If you want to know the best places to eat delicious authentic Chinese food, just ask a fine dining chef who is trained in classical French cuisine.
Neal Jackson set a standard of fine dining in Perth that still leaves its mark with the dozens of apprentice chefs who trained under him. Their respect for him is evident in the comments they leave when Neal posts his new food experiences on Facebook.
His degustation menus – he was one of the first to introduce the concept to Perth – are legendary.
It’s been three and a half years since Neal closed the doors of Jackson’s Restaurant in Beaufort Street, Highgate.
Since then, he’s been busy travelling to China, educating the Chinese about the quality and versatility of Western Australian lamb and beef. He’s also been wandering through the back streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong looking for new taste experiences, such as boiled sliced beef, pork ball, asparagus and duck liver or goose with intestines and tofu. Not for you? Neal’s eyes light up as he remembers the flavours.
Even when travelling further afield to London or Sydney, he’ll be testing the local offerings of Chinese cuisine.
Neal’s attraction to China goes back nine years to his first trip to Beijing where he discovered ‘real’ Chinese food. Since then, he has visited China 14 times.
“Most Perth restaurants serve Cantonese food and we shouldn’t think that shiny sauces with garnishes of flower shaped carrot slices and curly spring onions represent Chinese cuisine. There are so many more flavours, textures and ingredients to discover,” Neal explains.
He particularly likes Hunan – spicy, hot and sour – and Sichuan – strong spicy, often mouth-numbing, lots of chili, garlic and ginger. These are not subtle flavours or refined cuisine. They are bold, forthright and not afraid to pack a chilli punch.
“While I had Jackson’s, I went to Chengdu for a two week cooking course at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. It was fascinating because there are 23 food profiles, whereas most other cuisines only have two or three profiles.
“The five standard food tastes are salty, sweet, sour, bitter and spicy, but these can be extended to many variations. Understanding how to combine and balance flavours is an incredibly important cooking concept.”
Did he introduce Sichuan flavours into his menu?
“Yes,” he laughs, “Probably a little too much for some clients.”
Why does he like Chinese food so much?
“Because the flavours are so different from what I usually cook and I like its textures.”
The beauty of being a chef-extraordinaire is that if you can’t find the food locally, you can cook it yourself. Neal loves Dan Dan noodles – a spicy sauce of preserved vegetables, chilli oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork and scallions served over noodles – but hasn’t been able to find a restaurant in Perth that does it to his liking. So, he makes his own.
A new favourite is ramen (Chinese style wheat noodles), particularly at Ramen Lab in Beaufort Street. And he’s been told about a little laneway restaurant in Northbridge that he’s keen to try.
Recently, Neal completed a cookbook for Amelia Park to promote Western Australian beef and lamb in the Chinese market. He designed most of the recipes which travel from English comfort food to Asian street food, much like his personal food journey.
Authentic Bites, 145 Newcastle Street, for its dumplings
Northbridge Chinese Restaurant, 26 Roe Street, for its chicken claws and egg yolk buns
Chilli Panda, 137 Newcastle Street, for its spicy Hunan cuisine
Ramen Lab, 602 Beaufort Street, for its ramen noodles
Tra Vinh, 149 Brisbane Street, for spicy pork and beef noodle broth (there’s always a bit of pig foot in the bottom of the bowl)
Singapore Chicken Rice, Coventry Village, Morley for Hainan Chicken Rice
Jackson’s Private Chef Hire