Myra and I were on a mission to discover the best restaurant in Denmark.
Before we say Noma, Geranium or Alchemist – the restaurants in Copenhagen that regularly top the annual list of the world’s 50 best restaurants – we were in Denmark, WA, not the European country where food is sought after, design is minimal and Michelin stars are collected for fun.
However, during a frenetic weekend of stuffing our ass and destroying our livers, my wife and I discovered that you don’t need a boarding pass with the airport code CPH to enjoy exceptional culinary experiences.
The names that kept coming up as the Deep South city’s answer to Noma and Geranium (well, kinda) were Pepper & Salt and The Dam, so we booked Friday dinner for the first and Saturday lunch for the second to consecutive reviews. .
We’ll be diving into The Dam next week and before we get spicy at Pepper & Salt, these places are far from the only options in Our Denmark.
During our visit we ate homemade Spanish tapas at Michael Bradshaw and Yolanda Teijeiro’s lovely new Bar Tarifa Alcalá-Zamora and enjoyed a ridiculously good breakfast at the popular Mrs Jones Cafe (my chorizo gnocchi breakfast was great).
We also sampled some great wines at Rockcliffe and intriguing ciders at Monkey Rock, plus a damn good pint of craft beer in the back of the Denmark Tavern watching the kookaburras dive for worms.
After that Belgian-style beer, we continued along the South Coast Highway to Pepper & Salt, the restaurant of chef and owner Silas Masih who has been at the Forest Hill winery for over a decade.
The long driveway suggests the dining room will be a bit more upscale, but the small room adorned with fairy lights and populated by local dudes in their best KISS t-shirts has its own intimate charm.
The menu is short — four starters and main courses, two sides, and three desserts — with Forest Hill wines, plus a few sparkling or liqueurs not made on site. Diners can have two dishes for $70 or three for $90 (or split the difference if you’re sharing dessert).
When we arrived, Masih was working in the room. The gregarious Fijian-Indian chef seems to enjoy chatting to customers and clearing tables in addition to his other duties, but that’s probably more the product of understaffing.
Claiming to be the “pepper” of Pepper & Salt, Masih aims to do remarkable things with local produce and, of course, spices. Our two excellent starters are good examples.
My roasted Nabawarra chestnut was super juicy and tender, with huge umami flavors from the pork knuckle broth forming a gap around two Sichuan fish belly dumplings.
This gorgeous dish, full of flavor, was somehow topped with grilled Esperance octopus with smoked eggplant and tomato zaalouk (a Moroccan dip) plus miso. It was spicy, smoky, meaty and one of the best things I ate in 2022.
My main course continued the love affair with spices – Goan spiced lamb rump with coconut spinach raita, roasted beets and artichokes.
Before tasting Masih’s creation, if you had offered me anything between a roast lamb and a Goan curry, I would have said “thanks, but no thanks”, but this dish loaded with tamarind and Garlic was wonderful.
Myra had the Maryland Chicken, which our server said was marinated, baked then lightly battered and fried to crisp the skin, then grilled for those signature charry notes.
The chook was served with beans and taro cooked in elephant garlic, and crispy kale. The taro was bland and unpleasantly sticky on the teeth. My wife banished the starchy root vegetable aside.
Luckily the chicken was tender and flavorful.
Putting the taro aside, as my wife did, we were shooting 100% after four dishes that lived up to Pepper & Salt’s reputation as one of the best places to eat in Denmark.
Then came the dessert.
The apple and quince galette was not a $20 dish. The galette was served on a gingerbread base, with a small oval raclette cheesecake from Dellendale Creamery on one side, and topped with caramel crumbs.
While the dish is supposed to be taken out of the fridge well before serving, before being glazed and flambéed, the galette and gingerbread portion was cold and therefore had none of that hot/cold dichotomy with the cheesecake à la squeegee.
We both noticed a slight fishy aroma, which suggests to us that some of the dish may have been stored near the seafood in a fridge before serving.
In any case, the galette should have arrived on the hot table or at least at room temperature.
Still, as Meat Loaf once tweeted, two out of three aren’t bad, and we could definitely see why Pepper & Salt is a mainstay of “Danish” cooking.
I just wish we skipped dessert. . . and maybe had another serve from that grilled Esperance occy.
Forest Hill Vineyard, 1564 South Coast Highway, Denmark
Thursday-Sunday, lunch. Friday from 6 p.m.
9848 3053, pepperandsalt.com.au
Hardworking chef Silas Masih is well versed in spices and seafood, and certainly does some interesting things with local produce. The seasonal menu is a good value two-course for $70. Maybe skip the dessert. Forest Hill wines dominate the drink options, while the beer list oddly ignores the best local brews. The popular wedding venue is only open on Fridays for dinner.