With the weather warming up over the Summer months in Perth, the cooler climes of the South West beckon - even more than they usually do. Alissa and I had already spent Christmas and New Year's in the Great Southern, and a weekend away with friends in Margaret River was another chance to escape January's run of high 30°C days. While we were down for a belated edition of our annual Christmas Cookoff competition, Alissa and I took the opportunity to tick another Margaret River restaurant off our list of places to try - Miki's Open Kitchen, a Japanese restaurant that came highly recommended.
Located on Bussell Hwy along Margaret River's main strip, Miki's Open Kitchen is located in an unassuming row of shops, however stepping through the restaurant doors reveals an elegant and stylish restaurant with most seats at a counter surrounding the restaurant's eponymous open kitchen. While the restaurant does offer an a la carte menu, most diners choose the ever-changing Trust Menu and we did too. An Omakase degustation of 7 courses, the $60 asking price is very good value - akin to Perth's highly affordable Marumo. The wine list is spot on too and very competitively priced. For instance Frankland Estate's Isolation Ridge Riesling, a highly apposite wine for the cuisine, was available at a very small mark up over retail.
The first course consisted of Port Hedland Cuttlefish and Aonori Crust Cream Cheese. Placed in a glass of Dashi, the Cuttlefish Tempura had a soft mushiness that I would usually find a bit off-putting due to its lack of crunch, however the Tempura batter had absorbed the Dashi's intensely umami flavour and ended up being very tasty. The Aonori Crust Cream Cheese was even better. Supremely well fried without a trace of oiliness, the crunchy exterior of Aonori featured a lovely seaweedy bitterness and umami that worked really nicely with the warm Cream Cheese within.
While Tempura and fried items are an obvious strength, Miki's do light and fresh very well too. The beautifully presented Windy Harbour Hapuka Zuke was definitely very fresh, with a perfect level of firmness without being hard or overly soft. The Soy marinade gave the dish a nice saltiness, while the Avocado provided creaminess. Being Wasabi fiends, Alissa and I felt that more Wasabi would have been nice, but opting to Trust the Chef does mean giving up some agency in this department. Wasabi quantities aside, this was a very nice sashimi course that showcased Miki's dedication to sourcing high quality seafood from throughout Western Australia.
Our third course consisted of a Tempura Trio of Shark Bay Whiting, Summer Courgette, Jalapeno Waygu Aboro. The batter was thin and crunchy - the hallmark of good Tempura. Courgettes, very much in season at the moment, were deliciously fresh. Served in what could be described as medium rare, these were delicious and well cooked. Whiting can be a fairly dry when overcooked, but these were nice and moist. They were also nicely wrapped in a sheet of Nori, providing another dose of seaweedy umami. The Jalapeno stuffed with Waygu Oboro was the most interesting and unusual of the three. Basically a stuffed Chilli fried as a Tempura, these were really amazing. The Wagyu filling and the heat from the Jalapeno made us think of Mexican or Korean food with a Japanese slant. We'd never had anything quite like it - a really clever and inventive fusion.
One of the best things about a degustation is the way the narrative of the meal can increase the overall enjoyment of certain courses. Take for example the way the Tempura Trio was followed up by Wakame, Fennel Salad, Tobiko Caviar. The Tempura was great and not oily at all, but a refreshing and palate cleansing salad was exactly what we needed next. The salad was bright, acidic and aniseedy with a nice ginger kick, the Tobiko Caviar brought a nice pop of salty, fishy flavour to the proceedings. It was fairly simple but effective - a nice linking dish between two the Tempura and the Main.
Alissa had thought the Main was not included in the Trust Menu, and misinterpreted the waitstaffs' offers for an upsize of the Main to mean adding it as a course. As a result we accidentally ordered the large upsize of the Geraldton Red Emperor, Ume, Wasabi Ankake, Rice. This large serve was unnecessary but was fine given the quality of the dish. The Red Emperor was well cooked, being juicy, succulent and flaky - even better than the Whiting. The crunchy exterior was superb, featuring a similar breading to that used at Hot Star Chicken. The sauce poured on top worked really well too - being sweet, citric and sour, it reminded us of a very thick dashi with the addition of what we thought might have been Yuzu. The rice had a sprinkling of Ume Powder on top of the well cooked rice that gave a nice, fruity and slightly sour flavour that was again very pleasing. Overall, a good and filling main.
Crayfish Miso was a nice, simple dish. This was a definite step up from the usual Miso, which was intensely umami thanks to the Crayfish. Additionally, there was some kind of citrus rind in it that gave the dish a greater complexity due to the mild, pleasing bitterness.
Finally, our dessert of Wasabi Cream Cheese Mousse was awesome. To begin with, it was a really well made set Cheesecake that was well balanced, light and not overly sweet. The Wasabi hit sat in the background humming along, giving a slight zing without ever overwhelming. Too much Wasabi would have been a bit gross while not enough would have seemed pointless, and they got the balance absolutely spot on. After the oversized main, it was great to have a light dish like this to end the meal.
The Verdict: Excellent +
In a wine region filled with many degustation-oriented restaurants, Miki's Open Kitchen stands out as one of the best value multi-course meals in the area, and an excellent Japanese restaurant in its own right. The $60 Trust Menu is filled with skillfully cooked dishes made from well sourced seafood from around Australia, with their Tempura being particularly impressive and inventive. The Open Kitchen layout also provided us with an interesting insight into the working process of the restaurant, with three chefs working all the stations in synchronised perfection and aided by high quality front of house staff. With its central location, Miki's is an essential dining experience while staying in Margaret River, and joins Italian restaurant La Scarpetta as one of our favourites on the main strip.