Saturday, 29 March 2014

Jun, Perth, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

You've gotta love a serendipitous discovery. Every now and then I do a Google search for 'best ramen perth' to see if there is a place doing ramen I've just never heard of or is newly opened, and jot down the details as a lead to follow up on. Of course, I've been to all the major ramen joints in Perth, however such is my obsession with this dish that I am irrationally afraid that I've yet to try Perth's best bowl of ramen. I will not stop until I've tried them all.

Jun was one such lead. Years ago its location in a dark, dingy, literally home to the homeless alleyway just off Hay Street was indeed a ramen noodle house - there is even a remnant of old signage along the wall of the alley - and this older restaurant came up in a search for Perth's best ramen. I was disappointed to find it no longer existed when I searched for it on Urbanspoon, however when I saw photos of delicious looking Katsu Pork Skewers and Cold Soba Noodles at Jun it quickly jumped up the priority queue of places to visit. 

Located in a basement in an alley, the entrance to Jun is really cooling looking, and exudes a certain Melbournesque bohemian/hipster charm... it was really surprising to find the interior of the restaurant looking a bit staid and dated, with a non-working water feature and a stack of books piled near the entrance. I've seen photos of eateries in Japan that look similar, and there was something charming about its unassuming and decidedly unhip appearance. The slightly ramshackle appearance seemed to have no negative effect on their business, as by 7:30 the place was pretty much packed. Thank goodness we booked.

 We were seated near the rear of the restaurant, giving us a decent view of the the chef at work. While advertising themselves as a Kushi-Yaki Restaurant, Jun has a fairly extensive menu and it took us a moment to decide on what we wanted to eat. As appetising as the yakitori looked, in the end we decided to try three of their fried items and a bowl of noodles each.

First to arrive was a plate of Seafood Croquettes. Being of Dutch descent, Alissa's family have schooled me on the delicious ways of the croquette, so I was most interested to see the differences between Dutch and Japanese versions of this dish. These seafood croquettes were quite different to the gravy-filled versions Alissa's Oma makes, however I did enjoy the meaty chunks of prawn and other seafood inside. What struck me as most impressive however was how well fried it was. Deep frying something may seem like a fairly simple task, but there is a skill to getting fried items to be both nice and crispy, and not greasy. It seems to be a rare skill based on how greasy a lot of lunch bar fried food can be, so its to the chef's credit that these came out as well as they did. Combining this with the tastiness of the tonkatsu sauce which reminded me of a better version of HP Barbecue Sauce, and this was an excellent start to our meal.

It got even better with the Karaage, arguably the best and most refined Karaage either of have had in Perth. As with the croquettes, the frying skill was exemplary. The coating was thinner than most Karaage Alissa and I have had, yet still maintained that deliciously gingery flavour we've come to know and love. Most amazing however was the soft, juicy and tender texture of the meat. I thought Kai's Karaage was very good, but this was even better. Seriously, if all you know of Karaage is the cheap, mass produced pseudo-KFC version common to food court Japanese you owe it yourself to try Jun's version to see how good it can be. Simply phenomenal.

Next came the Pork Belly and Onion skewers. Basically Tonkatsu Pork on a stick with slices of onion between the pork belly pieces, these were piping hot to the point of being a little difficult to eat (admittedly, this was our own greedy fault). Once it cooled a bit, we were greeted by delicious chunks of pork belly's unctuous goodness, and the addition of onion gave it a certain onion ring quality - an inspired twist. That said, as people who are fairly obsessed with pork (and pork belly in particular) this was probably the most anticipated of the three dishes, yet it didn't leaving us gushing as much as the Karaage did. This however was not a reflection on the quality of the Pork Belly and Onion so much as how amazing the Karaage was.

While I consider ramen's alkaline noodles the best of all Japan's noodle styles, a good bowl of fat Udon Noodles remains Alissa's firm favourite. As with the Karaage, this was near best in class - better than Kai, Zensaki and Taka's. Udon's shoyu-based broth has a cleaner flavour than that of ramen's, and Jun's version was totally on point, with a certain marine umami flavour that made it all the more delicious. While both Kai and Zensaki top their Udon off with a more deluxe serves of mixed tempura and soft shell crab respectively, the fact we'd already had some delicious fried goodness before the noodles meant the two pieces of sweet and succulent baby squid were more than sufficient.

I personally feel soba noodles are a dish best served cold, and the Cold Soba with Sweet Potato Paste and Raw Quail Egg sounded so good I had to try it. Wow. This was seriously some next level shit. Firstly, the presentation was beautiful, with the soba framed by thinly sliced spring onion and nori and topped with a raw quail egg. I even liked their choice of plate! Mixing the egg into the noodles and then dipping it into the accompanying bowl of dipping sauce, this was a serious salty-sweet-umami explosion, rich in the flavour of sesame and soy, made all the better by the added kick of the wasabi. This was so good I didn't want it to end, and I continued to pick up every single stray strand of soba until there were none left.

The Verdict: Excellent
In David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, he recounts his tutelage under soba specialist Akio Hosoda and how when realising David was dedicated to a completely different noodle, he gave David the ultimatum; "you're either soba or not". I feel a bit this way about the various Japanese noodle styles - we'll eat them all but I'm a ramen man, while Alissa is all for the Udon. In Alissa's case, the excellence of Jun's Udon noodle served to reinforce her belief in its ascendency while for me, trying a soba this good was enough to almost make me a convert to the ways of the soba noodle. Almost. Ramen still rules supreme in my eyes, but I enjoyed the cold soba at Jun so much I'm gonna have to make some room in my life for this alternative noodle. Combine that with best-in-class Karaage and the need to try their yakitori next time, and this is a restaurant we'll definitely be coming back to. Repeatedly. At $51 for the five items, Jun is a tad bit pricier than places like Kai, Zensaki and Nao but we left feeling seriously full and satisfied with our meal - next time, I think two items to share and then a bowl of noodles each would be more than enough for the two of us. The very next day after eating there, I got an SMS from a friend asking for a restaurant recommendation. With no hesitation and no alternative suggestions, I responded with Jun. I don't think I can recommend them enough.

Jun on Urbanspoon

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