Barnstorming bistro

Steve Tippett

Steve Tippett

Precise cooking in Margaret River wine country.

We’ve eaten Heston’s chips. The chips at Studio Bistro are better. They’re not just cooked in beef fat, they’re cooked in Wagyu beef fat. They’re not only fluffy in the middle, they are mousse-y like the finest pomme puree. 

The anatomy of the perfect chip.

It should be crunchy and gnarly on the outside, fluffy and steamed on the inside, flavoured with good salt and deep fried in beef tallow. That is the description of an entry level chip. Anything less is just sad. Imagine then a chip that meets all those criteria but scores ten out of ten on every aspect of chip fabulousness: a thrice cooked chip, so good, so top of its game, it surpasses that of the man who brought triple cooked chips to the world, Heston Blumenthal.

We’ve eaten Heston’s chips. The chips at Studio Bistro are better. They’re not just cooked in beef fat, they’re cooked in Wagyu beef fat. They’re not only fluffy in the middle, they are mousse-y like the finest pomme puree. The crunchy outside was like every fat saturated, crunchy chip at the bottom of your childhood fish and chip wrapper – those small, seriously crackly, scrappy chips that were worth blueing with your brother over. Then there’s the scent and mouthfeel of beef tallow, enhanced with a modest sprinkling of rosemary salt. My god.

We would be doing Studio Bistro a disservice if we write only of its chips. Since our last visit it has a new chef and the food has risen in stature and standard. Everyone seems a little happier as a consequence, a little less, well, serious. Much of the success of Studio Bistro is, now as before, about the gardens, the building’s design and fit-out and the serene nature of its wine region setting.

First hit out: scallop toast with smoked eel and tare. As is the way with scallop/prawn/squid toasts of any stripe, a fine blitz down of the protein is bound, often with rice starch and egg white, and smeared thickly on good toast, then inverted and dipped in sesame seeds before being deep fried. There is a strange alchemy here. How is it not possible to drench the bread base in greasy oil? Somehow, the sourdough base was crunchy and suntanned but not a grease trap. Lovely. Tare (pron: tar-ray) is the super intense reduction sauce ladled into the bottom of a ramen bowl before stock and garnishes are added. Soooo much flavour! Oh, and the eel is house smoked over cherry wood. Of course.

Masterstock quail was, as you might expect, slowly braised in a classic masterstock of yellow rock sugar, garlic, mandarin peel, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce (although they prefer the gluten free tamari), cinnamon, star anise and Schezuan pepper. It’s then flashed and glazed on the hibachi and plated on a head-snapping walnut and shitake puree with an undertow of garlic and ginger. This is seriously good cookery defined by superbly calibrated flavour. No flavour is too intrusive or overly muscular. Brilliant. 

Who doesn’t like their sashimi grade tuna bathed in warm Wagyu fat? Upon reading it, we thought it a hipster gesture too far. It just didn’t sound right. It came to the table nattily garnished with garishly violet micro herbs. Apparently, a vat of fat sits under the heat lamps on the pass and when an order comes in, the tuna is dropped in the lukewarm fat to almost, but not, cook it, at the same time courageously flavouring the fish with wagyu blubber, which had been smoked over hickory. And, yes, it worked. Very well. 

For dessert, there are a few options. Rhubarb with buttermilk ice cream is one of those “textures of” dishes that chefs went crazy for in the post-Noma wave of Nordic-ness which had chefs going nuts for textures of …. well nuts, among other things. The ice cream was Pacojet perfect: creamy, silky, glossy. The rhubarb – a classic grandma home cooking style compote with the addition of a pepperberry “steeped” version and wafer-thin slices of raw rhubarb which brought tartness and texture – was a small triumph. It was plated with a pine nut crumble. 

The service is chatty (it is the country after all), friendly and precise. They’re a warm and friendly bunch.

If you’re travelling to the Margaret River wine region, put Studio Bistro on your list. 

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