88 Audley St
Ph : (02) 95697534
Open : Tues- Sat 6.00 pm - 10.30 pm
Yasou! It had been a long time since I’d been to Perama. Too long for admit to. The last time had been a large group and my enduring memory had been of the incredible caramel baklava ice cream. There was no rational reason for not having revisited, the only excuses I have are that for a non driver, Petersham just seemed awfully far to travel unless my usual dining companion was available or I could hitch a ride from a driver. I know a surprising number of non drivers....
After following Perama owner/ chef David Tsirekas on twitter for a while, I decided that it was definitely time to return. Unfortunately ABC was unavailable, he is so busy these days, so my food buddies T&M were to be my dining companions for the evening.
GFC or no GFC in Australia, Perama quickly filled up after our arrival (I won’t go into the drama of getting there, as competing navigational instructions in stereo almost caused the driver to implode) and we decided to have the banquet ($50pp)
First up came the trio of dips (Tarama, Tzatziki, Split Pea), plus Greek Salad and bread.
The bread was still warm and with a crunchy crust. We were asked whether we wanted the bread basket refilled, a touch that for some reason is not always the rule of thumb in restaurants. I have no idea why, but it goes a long way in my books! Of the three dips, my favourite was the tarama but then again, I do have a softness for it and have been known to consume vast quantities if given the chance.....
The accompanying salad was fresh and the tomatoes juicy and sweet. In fact they were the best tomatoes I’ve had all year, and I would have happily eaten more of them.
Next up came the Mixed Pickles of cabbage, mushroom and octopus.
For some reason, I neglected to ask T&M what their favourite was but mine was the octopus, which was tender and moreish. I thought of these dishes more as “filler” items, and was hanging out for the mains.....
Ah the BBQd Haloumi with Honey Peppered Figs....I’m well known for not being super keen on the combination of fruit and anything savoury (no, not even cheeses LOL), and M feels similarly. If I eat haloumi it’s mostly without any accompaniments as such, and though I know that haloumi and figs are known to pair well, I’d never actually eaten it. I now wish that I had tried this combination years ago, but suspect that T actually ate most of the honeyed figs but I’ll forgive him for that just this once.....
Next up came the Filo Pastries
I seem to recall once reading something in the SMH that David’s mother makes the filo, but I’ll stand corrected on that if it’s wrong. Whoever makes the filo, it is worth taking a moment to savour its lightness, and especially to make sure you get some of the sauce.
For some reason, at this point M, who had apparently had a large lunch, was starting to feel full. I asked her if she was kidding me, as we were only half way through!!! There was no way that I was going to let her get away with not eat some of everything....
I later found out that David’s mother makes Perama’s Dolmathes and the rice she uses in them has larger grains than the Dolmathes/ Dolmades that I have been accustomed to eating. For me at any rate, this makes a huge difference. I’m Chinese, I don’t mind mushy rice, I love congee (!) but now I know that I like my Dolmathes rice grains BIG, and cooked so that I can still distinguish each grain....mmm.....
I think that my dining companions and I were a Bit Slow that night. A plate appeared on the table with a flourish and announcement that it was Pork Belly Baklava from David. It took me a solid 10 seconds before it registered and I asked M whether I’d heard correctly. I think that I got a bit overexcited, as the photograph I took is a bit dodgy to say the least.
Searching out the woman who had presented us with the Pork Belly Baklava, I reinforced my massive Slow Moment and then, after getting her okay, tentatively made my way into the kitchen’s pass area. It was very quiet and busy in there, and I stood there sort of half shuffling from one foot to the other, eventually bleating out “David?” when I realised that I couldn’t stand there silently forever, hoping that he could read my mind.
What a lovely man is David. As I said hi and thanked him, he couldn’t have been more welcoming to me. Despite being so busy and having to cook for a full house, he was so approachable and happy to chat to me for a minute or two as he was cooking that I wanted to just hang out and watch and chat, which I obviously couldn’t. I did tell him that I was hanging out for the ice cream and he reminded me that there were several courses to go before dessert....
Described as “layers of flaky filo pastry, pork belly meat, date and pistachios, topped with crispy crackling and served with a date and mastic sauce”, it was subject to some debate with M as to how sweet it would be, it being baklava and all.
