conversation is a huge part of tapas.
I think that's what I loved most about this meal - we all talked and laughed and talked and ate and drank and talked and talked about nothing but food until we were blue in the face. Or in my case, red in the face. Damn them asian genes.
Amphora's was about half-full when we got there at 8:30pm, the open alfresco brightly lit up against the dark, long walkway of Hay Street. The inside is furnished with shades of brown and red, leather chairs, dark tinted timber, marble and has an almost candlelit quality at night. And that's just the dining area - the actual wine bar is just gorgeous. The entire wall filled to the ceiling with bottles of wines, wines, wines and of course, large glass bottles of spirits lined up along the back wall.
And the service?
Best service I've had in months at a restaurant. The waitress who served us confessed that it was her first day on the job, but honestly, I wouldn't have noticed unless she'd told me. Our orders were taken promptly (none of this getting-up-and-walking-over-to-ask-if-we-can-order-now-please), politely and with a genuine smile. Our food was served at a steady pace, and when I did my usual annoying thing of asking a multitude of questions about the menu, all queries were handled competently. And... wait for it... the kitchen was about to close at 10pm, but stayed open for us for another half an hour to cook our second round of tapas and dessert. Delightful.
I hadn't had any alcohol for about three weeks, and despite the 11 page wine list, I had sworn off wine since New Years (my liver almost broke up with me that night). So I decided on getting a cocktail. Sharon got the Pomegranate Bellini ($12) - Pomegranate juice, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), and fresh pomegranate seeds. She also got an Apple Crumble ($14) - Licor 43, Butterscotch Schnapps, cloudy apple juice, lemon, sugar syrup and fresh apple which went well with dessert because of the strong, sweet butterscotch in it.
I ordered the Apple Mojito ($14) - Havano Blanco (white Spanish rum), Contrieu, fresh lime, mint and apple juice, served in a giant, round bottomed glass with a freshly cut garnish. The mint and the apple was nice and crisp on the tongue, a bit of bitterness from the rum, but balanced by the sweet cointreau. And beautifully boozy.
As there were four of us, we chose a dish each and had two rounds of mains. I've included the photos and translations of any foreign words or other important foodie terms. Altogether we had 8 tapas plates and 3 desserts over two hours.
1. Crispy cajun calamari, chimchurri aioli ($15)
Our first dish - light, crispy, cooked just right and a nice blend of spices on the batter. Anyone who has ever ordered a dodgy seafood basket would be familiar with the rubbery tasteless texture that too many people settle for - but there was none o' that at Amphoras. And anything served with aioli is a-ok with me.
2. Dorper lamb meat balls filled with scamorza cheese, roast garlic greek yogurt ($16)
Dorper: a South African breed of lamb
Scamorza: semi-soft white cheeze, firmer and drier than mozarella
Sam's choice - a humble looking dish, but satisfyingly tasty. The meat was juicy and sweet, with a delicate amount of the scamorza in the middle. Appearances can be deceiving.
3. Chalkboard special: Roasted duck, cherry and rocket salad
This one was mine. As I've said before, I am a complete sucker for chalkboard specials, so when I saw the words 'duck' and 'cherries' written up there (two of my favourite ingredients), I knew it was a sign. The duck had this awesomely crispy, sea salty skin on it, which tasted a dream with the cherries and bitter greens. The duck was a tad chewy, but the excellent combo of flavours were more than enough to satisfy me.
I took so long to savour the dish before that by the time I'd gotten to the lamb, the lamb had lost some of its heat and the nectarines some of its cold. But it was saved by the tenderness of the lamb, and the break-apart texture of the sweet nectarine - I'm a big fan of meat plus fruit combos.
Harissa: a hot North African Chilli sauce with piri piri, garlic, paprika and tomato
This one was my runner-up favourite dish. The scallop was cooked perfectly all the way through, and when you bit into it, it was this wonderful texture that was almost like a cross between Malaysian agar-agar jelly and silken tofu. I'm guessing they were just seared with a pinch of seasoning, and dressed with olive oil because the flavour of the scallop was beautifully fresh and clean through the topping. The only thing I could have asked for would be more spice in the harissa, but apart from that - excellent.
This was an interesting one! I swear the raisins were soaked in some kind of juice or alcohol, because there was a certain intensity in the salad that I just couldn't put my finger on. That, plus the salty brie was borderline overpowering... but Spanish tapas is about strong flavours and fresh ingredients, so there you go. And pumpkin and spinach is always a winner in my books.
When I looked at the menu and saw the relatively short name of this dish compared to something like "Twice roasted plantagenet pork belly, grilled morcilla, tarragon & apple purée", I didn't exactly have high expectations. However, B2 pointed out the psychology of it: it's always the hyped-up dishes and restaurants that let you down, and the dishes with low expectations that surprise you. And so did these croquetas: I don't think I've ever eaten a potato mash that smooth and fluffy! Encased inside a perfectly crisp crust, piping hot and seasoned just right. Delish.
These were my favourite. For me, the flavours, texture, temperature, colours and spices were all perfectly balanced. The perfect dish is like a good song: all of the elements have to go well together for it to make it work, and when you get that combination right, there's nothing quite like it. I loved everything about the arancini, from the sweet and spicy filling to the crunch of the almonds in the pesto. 10/10.
Churros: Spanish deep fried donuts served with a rich, thick chocolate sauce
Anglaise: French for 'cream', a pouring custard flavoured with vanilla
Clafoutis: baked French dessert of cherries arranged in a pancake-like batter, served in a buttered dish
Unfortunately, this one was a bit too eggy and slightly overcooked for my liking. Then again, the kitchen did stayed open just for us, so one not-so-great dish out of eleven is but a small price to pay.
Couverture chocolate: high quality chocolate ~35% cocoa butter for a more mellow, creamy flavour used widely in professional baking for better flavour and tempering
Moelleux cake: similar to a fondant, with a slightly firmer melting middle
Sabayon: a light Italian custard made with sweet wine
The best dessert we had hands down - served with a sweet, edible hibiscus flower, it was just heavenly. I was a unsure about the flower, but it was surprisingly sweet and had a nice, natural bite to it. And that chocolate moelleux was absolutely luxurious, as all things couveture chocolate are. I purposely ate this one last, because there's nothing better than having the taste of chocolate linger on your tongue after a good meal.
After a chummy photo or two, we paid, thanked our lovely waitress and left. I started singing on the walk back to the car. Perhaps it was been the cocktails, or it could have just been pure happiness.
I think it was both.