There are surely few more pleasant experiences in life than a nice surprise and, personally speaking, nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the world of eating and drinking (what a surprise! I hear you all sarcastically saying). There’s just something magical about entering a place not expecting much and leaving with your mind blown and taste buds singing. Well, as it so happens, just such a thing happened to yours truly about a month ago during a visit to humble little Busselton.
First, just let me give you a bit of background on Busselton in case you’re unfamiliar with it. About two and a half hours drive south from Perth, “Busso”, as it is known to people from the area, is a sleepy little seaside town whose main attractions include an exceptionally long jetty, numerous caravan parks and the fact that it’s close to Margaret River. My family have a couple of caravans/holiday shacks down there and thus I spent most summers of my youth there riding my bike about, fishing in beautiful Geograph Bay and generally being a rambunctious country kid. Although I tend to visit much less frequently now, it’s still very nice to occasionally go down there and get away from it all. For those of you looking for a relaxing country getaway I’d recommend Busselton over the now horribly over-commercialised Margaret River as it’s still in close proximity to the wine growing region but has managed to retain the laid-back charm that makes holidaying in country towns so appealing.
Now despite the fact that I grew up in the country, the scruffy rural knockabout of my younger years is long gone and nowadays I tend to fancy myself as a hip, urbane sophisticate who is much more at home amongst the vibrant hustle of city life. So when I got the chance recently to spend a week down in Busselton with my parents whilst recovering from surgery to fix my horribly mangled elbow I looked at it as a chance to get away from the city and the pressures of urban life; to unwind, read a book, eat fish caught by my relatives and just generally relax. I certainly wasn’t expecting one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had in recent memory, but then again, like the great John Lennon so wisely said, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
When mum and dad asked one afternoon me if I wanted to come and try out the newest and most trendy restaurant in town which they’d apparently “heard very good things about” I of course accepted (who am I to turn down a free meal out courtesy of the folks, especially seeing as I was unemployed and crippled at the time), but was secretly thinking to myself “Aww, how cute, sleepy little Busselton is trying to do fancy dining now. It’ll probably be average at best, but I’ll go along anyway”. Boy, was I ever wrong! Right from the off I was impressed with the layout and décor. Beautiful polished hardwood floors and exposed brick were combined with a contemporary feel that cleverly referenced the space’s former usage as, you guessed it, a laundry while at the same time remaining warm and inviting. Things were already looking up!
After being seated towards the back, we were greeted by the fellow that would be our waiter for the evening; a friendly and personable chap that quite obviously, if you’ll excuse my French, knew his shit. We began by asking for a recommendation of a good white wine to kick things off with while we perused the menu and he rose to the occasion by choosing a fresh and lively French number that we were all big fans of. He then went on to explain that rather than your typical entrée, mains and dessert for each person, Laundry offered a different type of cuisine more suited to ordering a succession of dishes to be shared by everyone at the table. I have to say this was a revelation. I’m such a big fan of this style of eating (be it dim sum, tappas etc.) because rather than being stuck with a huge serve of one particular dish you get to enjoy a kaleidoscope of different tastes and textures within the same sitting.
So far the restaurant that I had almost snobbishly turned my nose up at had ticked all the boxes of décor, ambiance, service and wine and all that remained to be seen was the quality of the food. It would certainly have been a tragedy for them to have gotten so many things right only to fall at the final hurdle. Turns out I needn’t have worried as what followed can only be described as a total triumph. Mum and I are total suckers for anything pate-esque so we started with the duck liver parfait, onion jam, toasts and baby herbs ($17). It was amazing; smooth, luxurious feeling parfait coupled with sticky sweet jam and crunchy toast. Next up was chickpea falafel, hummus, hot eggplant, cumin yogurt and herbs ($18). Both my parents tend to be quite carnivorous and thus suspicious of vegetarian food but this completely won them over with an ingenious combination of crunchy falafel, creamy hummus, tasty warm eggplant and gorgeous chilled yogurt. It was a brilliant blend of contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures that complimented each other prefectly. Following that was a lovely Asian inspired dish of caramelised pork hock, papaya, pineapple, coriander, peanuts and rice that intelligently blended sweetness and savoury. After the pork we moved on to the jamon Serrano, Fremantle octopus, white anchovy, romesco and olive dust ($24) that, while still very tasty, was a little less impressive than the previous dishes. Happily though, things soon kicked back in to top gear with the arrival of the slow cooked beef fillet, pea and ham croquettes, pimento and fennel ($36). Done using the Sous Vide method (in which the meat is vacuum sealed in a plastic bag and slow cooked in warm water for a very long time), the beef was simply divine, packed full of flavour and perfectly tender, and was complimented by the delightfully crunchy and salty croquettes that you really have to try to understand just how good they are. Last but most certainly not least, Mum and I caved in and decided that it would be rude not to share a dessert of bitter chocolate tart, honey semifreddo and raspberry mouse ($14). It was, as with so many of the dishes we had that night, an amazing symphony of flavours with the rich, slightly bitter dark chocolate blending seamlessly with the smooth sweetness of the semifreddo and the tangy tartness of the mouse. We also had a brilliant 2008 Quarisa cab sav from the Coonawarra region with the meal that was so good the old man has since purchased a whole carton of it (which you can order direct from the winery for a mere $15 a bottle. A total steal! Here’s the link should you want to do so yourself: http://www.quarisa.com.au)
Now I’m normally a pretty proud and stubborn individual, but in this case I have absolutely no qualms in admitting that I could not have been more wrong. Far from the well-intentioned but ultimately lacking provincial setup that I was expecting, Laundry ended up blowing me away. It’s almost like a slice of the best of Mt Lawley served up in an unassuming semi-rural setting. Not only did they get all of the elements of good dining completely right with good attention to detail, but the food was simply sensational. Interesting and unique, the chefs there have been able to create dishes in which the different elements both contrast with and complement each other in a quite ingenious manner. Add to that the interesting, share style of eating and a couple of cracking wine selections (plus the fact that I didn’t have to pay for any of it) and you’ve got something approaching perfection. So if you’re looking to unwind with a quick escape to the country but don’t want to give up the creature comforts of high quality dining then get yourself down to Busselton and check out Laundry. You won’t regret it.