Local spotlight: Todd Stuart, Petite Mort Restaurant
By Gail Williams
The stylish kitchen of Shenton Park’s Petite Mort restaurant is a world away from where Todd Stuart – one of Perth’s best and most well-loved chefs – grew up in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s windswept Otago Peninsula.
There, on the southernmost tip of the South Island – home to albatross, seals and rare yellow-eyed penguins – precious memories were made. Of cauliflower cheese, roast chicken, lolly puddings and Manuka honey.
Now, in a twist of culinary diversity that only a chef with his expertise could master, Stuart channels those memories into exquisitely-plated and technically-precise modern French dishes.
Yes, French! That’s how Stuart, who moved to WA two decades ago, earned his legion of faithful clientele when, in 2011, he began serving up his take on French classics in a charming pocket of Shenton Park vacated by David Coomer’s Star Anise. He’s played host to Andrew Forrest, Nat Fyfe and a host of West Coast Eagles. And now people are crossing suburbs for his current nine-course degustation menu and rediscovering their own childhoods as they find the perfect way to come out of isolation.
As Stuart toils away in a daily 10-hour grind, he reflects fondly on his mother’s dishes while he pours love and nostalgia into each exquisite mouthful.
The difference in sophistication levels, however, is vast. Stuart’s mother, Claire, while an expert home cook never had access to a sous vide, a commercial smoker or an ice cream machine – the high tech gadgets which account for slow cooking, gels and emulsions which add depth and contrast in intricate swirls and dobs on the plate.
“My Mum and Dad ran hotels,” says Stuart. “Mum was a very good cook, her pastries were extraordinary. I have memories of her lolly pudding, tapioca with sugar and her roast chicken. Things that just make you feel good.”
Those “things” are also making his customers feel good. Petite Mort’s $115 pp degustation ($185 with wine matching) is booked out solidly for the next fortnight.
Clarie’s cauli cheese shows up in the veloute starter, theatrically poured into fine white china bowls aside whipped brie and parmesan. Stuart’s chicken dish combines all the elements to make a mini Sunday roast but it has 2020 written all over it in shiitake cakes, bone marrow balls and a thin wafer of crackling. A thin spear of steamed broccolini is the crowning glory.
Miniature lamingtons, vanilla slices and tiny cornettos served at the table are just a tease for what comes next as Death By Chocolate and all components conjure a return to idyllic childhoods and happier times.
Stuart has always steadfastly remained firm to the perfectionist techniques drummed into him by a Belgian Michelin star chef at the Gold Coast restaurant Absynthe and later at Gravy in London’s Chiswick. He has also veered right away from shared plate trends and noisy, darkly lit rooms, instead making the food the star of the show and relying on attentive French staff to take each diner through the journey.
“It might be old fashioned,” he says. “But no one goes away hungry here. I have a policy of if anyone complains that they are still hungry at the end of the degustation I will take them back to the first course and feed them until they are full. It has only ever happened once.”
Questions & Answers
What do you love about Subiaco?
The area has a great feel, it’s safe, trendy, traditional and clean.
How long have you worked here?
Started June 2011.
What is your favourite breakfast spot?
Raisin Bakery in Onslow Road.
Your favourite café?
The Meat Safe in Crossways, although maybe not much of a secret, their meat is exceptional and Amar (the butcher) is a real character!
Favourite weekend activity?
Parking the car at Petite Mort and bikeriding with Stella (8-year old daughter) in and around Kings Park.
What wouldn’t you miss if you left?
The drivers. 😮
What does Subi have that no other suburb does?
From a business perspective it’s definitely the customers, 80% of our patrons live locally and they generally seem to have a great appreciation for food and wine, and know what it means to support local. There is a real loyalty there.
Where do you send customers in Subi when your restaurant is fully booked?
Galileo, Lady of Ro, Bistro Felix. All very solid restaurants.
Favourite coffee hangout?
I don’t buy a lot of coffee as I’m at work all day and night, and Pita, my sous chef, makes the best long Mac! But Spring Espresso is pretty good as well.
Shops in Subi where you source your produce?
Golden Circle, Farmer Jacks, The Meat Safe, Fuji mart (Japan market) and Bunnings for our herb garden. Apart from fish (Leederville) and meat (Osborne Park) nearly all our food comes from Subiaco.