Aug 15, 2010

Jackson's Restaurant

Or how I spent my Birthday evening, followed by a little rant.

Jackson's Restaurant
483 Beaufort Street
Highgate. WA.

I've been to Jackson's once before - just over three years ago, when I stupidly suggested it as an option for my work's Christmas party. I gave them two choices, my boss decided it would be more fun at the expensive place, and then I spent the entire evening trying to herd drunken belligerent cats. 

I promised myself I'd go back some time and sit down and have a pleasant meal.  Preferably not the degustation - just to see what a la carte would be like. Well, this year came around and Ondine booked us in for my birthday. 

Lets set the scene. If you have never been before, you should remember the setting is formal. Even though the place is actually quite small and modern, don't be fooled by the minimalist decor or the low lighting.  You can expect the staff to open the door for you, lead you to your table and sit you down. Generally wait on you hand and foot. If you get up to go to the bathroom, a member of the staff will stop what they are doing and open the door to the bathroom for you. 

This is possibly the only restaurant in Perth that does this. Prestige comes with a price and the Sommelier, Kjell-Ove Almeland is very good. He was named Sommelier of the Year in 2009 so if he recommends you something, it will be good.

To begin the night, while we discussed how we would proceed, Ondine and I ordered a couple of "digestives". I had a glass of the Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2000 ($31). Very pleasant, but it did taste re-gassed.  Ondine stuck to a simple cranberry juice as she was the designated driver for the evening.

Degustations are a a crowded affair

Against our earlier judgment, we decided to go all out this evening with the seven course degustation ($125) because honestly the winter menu did look good. I chose to have my meal matched to the premium wine selection ($240 all up).

Neal Jackson for a long time has been playing around with sorbet's, foams and other "molecular" techniques. His pre dinner amuses are pretty typical displays of these.

The first amuse was an Anchovy Cornet, Persian Feta Mousse, Gazpacho Sorbet and Olive Paste.

We both felt the "cone" was way too thick. It was a bit like eating  a tomato sorbet in a waffle cone. Not really the thing you want to have before you start a large meal.

Pork belly sort of Banh Mi     
H.Donnhoff Grauburgunder 2007, Nahe Germany

Well... Neal is correct. It was "sort of"a banh mi. I didn't really like it. The pork crackling was a bit too crunchy (and I'm not a fan of it in general) . The cucumber was limp, and there was a pretty hefty application of chilli in the dressing, and hidden chicken liver parfait.

Ondine didn't mind it however and tells me it's an interesting deconstruction  of the Vietnamese sandwich. We both agreed that this course was a miss.

The wine matched to this course was really interesting. Essentially a Pinot gris, it was relatively sweet, floral and a little like a Gewurztraminer. Highly recommended.

Sea Bass and Tasmanian Salmon, Oyster and Champagne Sauce.  
Cullen "Kevin John" Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River WA

The sea bass and the salmon fillets had been sliced into 15mm strips and woven together before being sous vide. Texturally the flesh was a jelly like texture, but flavour wise, the salmon totally overpowers the bass. So we had a flat pale pink and white checkerboard fish jelly on our plates. The champagne was lost in the sauce, but the  poached oyster was plump, fresh and tasty. Overall not impressed and I felt sad for the ingredients.

The chardonnay however was very good. I'd recommend this wine for just about any seafood dish.

Squid and Scallop Risotto    
Albarino de Fefinanes "III Ano"2005, Rias Baixas, Spain

This course was I'm afraid a  bit of a disappointment after the truffle master class. The scallop was over cooked - particularly on one side, and almost crumbled under the knife. Half the risotto was made with cuttlefish ink and seasoned with white pepper. Half was flavoured with scallop, and parmesan cheese. The cheese overpowered the entire dish (rule number one - no cheese with seafood!), and the garnish of pan fried Squid pieces were haphazardly scattered over the top.

Again, another course that tried hard, but missed by a mile. 

Braised lamb shoulder wrapped in filo pastry as scrolls.
This was tasty enough and... amusing.

Rabbit, Prosciutto, Truffle Butter, Sprouts and Chestnuts    
Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2001, G.D.Vajra, Piedmonte Italy

Presentation. Good. Match of ingredients. Fantastic. What went wrong? A lot.

Firstly, a single sprout leaf is a garnish, not something that is flavouring the dish. It was a nice leaf though. Possibly the most vegetable I had all night. Actually. It was the only vegetable I had all night. Microgreens and fruit (cucumber) doesn't count.

The polenta was made using truffle butter apparently. It had butter but, the truffle oil they used may have been cooked out. It didn't taste of much as a result - I'm no expert but I'd say it possibly had even been over cooked.

The sauce was made (we presume) using the rabbit's bones. I thought it was tasty enough, but the taste was of burnt bones - not a good stock. 