It was baklava and yet not baklava. T, whom I think was probably the biggest pork belly fan out of the three of us, managed to scoff most of the pork belly. I reckon I had more of the actual pastry and sauce.
By this time, M had declared that she could not possibly stomach another bite. We had all forgotten how many dishes there were in the banquet menu, and discussion about whether there might be one or two items left before the desserts really was, in retrospect, quite pointless, as I was going to finish it all, come hell or high water!
The next item turned out to be the Fried Calamari.
Now I am not a food Nazi, and my food knowledge really needs some more work. I am not as particular as some people about their calamari. I don’t mind if it’s a little chewy. In fact sometimes I like it a little bit chewy, especially in the case of salt & pepper calamari. I don’t think of T&M as food Nazis either, but they are more particular than I am.
I tried the calamari first and perhaps we should have been a little less liberal with the lemon (though I absolutely love the sourness of lemon and in fact tend to add more lemon to food than most) but really, there is nothing that I can say about this dish except to say that the calamari was cooked absolutely perfectly. T’s eyebrows raised as he had his first piece and he insisted that M try some. It was almost so tender that it required very little effort chewing. I want to be able to cook calamari like that. I don’t know who was responsible for it but you rock.
Mind you, that was nothing compared to the response to the next course, the Lamb Skaras served with baked potatoes and string beans with crumbled Fetta.
When it appeared, M declared that she was, as she is wont to say, “full to Pussy’s bow” and incapable of any more food. At all. End of story. The serving was huge. We looked at it agog. I reminded them about dessert, which I was still hanging out for.
M had to go to the car to get something so T and I dug in. One word – awesomeness. I eat lamb maybe twice a year at most but this lamb I could eat weekly. The menu describes it as “Slow braised shoulder lean lamb with oregano, olive oil, wine and garlic, then char grilled with a lemon, olive oil baste”.
After he took his first mouthful, T’s jaw dropped. I put a mouthful on M’s plate, along with a few beans and potatoes, because if there was one course that she could not miss, it was this one. I don’t know how many hours it had been cooked for, and the proportions of oregano, olive oil, wine and garlic which David used, but the result was meat so flavoursome and so tender that it melted in your mouth, perfect food on a cold night. The beans were cooked so that they still retained a crunch to them, so if you like your beans a little more cooked, that’s just too bad; I like my beans still a bit crunchy, and especially as a counterpoint to the tenderness of the lamb.
OMG the lamb. I am still craving it as I type, and in fact am trying to discreetly lobby someone to be my dining companion so that I can hopefully return to Perama within the next fortnight.
It was going to be a Secret, but I feel compelled to confess something that happened on that night to the lamb. It’s kind of embarrassing, and David, if you read this, I hope that you’ll understand....!
There was no way that we would be able to finish the lamb and still have room for dessert. I wanted to try to eat it all that night, but the other two simply couldn’t find the stomach space. We engaged in some vigorous debate about asking if we could take the remainder away; I thought “no”, on the grounds that well, I didn’t think that Perama did takeaways exactly, and that they probably didn’t have any containers. M chirped up with the suggestion that she had a clean container in the car, from lunch.
Well I think that it was done quickly and discreetly, as no-one came over and asked if we needed help, but I kept on thinking that OMG we were going to be discovered and......
The kind staff asked if we wanted a break before desserts and yup, we took it, hoping that we’d digest some food before my ice cream!
Oh yeah baby, come to Mama! Caramel Baklava Ice Cream (sliced layers of vanilla bean ice cream, caramel sauce and baklava) and their famous Bougasta (Mandarin flavoured milk semolina custard wrapped in filo. Served with a tahini and mint cream sauce).
For the final time that night, M insisted that she couldn’t fit in another mouthful, and T and I insisted that she did. I think that I said “do you see why I’ve been hanging out for dessert?!?” too many times and commend them both for not telling me to shut up and simply eat. I had more than my share but hey, someone’s got to finish it, right?
I had to virtually be rolled out the door, and M & I are absolutely convinced that the car tipped over to the left when two of us got in on the lefthand side....
Postcript : T was looking forward to a lunch of leftover lamb the next day, only to discover that it had mysteriously disappeared. M insists that she left one or two pieces for him. Weeks after the fact, it’s still a point of contention. [AP]