Next level

OKAY, so the Chook are a bit late to the Tonic & Ginger party.

Since opening at the Old Synagogue venue in Fremantle in 2019 the south-east Asian fusion restaurant has received rave reviews, won awards and is extremely popular (it was fully booked at lunchtime a couple of Mondays ago).

But the Herald never takes the easy, obvious road when there are strange food diversions to be had, so it’s taken us a while to flap our wings and get there for a review. So, apologies.

On arriving at Tonic & Ginger on Friday lunchtime, my wife and I were ushered upstairs by a waiter in a trendy leather apron – imagine Geppetto shopped at Armani – leading us to a table in the far corner of the mezzanine.

Unfortunately, it was probably the worst seat in the house, near a huge metal pipe and I was staring at a wall, but elsewhere the decor was tasteful – exposed brickwork mingled with dark wood and atmospheric lighting, creating a cosy and classy ambience.

There was some nice nods to the restaurant’s former life as a synagogue including a leadlight window with a colourful menora.

But the undoubted highlight was the mass of futuristic globes dangling from the ceiling, some with ochre colours, like you were looking at the planets through a low-budget James Webb telescope. It made for a stunning and original backdrop.

There was a great-value “feed me” option for $66 per person (two person minimum with chef’s choice of dishes) but it was overkill for lunch, so we decided to order some dishes to share instead.

Designed for sharing, the menu was divided into bites, grazing and feasting with a mouth-watering range of fusion dishes like sesame crusted beef tataki, Burmese braised beef curry, brisket pot sticker dumpling, and chicken and caramelised eggplant san choi bao.

There was a nice variety of high quality dishes, some familiar, but always with a flavour twist.

I can’t recommend the prawn and spinach dumpling ($11) highly enough – a gorgeous delight with the casing super light and fresh, and the filling delicate and perfectly seasoned. The ginger nuoc cham dipping sauce was next level – moreish yet sophisticated and highly addictive.

The crispy pork and lemongrass wonton ($8) were equally as good. I don’t normally like fried wontons – maybe a legacy of growing up in Glasgow where everything was deep fried including the furniture – but these were perfectly made and had a lovely Szechuan chilli oil with a subtle heat.

After all those flavour pyrotechnics, the chicken and caramelised eggplant san choi bao ($20) could have easily been a bland affair, the culinary equivalent of Better Homes and Gardens, but it was a refreshing delight with the carmalised egg plant and pickles ensuring there was plenty of flavour.

We had got our dish selection spot on and after those slightly intricate dishes, the sesame crusted beef tataki ($24) was a simple masterclass – high quality beef with avocado, nori and citrus ponzu.

My wife normally doesn’t like carpaccio-style dishes but she couldn’t get enough of the delicious melt-in-the mouth beef.

Just when my taste buds were catching their breath, the waitress was back with our “feasting” dish – fragrant red curry, crispy duck legs with Thai basil and coconut cream ($39).

It was another top-notch dish with great depth of flavour in the sauce, but was a bit heavy after everything else and maybe we should have gone for the crispy barramundi ($34) instead.

Tonic & Ginger is easily the best meal I’ve had in Fremantle and is a one-finger salute to people who say the port city is an over-priced dud for food and can’t lay a glove on Perth.

Tonic & Ginger
92 South Terrace, Fremantle
theoldsynagogue.com.au/tonic-ginger/

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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