The rabbit? Well the poor bunny tasted like prosciutto. Texturally I liked it, but it could have been any animal cooked like that. The really big minus - Ondine found a bone in hers!

Once again a course that tried hard but fell short of the mark.

Roast Beef, Yorkshire Pudding    
Brunello Di Montalcino 2004, Mastrojanni, Tuscany Italy

Ondine had the roast beef and yorkie. This was finally a dish well done.
She was rapt with the flavour, but the snail in the pudding seemed pretty pointless. I on the other hand felt the plating was a big let down. Frankly , I thought it looked like someone had just thrown it at the plate and hoped for the best.

Amelia Park Lamb Loin, Shoulder and Shank    
Victorino 2007, Bodega Teso La Monja M.Eguren, D.O Toro Spain

I had the lamb plate. Lamb done three ways and I felt a bit like Goldilocks by this point. One wasn't seasoned. One was too salty and the other was just right. Unfortunately by this time all I really wanted to do was  have a lie down...

The wine, a Tempranillo from Spain was possibly the best of the night. Rich, red, fiery and made up for any imperfections in the food.

Toasted Cheese, Vegemite Cucumber    
Vallado 20y Old tawny Port, Douro Portugal

This port was to me a new experience. It was similar to a number of sherry's I've had, and definitely recommended.  I can't say the same for the cheesy Vegemite stack we were presented.

Small, no bigger than a 50c piece,  the Vegemite was thickly smeared between a disk of strong goats cheese and  a disk of toast. The cheese and Vegemite was really overpoweringly salty.

Almond Torte, Fennel and Rhubarb Salad
Vinoptima Noble late harvest Gewurstraminer 2004, Ormond NZ

This was a pretty little dessert. Rhubarb was not overpowering. A dehydrated vertical slice from a fennel bulb (I haven't seen that before in a dessert) was used like a tuile. The torte was a little ordinary. Not a bad dessert really, but also not what I probably would have ordered if I had gone a la carte.

On the other hand this one really impressed me.
Chocolate Tart, Mint Ice and Chocolate Bubbles

Chocolate Tart, Mint Ice & Chocolate Bubbles

In a twist, Ondine, managed to swap out her dessert for this one - she actually let the kitchen choose it.  It turned out to be the best photo of the evening, the best dessert, I think the best plating (it's not just the gold foil!) That mint ice was really good.

Coffee and Things
And by the things, Neal means Tiramisu in a shot glass and miniature fruit pavlovas.

The Verdict
You can probably tell that I wasn't really impressed. I felt honestly let down by the food and I don't like to feel I've been sucked in by media hype about this place.

The positives. Our waiter was exemplary. The wine selections for the menu were also very good, and good value for the increase in tariff ($240 vs $125 without). I do love being able to try so many wines that I normally wouldn't be able to afford.

I can also say that at $125 a head for a degustation without wine - this was pretty much the expected price for an Australian dego but from here, things start to slide. Look at the ingredients. No caviar, foie gras or real truffles were used - no seasonal vegetables for that matter and we had to ask for the table (free) bread to be refilled.

Stylistically, the plating was ordinary. The first thing you do is eat with your eyes and then your nose so presentation in a long dinner like this (three hours+) requires some form of entertainment. There were some attempts at making some plates look beautiful, but almost everything had microgreen parsley, celery or coriander added in a haphazard way and it was too dark to see!

A degustation is supposed to be a sampling menu of the chef's best work or kitchen artistry. If this was a sampling of the main and entree courses on offer at Jacksons I would have had to order sides of vegetables or very good wines to complete the dishes. I guess a lot of the disappointment lies in the fact we pay so much for something that turns out quite ordinary, and to make it special, we pay a premium for high caliber wine to improve the meal.

Jackson's is the number one or two restaurant in Perth, consistently scoring 17's or higher in local newspapers and food guides. Yet on food quality and presentation I consistently get better value at Bistro Felix, Must Wine Bar or the Loose Box. I've never found an animal (not fish) bone in my meal before. That's really special - and worrying.


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  1. I agree with you about Jacksons and better value elsewhere.
    I don't get the hype.
    Quite possibly one of the worst meals of my life was at Jacksons.
    From choking on fish bones (4th course), gagging on a knuckle of chicken cartilage (2nd course), waiting an hour for a course and then being told that we had eaten it (which we hadn't) and a host of other things ... down to getting a response from the owner about my complaint basically saying no-one else has a problem.
    The only people that seem to enjoy it are the ones that don't have degustation. I'm not going to go back and find out if that is true.

    O V E R R A T E D

  2. Ouch. That sounds pretty bad.
    It's not an uncommon thing to find a restaurant has missed an odd fish bone, but to get that and the rest of the experience ruined by poor service. I'm quite sad that they are not living up to their potential to be the best in Perth.