The WA hospitality industry’s night of nights, The West Australian Good Food Guide Awards, is just over a week away.
The awards celebrate excellence and acknowledge those restaurants and individuals whose labours and venues have enriched and improved dining culture in WA.
What better time to review a restaurant which is at the very top of the dining pack and a case study in a well-formed offer specific to where it is and its target market. This week we celebrate the excellence of Knee Deep in Margaret River.
Knee Deep is off-the-dial good. Better than we had imagined, based on our last visit, which was very good. Now, it’s even better.
The cooking of Baxter Newstead, the head chef at Knee Deep, has eclipsed all before him. His food has more polish than a hall mirror at a narcissist’s convention.
Baxter’s outrageous talent shines in everything on the plate. His techniques are at a level of accomplishment that only comes from the best training, followed up by Sisyphean levels of hard work and commitment.
We are delighted to report that Knee Deep is one of the finest restaurants in the State.
Thankfully, since our last visit, the owners have seen fit to zhoosh the place in keeping with the improved food on offer. It’s still a restaurant in a shed-like veranda in the middle of a vineyard but a paint job, new sconce lighting, floor-length glass windows, white tablecloths and a wall of barrels to keep the wine-tasting plebs at bay have improved its looks.
Mind you, looks aren’t everything, as they say. A 10-seat restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in a tiled thoroughfare in a Tokyo underground railway station, won three Michelin stars in recent years, so, yes, looks aren’t everything.
Before we get to the food, a moment on the wine. We completely understand when winery restaurants choose to serve only their wine. That’s the point of a winery restaurant. But — and we’ve nagged about this on and off for years — imagine when a winery restaurant thinks of the customer experience and adds a raft of non-domain wines to its list for nothing more than the sheer delight of its patrons. And so it is at Knee Deep. The list has good Champagne — the most obvious and lamented exclusion on Margaret River winery lists — and a smattering of Australian and old-world titles. Big, big, big tick. And thank you.
The staff at Knee Deep are also out of the box. The waiters knew every detail about every dish. When questioned about “this” or “that” dish or technique, they were on top of the brief.
First up, “duck egg”, $18. A molten 63C egg yolk was the sauce, the unction, the very knee-trembling kryptonite of this dish. It was teamed with an onion puree and a beef-fat emulsion, which for all intents and purposes was a sabayon, but made with aged, rendered beef fat instead of butter. Grilled asparagus tips added crunch and brought to the dish the flavour of the kitchen’s jarrah-fuelled wood grill. To mop it up, a flatbread made not with oil but beef fat. All this and yet the dish was delicate, wantonly flavourful, clean and balanced. It was a looker, too.
Stracciatelle, $20, was a cracker dish and one for the vegetarians. The stracciatelle was properly made from buffalo milk and its alabaster creaminess and tang were the perfect foil for shredded roast onions and a rye crumb made with house-made toasted rye and fennel loaf. Broad beans were grilled over the jarrah fire with smoked butter and dressed with elderflower vinegar. The “juice” — a sauce by any other name — was just that: juiced, fresh garden peas flavoured with geranium vinegar and dosed with a house-made rose petal oil.
Harvey beef, $38, was made with rump cap and the cleanest, clear-flavoured braise of oxtail we’ve ever tasted. The tail had been brined for two days before cooking, which leached most of the residual blood from the meat, leaving it sweet — yes, salt brine does that — and clean.
Lamb belly was also off the dial. Desserts, too: if the milk parfait is on, make sure you get it. Nothing can prepare you for the flavour or the clever-clogs technique which sees a house-brick sized parfait delivered to the table — a dish so light it could almost fly away.
Knee Deep is cooking exceptional food, from an exceptional chef. It is simply one of our great restaurants.