02/12/2010 - 00:00

Anointing the master’s apprentice

02/12/2010 - 00:00


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  THE relatively understated façade of Jackson’s Restaurant belies the critically acclaimed fine dining experience of its interior.

Anointing the master’s apprentice


THE relatively understated façade of Jackson’s Restaurant belies the critically acclaimed fine dining experience of its interior.

This year alone, Jackson’s has been named Perth’s best restaurant in the local Good Food Guide 2011 and its restaurant manager, Kjell Ove Almeland, won the 2010 Australian Gourmet Traveller sommelier of the year award.

This follows countless inclusions on ‘top 100’ lists from around the country and, while proprietor and head chef Neal Jackson admits the recognition does wonders for his ego, more importantly it gives the business and its staff a boost.

“The awards were more important in the early days when we were clawing our way up, but at the end of the day you want bums on seats – you want punters in the restaurant enjoying themselves,” Mr Jackson says.

And that’s something he has been doing since 1971, when he arrived in Western Australia as a classically trained chef from England.

Mr Jackson spent well over two decades in the state’s South West with his wife, Linda, building a reputation as a fine dining restaurateur; yet some misgivings remain about his initial acquisition, in Donnybrook.

“I thought I knew everything about a restaurant, being a chef, but I never for once thought where the clientele would come from, I just fell in love with the quaint restaurant,” he says.

A few years later, after selling up in Donnybrook and moving to Bunbury, Mr Jackson worked with the state government to promote Australian food in Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. This proved to be a defining experience.

“I learned about their cuisine first hand and it altered the way I thought about food and the way I approached things,” Mr Jackson told Gusto.

Japanese and Chinese influences are particularly evident in the food at Jackson’s, which is best known for ‘the dego’ – or degustation – menu of seven different courses.

Jackson’s opened in 1998 on Beaufort Street as a partnership between Mr and Mrs Jackson and silent partner Peter Walsh.

“When we first bought the leasehold it was an Italian pizzeria with fake limestone walls and lots of chianti bottles,” Mr Jackson says.

“So with a pretty limited budget we stripped everything out apart from the fake limestone walls and floorboards – it was clean and minimal, but still had a rustic edge.”

Mr Jackson says the then-trio of chefs in the kitchen, with his wife front of house, was inundated in the opening week and, in hindsight, the opening was premature.

“We didn’t want to be overly full for that first week, but the bookings kept coming in and we thought that was great, but we took more bookings than we probably should have done while we were finding our feet, which meant the first three months were pretty hectic,” he says.

Since then, Jackson’s has undergone multiple renovations to achieve its current contemporary look, including a $100,000 bathroom fit-out 12 months ago, and regularly takes in close to $60,000 a week, with about 55 per cent of patrons choosing the dego option on weekdays.

Mr Jackson says despite its popularity, in recent times he has been wondering whether the dego has run its course.

“I would like to be the first not to do it, but whether the time is right for that I don’t know. It’s a thought I’ve had for probably 12 months now, but I’m yet to do anything about it.”

On Saturday nights the dego is served exclusively, so “that would be a big slice of my business to lose if I changed it to something that wasn’t very popular”.

Looking ahead, Mr Jackson says he is the process of anointing his successor in the kitchen, with long-time sous chef Kristyn Crawford stepping up into a more senior role.

“I will still be creating the menu – Jackson’s has my name above the door after all,” he says.

“But really, what else am I going to do? I don’t play golf, I don’t fish – this is my hobby and I love being in this business.”



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