Food critic Rob Broadfield visited Xanadu Restaurant recently and was seemingly impressed by the food on offer.
XANADU IS NO PLEASURE DOME and we promise that will be the last bad pun of this review. It is, however, a restaurant of some distinction with everyday winery food elevated to a next-level experience.
Usual thing: Have to do a review in Margaret River. Xanadu is not top-of-mind but we’ve reviewed just about everything else in the region, so Xanadu it is. Last time we reviewed, many moons ago, it wasn’t an overwhelming experience. It wasn’t underwhelming either. Whelming, perhaps.
Xanadu chef Melissa Kokoti knows where she is and what she’s doing. The “where she is” bit is critical to the success of Xanadu. Margaret River is littered with the busted dreams of second-rate chefs trying to go all Heston and, unsurprisingly, failing. It takes arrogance to impose cheffy cheffiness on a public that doesn’t want it and yet, it happens again and again. Not at Xanadu.
Kokoti knows exactly who she’s cooking for: the sort of customers who are adventurous but not too much, who like clever execution but not at the expense of making food pleasing, and who don’t mind a tweezered micro herb or two but without the look-how-clever-I-am ego. Oh, and Kokoti isn’t going to give you an organic-green sustainable-respect-the-earth-locavore lecture. She doesn’t have to.
Beef cheek croquette, chimichurri, horseradish, $10, is an example of flavour meets technique meets no-nonsense cookery meets a dollop of customer love. It begins with an old-school braise — red wine, mirepoix — of beef cheeks, cooled, pressed and cut up for panko crumbing. It’s presented with a few dots of horseradish cream and topped with peppery watercress. Boom.
Spiced chicken, $10, is a “popcorn”chicken-style dish of nuggety goodness. Chicken breasts were bashed, then seasoned with fish sauce, dusted in maize flour and pimped with garlic powder, paprika, spices and lemon zest. In a world awash with karaage chicken, Korean chicken, southern fried chicken and every permutation of deep-fried spiced, seasoned and floured chicken, this was a stand-out. And not at all greasy. The kids will hoover this.
Things get a little more technical with crisp quail, salted grapes, rosti and vadouvan, granola, $17. The boned quail is cooked sous vide in duck fat — the breasts and legs are
cooked separately to ensure both are cooked accurately. The bifurcated bird is then flash fried in an Indian spice mix — the vadouvan – and plated with a “granola” of puffed grains of rice, quinoa, oats and pistachio nuts, bound with maple syrup. It is dressed with a vinaigrette — made with a quail bone stock and vinegar — and grapes, quickly seared, peeled and cured for 2-3 hours in a sugar salt mix. Sounds complicated and yet, on the plate, it is a simple dish with bold flavour and a lack of fuss.
A smoked beef cheek main course, $35, was made extra special with the addition of brined and slow-cooked beef tongue, pressed and sliced like deli meat. A bacon greeting brought it home. Sexy stuff.
Chocolate cream, espresso jelly, salted chocolate crumb and milk icecream, $15, ticks all the modernist boxes: salted this, crumbed that and served in a stemless wine glass. A flimsy chocolate pannacotta — “flimsy” is a good thing by the way, overset panna cotta is a sign of a chef whose panna cotta confidence comes from a gelatin packet — was set in the bottom of a glass and then layered with a clear espresso jelly, topped with milk ice-cream, a crumb of house-made salted chocolate cookie and a coffee anglaise squirted from a syphon. Best thing you’ll eat in a month of sundaes.
The Xanadu wine cellar complex is a timeless building. It’s as handsome now as it was when first built. The greatest compliment to any architect is that a building stands the test of time and this complex of low buildings and courtyards has done that with aplomb.
The wines also speak for themselves. Xanadu’s portfolio has improved year on year to the point that it is now talked about in the same way as Leeuwin Estate, Cullen, Moss Wood, Voyager Estate and Pierro.
Thank you, Melissa Kokoti. It’s clear you’re cooking for us — not for the acclamation of other chefs or the ego-driven need to show how clever you are. Thank you for giving a
damn about how we eat and how a restaurant experience makes us feel. Thank you.
Food you want to eat, wines you want to drink, an experience you’ll enjoy. The kitchen can be slow when busy but relax and enjoy.