With calm and determined concentration is building a fine reputation in Perth
English born Neal Jackson is quick to admit that he is not a good advocate for his own fine cooking at Jackson's in Perth. In his quiet and unassuming way and still, after nearly 30 years here, with a trace of English accent, he says - "I find it difficult to talk about my cooking. I prefer the food to speak for itself." And his complex and strong-flavoured dishes do just that. Pheasant is roasted in English fashion but served with lime pickle; duck breast is served pink whilst the leg is put Cantonese style into a pancake with plum sauce; salmon is Moroccan spiced with couscous and minted green beans. There's an Anglo-French leek and potato soup with oysters, and the cleverly named 'pigs trotter, crispy, slippery and stuffed' which delivers all three forms of the foot brilliantly.
These dishes show the culinary distance Neal has travelled since doing his apprenticeship more than 30 years ago at London's famous Savoy Hotel. After holding positions at such well-known restaurants as the Caprice in Mayfair, he came to Western Australia in 1971 as head chef of the Brighton Hotel. He then worked mainly in the south west as head chef at the Lord Forrest Hotel, Bunbury, and as proprietor of the Anchor and Hope Inn, Donnybrook, and at Louisa's Bunbury.
In 1980 he established a partnership with Linda Jackson and together they have received more than 20 significant restaurant awards. In July 1998 they opened Jackson's where Linda manages front of house. Here, Neal Jackson is being acclaimed by his restaurant peers as the best chef in Perth. He takes such accolades in his stride and is quick to give credit to his second chef and two young apprentices, all women, who work with him. Tanya Healy is second chef (she was originally apprenticed to Neal, and then worked as chef de partie at Windows restaurant) and seems very much in control. She works skilfully and quickly. Neal appears very much as a team player in his own kitchen and does not dominate physically or verbally. He finds little need to communicate to Tanya as she knows his dishes and style so well, having worked with him for more than five years, four as an apprentice and a year at Jackson's.
The kitchen is laid out with a row of stoves along one wall where three chefs work and one other doing pastry and cold larder on the other side of the kitchen. Neal concentrates on the cooking of the meats and much of the final plating is in Tanya's hands. It is quiet and orderly and the food gets out very efficiently. All the result of a lot of pre-preparation. The restaurant only opens one day for lunches and dedicates long hours to mise en place. Desserts and breadmaking play a big part. Diners are served a basket of different breads, pretzels and brioche at no charge - an increasinly rare phenomenon in Australian restaurants. So too vegetables come with all the dishes.
These are all part of what Neal sees as being fundamental to good dining. He admits that old habits and training die hard but believes that some restaurants have forgotten what their basic aim should be - to provide a complete meal. Whilst not rejecting the past, Neal Jackson has found a new liberation in his cooking. Before opening Jackson's he travelled a bit interstate and discovered some interesting combinations, such as the Turkish delight souffle with rose petal ice cream featuring on his autumn menu which hetried at Stella in Melbourne. Now after more than 30 years cooking he feels he has started to re-learn and that he can now improvise. It is, after all, the first time he has put his own name up there. It is Jackson's in every way.
The Savoy Hotel, U.K, living in the South West of Australia
A review of Jackson's.