Dinner at Juni is a Journey

Juni is not for everyone.

Which is not normally how I start the review of a Michelin starred chef’s (Shaun Hergatt’s) restaurant.

But it isn’t. You have to like fish. You have to like strange textures. You have to like being out of your element, and you even have to like sometimes not liking the food.

You have to love the journey.

And then you will love Juni.

The restaurant is located in a hotel – it has a modern, low key decor that could be any mid-upscale restaurant in any city. It’s nothing special.

And then the food starts to come.


20140809_192911 Baguette with green olive tapenade and saffron aioli

The saffron aioli is fragrant and reminiscent of paella – it’s heady and rich, to much for some people but just perfect for me. The tapenade is a wholly different experience. There is no taste of olives at all – it is salty, but not briny or slightly bitter like olives sometimes are. The tapenade is incredibly garlicky, salty, and is almost like a very smooth pesto. The warm baguette absorbs the savory flavors and the emulsion just sinks into the crevices of the bread, making it a flavor bomb before the meal even officially starts.  20140809_193851 Goat cheese and carrot chip

Yep. The cheese is dense and a little tangy, and the chip is extremely brittle, almost melting into a sugary sweet, carrot-y taste. It’s fun and unexpected – I have rarely had anything so simple yet so well-balanced to start a long meal.

20140809_194244 Raw zucchini with tomatoes and cucumber gelee

This man loves vegetables and it shows. Here, a pristine zucchini, no longer than my forefinger, is hollowed and filled with earthy, ripe tomatoes confit and jiggly cubes of light, almost sweet cucumber gelee. It’s all about the pure taste of the vegetables, which are at their peaks this time of year. It couldn’t be more delightful.
20140809_194703 Beets

A gelatin bonbon that is for all the world like beet jello. Earthy, tangy, extremely beet-y. Loved it.  20140809_195036 Chicken skin

But it’s vegetarian, made with oats. Tastes JUST like chicken skin. The best part of fried chicken. I could chomp this like popcorn.  20140809_195233 Ham and cheese sandwich

With crispy Iberico  ham and very sharp cheese spread. Cheese Whiz this ain’t!

For the tasting, I got the tomato tasting menu. It’s served though September and all that I can say is: GET IT!

20140809_195837 Tomato carpaccio with freeze-dried goat cheese

Soft, lush segments of tomatoes with the richness of sundried tomatoes but none of the salty flavor or leathery texture. The flavors of the earth and the powder texture of the freeze dried goat cheese work well together.
20140809_201603 Tomato gazpacho with toybox tomaotes

Well balanced – none of the abrasive, acidic punch of lesser versions. Smooth and thick, with tons of super sweet toybox tomatoes and a verdant, basil laden panna cotta in the middle.  20140809_202914 Halibut with tomato concasse

The best piece of halibut I have had in I don’t know how long. The flavors are simple and straightforward – fresh fish, sweet tomatoes, and a little hit of something spicy, but not overly hot. It’s light, it’s fresh, and it’s classic technique at its finest – no molecular gastronomy here, no smoke and mirrors. Just perfectly butchered and cooked fish that is mild and flaky, in a light tomato sauce.  20140809_204646 Braised lamb belly and tomatoes with pommes puree

Dish of the night. Shaun Hergatt himself came around to every single table and chatted with us about the dish. He was charming, jovial, and told us that we like it because it’s so much like American bbq. He started playing around with braising lamb belly until it is soft and melting in his 20s, and now finally got to put it on his menu. Layering it with bright and sweet tomatoes really gives it a bbq-sauce type of taste, and the cloud of potatoes is buttery and light – ideal with the fatty, tender lamb. This is dynamite.  20140809_211107 Goat cheese and caramel ice cream with tomato marmalade and candied pecans

Sweet and creamy. Like dulce de leche with a slightly piquant taste from the goat milk. Crunchy candied nuts and jammy, wonderfully sweet tomato marmalade. This tomato menu really fit the bill.

The whole meal was fascinating – I didn’t even show you the foie gras and cherry bon bon, the squid ink and truffle bites, or the burrata ice cream. Not everything was the best I’ve ever had, but it was all so interesting. I would totally recommend that a major foodie come here, because you have to want to try new and different things. Hyssop, lamb’s tongue, and oyster leaves (yep, they TOTALLY taste like oysters) were also on the table. The format has several different price points and the kitchen is super flexible. The staff is lovely, the chef himself is always in the kitchen (now, THAT’S a rarity, these days), and the food…I mean, we had bbq lamb in a fancy restaurant.

It really was one hell of a ride.