Emma and Dan of No Mafia fame have been running Balthazar for just two years of its twenty years in the Perth restaurant scene. Tucked away in a beautiful heritage building just across the road from Elizabeth Quay, the restaurant is one of the few venues in Perth where superb food, wine and service are amplified by an atmosphere which is completely welcoming and inclusive. We spoke to Emma about creating an experience where everything clicks beautifully into place.
“Our focus is on accessibility. We really want it to be a place which you might come to for a special occasion to spoil yourself, but also might come down to just for a glass of wine and a little snack on a tuesday afternoon after work.” said Emma.
While they aren’t looking to cast aside the legacy of the venue, the new Balthazar looks to put its best foot forward to champion great food, wine and service for everyone who appreciates it.
"We welcome everyone. You can come in wearing jeans and a t shirt, you can come in a suit and tie. We have all kinds of people in all walks of life enjoying this place. We're open minded, and so long as you're here to have a good time, we're happy to have you.”
Whether your visit is under the bright window light of the lunch rush, or a dinner under soft and subtle down lights, the brilliant food, wine and service at Balthazar are all presented without pretension or judgment. We were given the impression that it would be impossible to make a ‘wrong order' at Balthazar, because everything on the menu is given the same dedication, love, and thoughtfulness.
Perth’s Best Kept Secret
"It's a lot of people's favourite spot, our focus in the last two years has been in keeping with that. We have people who met here twenty years ago, or people who came on their first wedding anniversary and continue to come every year. We want to keep the special element of this beautiful building. It's more than just a chef or a waiter or supplier, it's about everything coming together.”
Emma called Balthazar “The true definition of a restaurant,” to her, transporting customers from the moment they walk into the door. “You're not in Perth anymore, you're somewhere else, and where that is doesn't really matter.” she said.
"Our cuisine is european focussed but with a huge Australian backbone. We use lots of local producers. You can start your journey in France with some beautiful champagne and local oysters, and you can finish in Scotland with whisky. "
After our first visit to Balthazar, we wanted to tell everybody we knew about them, and their $50 weekday lunch special, on an indefinite layover from Eat Drink Perth, is an excellent way to get acquainted.
"A young couple can come down on a date night and won't have to break the budget, however if you want to, we'll let you. The option's yours. We always have a really delicious pasta or gnocci, or parpadelle which you can just have on its own, but if you want to splash out and get the eye fillet, you certainly can.”
No Food Without Wine
"we've always got great well priced wines by the glass, and if you want to buy a bottle we have a huge range between fifty and eighty dollars, and if you want to go all out and drink some premier cru, grand cru or chablis, you can go all out.”
Emma and Dan’s love of wine shines through in Balthazar, where the entire staff are given extensive wine training and introduced to some of West Australia’s best winemakers.
"We're doing wine training, every week we're trying wines. All the staff here are able to recommend something amazing. The guys get to try amazing wine every week. All the staff get to meet producers, not just hear or read about them."
"When taking over we were all about changing the software, changing the music, the wine list, the menu. Our main change was to focus on local producers, and if it wasn't going to be local we wanted to know it was a family producer. We wanted to know where things came from, and that there was integrity in the product we were serving."
Skye Faithfull designed the creative and extraordinary dishes which make up Balthazar’s menu, and has just this month passed on the role of head chef to Luke Wakefeld in what Emma called “A beautiful handover,”
"Luke is really focussed on local produce and has some amazing contacts. He's a country boy so has some amazing contacts with producers.” Emma said.
As Perth continues to push through a stormy winter, it’s lovely to have venues which are cosy in any weather. We couldn’t recommend Balthazar enough for how great food, service and beautiful wine come together to create a restaurant experience which leaves you feeling warm, welcomed and wanting to return again and again.
Australian Whisky is quickly developing a reputation amongst the best in the world, in no small part because the lack of any traditional whisky making practices has freed up new distilleries to employ their own intuition in creating boundary-breaking whiskies. We went to Melbourne and spoke to brand ambassador Paul Slater of Starward distillery. We believe Starward are amongst the pioneering distilleries in establishing Australia’s reputation for brilliant whisky, having created groundbreaking whiskies, at the heart of which are local ingredients and our Australian climate, itself about as far from the conditions relied upon to age Scotch, as can be.
Starward began production in 2009, and their first product Solera hit the market in 2013. "In hindsight it’s great to look back, but it was hard in the early days,” says Paul, "we buckled down making a lot of whisky, and tried not to get distracted in white spirits and things like that.”
Following Solera, Starward released their Wine Cask release in 2015, and in 2016 they outgrew their original site in Essendon Fields and moved to their current site in Port Melbourne.
Starward distillery produce spirits under two brands. Amongst the two staples which make up the Starward label: Solera and Wine Cask. Single releases are produced under the New World Spirits label, including single barrel releases, a white whisky, and a gin.
“Ninety percent of our output is under the Starward banner,” said Paul, "last time I checked, we’re near five thousand barrels."
Starward’s initial Solera release is aged in charred Australian apera (previously called sherry) barrels. It takes it’s name from Starward’s solera system, a system modelled after sherry and port systems which are blended amongst ages and vintages to ensure consistency. For Starward, this is implemented by way of a five thousand litre tank between the barrelling and bottling of their whisky. The modern solera system ensures consistency in all bottles of Starward, and also means that every apera barrel used in the production of Solera is present in some form, in every bottle produced.
“We take a small amount out of each barrel, do a mini blend to get the right combination of barrels, and we get it pretty consistent. Consistency is a big thing for us.” Said Paul.
"From the early days, we’ve learned how to get the same result using different barrels. Filling to different capacities and for different amount of times can give a similar flavour profile. There’s no formula or spreadsheet, it’s just using your nose."
Starward’s second expression, Wine Cask, takes advantage of the distillery’s proximity to great Australian wine in Victoria and South Australia. Paul said that the Wine Cask expression was originally based on “Barossa shiraz, as the archetypal Australian wine,” but over time they have been able to branch out and grow their inventory.
“If it smells good, the whisky should take on that character. As we add more different barrels, the more colours we have for the whisky.” Paul said.
Whiskey in Melbourne
The conditions under which Starward Whisky ages could not be more different from the Scottish whiskies it competes against. Harsher, hotter and less predictable Australian climates contribute to more batch variation and a higher rate of evaporation called ‘angel’s share’. They do not consider this a disadvantage, however, as the more complex conditions enable their whisky to be aged quickly and to a great deal of complexity.
In order to further take advantage of their shorter ageing time, Starward’s whiskies are watered down to 55% ABV before going into barrels, considerably lower than the Scottish standard of 63.5%. Since the vast majority of spirits are further watered down to between 40% and 50% ABV before bottling, the resultant Starward spirit has had much more barrel contact than its Scottish counterpart.
“There are a lot of water soluble sugars in oak, and the lower ABV across a short maturation time means more sweet stuff out.” Said Paul, “A higher barrel entry would be a whole lot cheaper to mature, but this yields a better result for us.”
Starward are able to further distinguish their product by taking advantage of a great deal of Australian provenance. Locally sourced Barley is malted off-site and local rainwater runs as mains throughout the distillery.
While each of Starward’s expressions have had their share of international acclaim, Paul says it’s also important to them that their product can remain a product for the Australian population. This includes striving for consistency amongst their products so that, “someone can try a bottle now and then in two years pick it up from a bottle shop and get the same product they remember enjoying.” and this ethos also continues into their pricing, which has remained stable and accessible throughout their production. "We want to make whisky people won’t be shy about drinking.” said Paul.