Over the last few years, Perth has really seen a massive improvement in the quality and quantity of its middle-upper price bracket eateries. Most of this growth has been concentrated in the booming Small Bar and Share Plates restaurant model typified by places like Varnish on King and The Standard, however if you're looking for something a bit quieter for a date or a special dinner without jumping into the $100+ price range of truly high end restaurants like Restaurant Amusé, the $50-$85/head price bracket has a lot less impressive options than major eastern states cities like Sydney and Melbourne. While Share Plate food is very much the flavour of the month these days, its nice to see some restaurants stepping up to fill this niche.
Located a short walk from the iconic Preston St Jetty in the very dated looking Windsor Lodge in Como, Juniper & Bay is a fairly new restaurant run by Soren Koberstein and Sabine Treder, who were behind the George St Bistro in East Fremantle. Given the Windsor's Lodge's tired appearance, the simple but elegantly decorated restaurant within was a nice surprise, with Riedel Glassware and cloth napkins laid out on stylish wood top tables. Although the ugly pool is visible through the windows, Koberstein and Treder have done a great job with what they have to work with.
But we weren't here for the views of course - what we were most interested in was the restaurant's degustation menu - a 5 course dinner for a very competitive $73. After advising the waitstaff we would be going with the degustation and ordering an excellent bottle of Larry Cherubino Riesling from the small but well curated menu of affordable but excellent bottles, a complimentary Amuse Bouche course was placed in front of us. A Salmon Terrine wrapped in Nori with finely sliced Radish and a Yoghurt Coriander Dip, this was an excellent start to the meal. The Terrine had a soft, Foie Gras-like texture but obvious fish flavour, and was skilfully wrapped in a nice, umami nori roll. The radish was nice and crisp like an apple without the sweetness, and the Yoghurt Coriander provided a good dose of herbs and acidity.
Following the Amuse Bouche was yet another Salmon Course - Cured Salmon with Honey, Mustard & Dill Sauce and Rosti. This could easily have been a bit repetitive and one note, however this dish had enough individual character to avoid such pitfalls. The Salmon was very nicely cured and tasty, with salt obviously used in the cure but not overpowering the salmon's flavour. Most impressively, the fish had a nice firmness, that was neither tough nor overly limp, while being very flavoursome. A well fried Rosti, nice ribbons of Cucumber and a slice of Radish provided some nice crunch and additional flavour, while the Honey, Mustard and Dill sauce gifted the dish with sweetness, heat and the classic flavour combination of Dill and Salmon.
Our second course was 'Vitello Tonnato' - Sliced Veal in Tuna Dressing with Salted Capers. This was a beautifully plated and well thought out dish. The thinly sliced veal reminded Alissa and I of the Beef Bresaola we ate at Red Cabbage, though we felt this was a superior dish. The mildness of the veal was enhanced by the salty fish flavour of the Tuna Dressing, with the sweet Heirloom Tomato and the Salted Capers providing pops of acidity and saltiness. The best components on the plate however were the Peppers; imported from Peru, these tiny marinated Peppers were brightly acidic, sweet but with a good but not overpowering heat.
The high standard continued with the Grilled Skin-On Goldband Snapper Fillet on Vanilla Turnip Puree with Roasted Artichokes. The Snapper was very well cooked, with the flesh so soft we could have probably eaten the fish even if we didn't have any teeth to chew with, and the crispy skin of top just finished it off beautifully. The Geranium Foam had a nice, strong herbaceous flavour while the Vanilla Turnip Puree's soft and smooth flavour went well with the mild fish and the crisp acidity of the Rieslings we were drinking. The Roasted Artichokes had a nice sour and floral, meaty flavour that was really delicious, while the Onion Ring provided some additional crispness. While the decorative Thyme Sprig was quite good with the Artichoke and Fish, the piece of Geranium on the plate was a bit too intensely flavoured, and should probably have been left off if it was just there as a cool decoration.
As impressive as everything had been up this that point, the Roasted Lamb Racks with Black Olive Soil, Cucumber Tzatziki Salad and Grilled Watermelon was without a doubt the best dish of the evening. The Rack of Lamb was superbly well cooked, being juicy, perfectly seasoned with herbs and salt, and not overly fatty. The Grilled Watermelon gave the dish some nice juicy sweetness, and the thinly slice cucumber and Tzatsiki Sauce worked as an innovative take on a old classic. Another noteworthy innovation was the Olive Tapenade presented here as dehydrated Olive Powder, allowing for an intensity of olive's bitter saltiness. At its core, this was a fairly classic dish, but done in a way that was very clever and ultimately successful.
After the highs of the Lamb, it was perhaps only natural that the Mousse au Chocolate Tart with Tonka Bean Ice Cream and Summer Berries would be slightly disappointing. There was nothing particularly wrong with the dish, mind you - the Chocolate Tart shell had a good biscuity texture and a perfect level of bitterness without being overly rich or overly sweet, and the Mousse was equally well balanced. The Tonka Bean Ice Cream and Fig went well with the Chocolate as they usually do, and the Summer Berries had a nice, fresh acidity. Unfortunately, it just wasn't the most exciting dessert, and with so many other excellent desserts on the menu - such as the incredible sounding Orange Sorbet, Campari Gel and Lavender Meringue - it felt odd that they didn't put their best foot forward in a degustation. Still, this was a very good to excellent dessert, just not on the same level as the savoury courses that preceded it.
The Verdict: Excellent +
Alissa and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Juniper & Bay. There was not a single bad dish in the entire degustation, with everything being either an Excellent level dish or better. The Rack of Lamb was particularly impressive, and was a good example of everything the restaurant stands for - there was nothing particularly risky or surprising about the flavours, however everything seemed well thought out and honed to be as good as it could be. Where it falls behind our favourite restaurants in Perth like Restaurant Amusé and Co-op Dining is that the experimental nature of the cuisine at those restaurants results in less safety but also more of the 'OMG!' moments that make meals there memorable. Still, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and with such a well priced degustation, a small but excellent wine list and good service, this was an enjoyable restaurant that I would thoroughly recommend, especially to degustation newbies who want to get a taste of why the dego is Alissa and my favourite way to dine.