23 Railway Road, Subiaco
Ph: (08) 9382 2208
“For me it’s a really beautiful thing to be here. Each day I keep asking myself – how can I evolve, how can I get better, how can I inspire people”.
Every dish on the menu at Caleb Restaurant & Bar has a story connecting Chef Caleb to his sense of place, whether that be here in Western Australia or the countries in which he has lived. Now, having recently won Best Italian Restaurant and Best Chef at the WA Restaurant & Catering Awards for Excellence, it is time for you to get to know this very special chef.
Born in Nigeria, Chef Caleb’s family moved to Bologna Italy for his father’s work when he was just a child. He still recalls the sensation of new smells and new foods at that young age and it seems that this experience influences the way Caleb approaches his cooking now, so many years later. He told me he thinks about all of the continents he has been to when creating dishes, that they are “part of my heart, and part of my place I call home”. And it shows. His food is full of depth and storytelling that comes from the heart.
The restaurant itself is intimate with an elegant yet rustic decor, the open kitchen invites you in to feel part of this family. Warm lighting and attentive, welcoming staff make you feel right at home, as if you are sitting at your friend’s table chatting away while they are preparing you a feast.
The first dish we were presented with was Caleb’s famous Burrata: House-made mozzarella ball stuffed with Puglia Italy mascarpone cheese infused with Margaret River truffle honey. Caleb tells me combining Italian cheese with West Australian Truffle Honey is unique, like bringing the best of the two continents together. This little parcel sits on balsamic vinegar and white truffle cream, with basil and paprika emulsion drops. Dig into this soft cheese and smear it over the bread it’s served with, being sure to pick up the sweet delicious balsamic and truffle cream as you do. This dish is delicate, a great starter and while the serving size is generous, it leaves you wanting more. The dry, crisp style of Caleb’s own 2020 Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc was a great complement to this dish.
Next we were served Let’s Go to the Ocean. A visually stunning platter of cured WA kingfish, scallops and caviar with chilli drops, lemon, capers, micro greens and seaweed. Here, Caleb wanted to showcase the beauty of the coastal life here in WA; he wanted to taste the ocean on the plate. And he achieved exactly that. Thin slices of cured kingfish, along with morsels of scallop so sweet and delicate they melt in your mouth, combine for a fresh salty hit. The micro herbs are from Caleb’s own garden and when paired with the 2020 Garbin Estate Chardonnay from the Swan Valley, the earthiness of the herbs really pop and bring an extra dimension to the dish.
Land and Sea is a celebration. Caleb says this dish gives people the flavours of the land, the sea, the earth and the nature of Western Australia. This is the dish he wants you to order, “that gives you an understanding of who I am and what I represent”. With crispy pancetta, scallop, chicken involtini, aged caviar, pumpkin puree, red wine jus and basil pesto with arancini, it’s a plate that covers a range of flavours and textures, yet incredibly it all fits together. A metaphor if you like for the diversity of our West Australian lifestyle. The chicken is beautifully cooked with a glaze red wine jus that is mildly sweet and rich. The baked beetroot tomato sauce is earthy and along with the pumpkin puree, brings colour to the plate. This dish matches well with Caleb’s own 2020 Margaret River Cabernet Merlot, a smooth finish with a bouquet of dark fruits.
In Italy, there is a pasta sauce to match every season and Caleb’s challenge was to create one dish to represent all four of them. Here we have the Four Seasons Gnocchi. Fresh fluffy pillows of gnocchi are served with six hour baked tomato sauce, basil pesto, gorgonzola and pumpkin sauces, topped with ricotta insalata. This is a dish that brings comfort, it is delicious. Pair this with the 2019 Garbin Estate Sangiovese, a medium bodied red that is neither overpowering nor underplayed against the rich flavours of the dish.
The pasta was followed by the Ragu Australiana. A slow braised kangaroo and beef ragu served with homemade spaghetti, gorgonzola béchamel, basil pesto and micro herbs. Combining the lean kangaroo with the beef made the dish less oily and richer in flavour. Mix it well with the spaghetti for balance. Combined with the 2019 Garbin Estate Sangiovese, this is a really satisfying dish.
Desert was a treat. Caleb told me, “this is a dessert that’s all about me and what I love”. Glazed vanilla ice-cream with a chilli drop and crumbed biscotto, deconstructed warm gluten-free chocolate cake with limoncello curd tart and beetroot biscotti crumb. The chocolate cake melts in your mouth and the limoncello curd is tart and sweet in its crispy pastry shell. This desert is visually beautiful and tasty.
Caleb cooks from the heart, making the experience personal to you with his own special interpretation. “I don’t cook traditionally, I cook my version of Italian cuisine, taking the tradition and bringing it into what I call the new-age Italian, which is the new world we’re living in right now – a diverse world with people from different continents making up a country.”
To Caleb, being a chef is not just a job, it’s his lifestyle, it’s who he is. In between running his restaurant and taking care of his family, he runs Tuesday night cooking classes, makes spice mixes and cheese as well as his own wines. And a big part of what makes Caleb special is his commitment to his customers, who he considers family. A testament to this is the number of customers who are now life-long friends, who he shares private moments with in addition to bringing his food to their table. Why don’t you come along and join us?
Dinner service is Thursday to Saturday from 5pm until late and lunch on Fridays from 12noon until 3pm. Make sure you book.
By Sarah Schmitt