I go to restaurants to eat food. You’d think this is obvious but perhaps it should not be taken for granted. Take restaurants on High St Armadale. Not exactly a place with a great reputation for food. When so many of the customers are anorexic blondes, you know they’re not there for the food. They don’t seem to be there for the atmosphere either. Maybe they’re just filling in time between facials.

But it’s diplomatic to spend some time with friends on their turf as they spend so much time on mine. This philosophy took me to dinner at Barca recently. It serves a contemporary menu with Mediterranean influences. The meal began with an amuse bouche of potato and leek soup that was delicious.

barca1 dinner at Barca, High St Armadale

We chose a shared entree – a mixed tapas plate featuring char grilled baby octopus, tortilla, croquetas, boquerones and mixed bean empanadas (above). The octopus was flavourless and textureless, and the rest was adequate but nothing more.

barca3 dinner at Barca, High St Armadale

Fortunately the mains were excellent. My liquorice smoked duck breast with sautéed cabbage, caramelised apple and parsnip (above) was stunning, as was my companion’s fish from the specials menu: barramundi with a saffron risotto (below).

barca2 dinner at Barca, High St Armadale

The wine by the glass list is limited and not ideally suited to the food. A cabernet sauvignon, two shirazs, two pinot noirs and a tempranillo is not a great balance for the menu.  The complete wine list is far more diverse, with some good Spanish and Italian varieties, but it is still heavily weighed towards shiraz. I suppose that is what your average alpha-male corporate type drinks. A King Valley sangiovese or a South Australian grenache / shiraz blend by the glass would provide more choice, and there are many good local wines in this price range.

Maybe the blonde people drink as conservatively as they dress and vote, and won’t buy wines they are not familar with. But why then is the white by the glass list so much better than the red? My friend was delighted with her Burgans albariño ($9.50, approx $20 in shops). Apart from three sauvignon blancs and two chardonnays there’s also a riesling, a verdejo and a pinot gris. Do the blonde people only drink blonde wine, meaning that whites sell while reds are an afterthought?

I was satisfied with the 2008 Running with Bulls tempranillo from the  Barossa Valley ($9.90, approx $18 in shops), which I had with the entree. I was more pleased with my 2009 Peninsula Panorama pinot noir from Mornington Peninsula ($9.50, $15 from the cellar door), which I had with my duck.

It’s a young uncomplicated pinot noir that is very pleasant to drink, but just because the restaurant has a canny wine buyer does not mean that they should inflate the markup. The formula seems to be ‘the price of two glasses in the restaurant is about the same as the bottle in the shops’ but in this instance it’s not true. However, there’s consumer psychology to consider here too – would a lower priced glass encourage or discourage people from ordering it?

Barca is quite good but frustrating. It evidently can make fine food, but the significant difference between the quality of the entree and the mains is inexplicable. The service was good, but seating us in a nearly empty room at the worst table by the door when we had an early booking was not appreciated. And the tables have low beams under them that are crippling for tall people. I had to sit crooked all evening.

Previous reviews by Gastronomical voyage and Absolutely famished are consistent with what I experienced in that they report mixed and uninspiring meals. I probably would not return unless I was in a group and could justify ordering a bottle of granache or malbec, and I’d pass on the grazing plate entrees. Barca could easily be better than it is, but it probably doesn’t need to try any harder than it does because the blonde people would not notice. Barca seems to know its core market and has catered to them well. It’s just that I’m not a part of that tribe.

dinner at Barca, High St Armadale

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