Changing perceptions can be hard work. Once an idea is entrenched – be it right or wrong – it can take an awful lot to dislodge. I make this point because it seems, despite years of redevelopment and reinvention, The Highway may be suffering – entirely unfairly – from an element of this. But first….
I was recently treated to a sneak peak at some of the highlights of their new summer menu, the first full menu revamp under the guidance of head chef Damian Fong Lim (Eros Ouzeri) and soux chef Ashley Coad. They had previously strutted their stuff with Mushroom Month, but now was their chance to put a clear mark on their general offerings.
And the end result? A very pretty mark indeed. Make no mistake – this is no average hotel menu.
Complex techniques pop up throughout, and there is a notable emphasis on layering textures and flavours. Plating is of a standard well apart from most venues (let alone a ‘pub’), and it is almost expected in 2018 that there should be a focus on sourcing local, quality produce. They don’t miss this point either.
Kicking off the new menu sampling was salmon tataki, with the raw fish making friends with ponzu dressing, wasabi leaf, roasted sesame, crispy nori and kewpie. This was delicate, beautiful, textural and very clever.
Peruvian spiced chicken was a real stand out dish, with the perfectly cooked, spicy crusted protein sharing the plate with charred corn, baby desire potato and a confit pepper pureé. This dish was a delight on many levels, as the spice brought just enough heat and seasoning to the table and allowed the other elements to do their thing in support. So delicious!
Another standout on the menu is the Blue Swimmer crab spaghettini with rocket, dill, garlic, cherry tomato, chilli and olive oil. Absolutely classic flavours with enough heat to peak your interest, but still allowing the sweet, tender crab to be the central factor. This was arguably my dish of the night, which is saying a lot when the item that followed was 48 hour slow cooked beef ribs with South American rice, charred lime, and a house made spicy rib sauce. Soux vide is the method employed here for 2 days – before being finished off in an oven – and it creates a texture to the ribs that is quite extraordinary. It is not falling apart like traditional slow cooking, but has fully broken down all the tough tissues to leave behind a soft yet still structurally sound (just) beef rib. Partnered with the sauce and rice, this was a thing of majesty.
In the pursuit of personal integrity and full disclosure, I must report that not everything from the new menu that we sampled was nudging perfection. I had very high hopes for the hot smoked kingfish salad, with the ingredients of baby spinach, mango, green beans, pumpkin, Spanish onion, raddish, roasted sesame, walnuts and champagne dressing sounding like heaven to me. However, it perhaps lacked a little focus, as it all seemed to just blend together into something that was more of a textural adventure than a flavour explosion. It was still very good, but didn’t hit my expected high water mark (which may be my fault, granted). Similarly the lavender and earl grey creme brulee was technically very good, with fantastic texture to the custard underneath the crispy toffee lid. However, earl grey is an interesting choice of flavour base, and the lavender was somewhat lost in there to my palate. If you had simply served it and asked me the flavours, this would not have been a combination I would have suggested. It was also good, but just not outstanding.
Of course, true to their roots, they can play the pub classics game too, with schnitzels, burgers, steaks, pizzas and fish and chips there and accounted for. Oh, and yes their crumbed lamb brains are still on the menu. Yes, they are a Highway institution (which I have yet to try).
The beer list deserves a special mention here, as while they have many standard commercial options, their extensive tap list always stocks a rotation of craft beer favourites, and even some limited release and international craft brews. When I can choose between a Modus Operandi Sonic Prayer or Tiny Rebels Clwb Tropicana (as two examples) I am a very happy punter indeed.
“So what has this to do with perceptions?” I hear you think.
Relaying the excellence of the evening to friends and colleagues, including the photos of the plating and the makeup of the various dishes, some lingering Highway perceptions raises its head. “Where was this? The Highway? Really?” was a fairly common response, with absolute genuine surprise evident. Although this was often thankfully followed by “Well I might have to go back and check it out again”, it still showed to me that some people will need a serious re-education about what The Highway is all about.
The Bottom Line
With a clever hand at the tiller in the kitchen, a flexible and enjoyable modern fit out with an interesting and ever changing beverage list, all the ingredients are there for The Highway to challenge anyones preconceived ideas. Make no mistake, this is a genuine foodie venue, and it is very exciting to see what their kitchen is producing.
The Highway is located at 290 Anzac Highway, Plympton (corner of Marion Road). They are open 7 days a week from midday till late.