Spoiler alert: you're going to enjoy yourself at Balthazar.
Or at least you will if making reservations and à la carte dining is your idea of fun. In other words: all the things we used to do at restaurants before tasting menus and small plates ("the kitchen will send food as it's ready") took over the dining landscape. Not that dégustations and food-slinging wine bars are bad things, of course. But in an era where establishments often expect guests to fit into their system, finding operators that go the other way can feel novel. Restaurant-craft, however, is nothing new at Balthazar.
Since opening in 1998, Balthazar's clubby atmosphere and spirited Mod-Oz cooking has made it a go-to for business and recreational dining in the CBD. In the four years they've been in command, custodians Emma Ferguson and Dan Morris have strayed little from the playbook established by founder Nic Trimboli. What they have done, however, is refresh all the things Perth loves about this cosy, Art Deco bolthole.
Wine, as it always has been, remains a vital part of the Balthazar experience. But even by Balthazar's lofty standards – the restaurant is a former GT wine list of the year winner – its formidable cellar really is something and showcases new-wave locals alongside Champagne, cabernet sauvignon and other favourites.
Luke Wakefield's cooking is a similarly thrilling mix of classic and contemporary. An entrée of dashi-laced raw beef girello – finely diced, not minced – with tuna mayo cleverly reimagines vitello tonnato. Raw scallop and trout, flattened to translucent white, is Balthazar's contribution to the Make Carpaccio Great Again movement.
The rest of the clipped menu reiterates how technique and an active imagination can make the familiar sparkle anew. Bouncy seafood spaghettini is the seaside pasta of our dreams (the trick, it seems, is emulsifying everything, carbonara-style, with an egg). A reduction of pan juices, grapefruit and Campari equals a fine sauce for juicy duck. Lard in the fryer renders cruller doughnuts – stacked three-high like an Olympic ring tosser's peg – fluffy and crunchy.
Just as confident is the service. Manager Emma Hymus and her crew are an engaging bunch and appear to enjoy themselves almost as much as diners. Having a good time seems to be Balthazar's default setting, regardless of whether you're there to work or play. It's been thrilling Perth for 22 years and I wouldn't be surprised if it continued doing so for decades more to come. After all, time flies when you're having fun.