Papa Jack’s has found a new Papa (head chef)
** Note: I was an invited guest on behalf of Papa Jack’s.
Keeping with their Creole-inspired roots in the deep south, new Head Chef Nathan Wood brings a revamped food and drinks menu. I was recently invited along for a media menu launch to try some of their best dishes. Some are new cuts of meat (pork short ribs which are meatier and easier to handle) while others are just popular combinations (chicken and waffles with maple syrup, yo!). It may seem they’re moving away from French influences (no more crab souffle) but that doesn’t mean their menu lacks refinement.
You can’t come to Papa Jack’s without a cocktail which they pride themselves on as much as their food options. We were welcomed by an elegant pink floral bomb, Lady Henrietta. Hendrick’s gin and rose tea and apricot liquer smells so good it could be a perfume. This gin-lover approves.
We begin our meal with blackened barramuni tacos with corn tortillas. Good tortilla (corn >> flour) but this fish was a little lacking on spice to match the punch of the lime. I wish I had hot sauce to add to it as well! Followed by deep fried, braised pork cheeks. So tender and just really nice meaty, slightly sweet pork flavour. A decent tart-sweet-crunchy apple slaw on the side. Simple, tasty. Put the money where the cheek is (pictured at top of page).
Next up, the Internet-popularised American phenomenon – fried chicken and (broccoli) waffles. Served with maple syrup, chipotle and blue cheese butters and sous vide watermelon. The waffles were fluffy and only slightly crispy in contrast to the deep-fried boneless chicken which could have been crunchier. It’s a fun, novelty dish – and frankly, waffles for dinner! Who isn’t a fan of brinner?! The blue cheese butter was very overpowering which made the chipotle butter pale in comparison. I felt there were too many flavour combos in addition to the maple syrup. The refreshing watermelon between bites is a good palate cleanser though.
Another classic combination with a little more refinement – pan seared scallops with creamed corn. One of the few non-deep fried dishes. So that makes it healthy, right? The size of this dish is a little lacklustre compared to the other dishes. But then again scallops are worth their weight in gold and it tastes so right.
PJ’s chicken wings with the hot sauce was another crowd-pleaser dish. You can’t go wrong. Others at the table found this hotter than they expected but I have a high heat tolerance. There is a BBQ version available FYI. Lucky for me, this means I was able to finish these up. “SHALL NO FOOD GO TO WASTE” is my mantra. This version is on the saucy, wet side of the buffalo wing scale rather than the crispy version. Served with a blue cheese dressing. These may not be the best wings I’ve ever had, but they’re a decent fix for that unrelenting chicken wing craving (not just me, right?).
It doesn’t end here – we listened to our stomachs and gave them ears. Crispy pig’s ears stuffed with white bean puree and roasted pecans. I wasn’t sure what to expect and how it was going to be served from this dish but I really liked it! It was crispy and crunchy and I thought it looked a lot more refined compared to the other more “casual eatery” menu options. Unexpectedly pleased and one of my favourites of the night. Order this if you want to impress someone with your sophisticated openness to food.
In case you had thought we hadn’t got to the business end of the meal, a massive wooden slab is plonked down on the table with a serious looking JD & Coke 24-hr slow cooked pork short rib with a side of fries topped with cheese fondue and bacon crumbs. I’ll be honest there possibly could’ve been a lot of meat sweats and happy tears over eating this dish. The pork flavour was great. Wherever they’re sourcing their pork from, it’s good. The ribs are not drowned in sauce but still have plenty of smoky, sweet flavour which I love. Another favourite.
Fries. Look, they’re covered in cheese and bacon. This isn’t pretending to be fine dining let alone fine dining quality so expect nothing extraordinary. The cheese fondue was a little scant for the serving size. Impressed by the actual tiny, crumb-sized bacon (how?!) for that bit of texture and additional saltiness. Think of it like salt but in the form of bacon.
Truffled mac and cheese. Jalapeño poppers. This ain’t no sext. These are the other dishes that we sampled. The truffled mac and cheese has a delicious herb and parmesan crust but for the mac and cheese itself it was average. A subtle hint of truffle but the sauce erred on the powdery side. The poppers, stuffed with cream cheese and topped with bacon dust was a bit of a mess as they were served in halves losing the ability to “pop” them in your mouth. Tasty, if not executed in the best way.
I’m a big fan of aperitifs; they’re little mini low-alcohol drinks to assist with digestion – in theory. I just find them a nice way to end a good meal with something sweet without ordering dessert. Y’know, when you’ve eaten too much already but crave a little sugar. This unnamed night cap contains Amaro Montenegro, espresso coffee, maple and cinnamon sugar rim. Just ask for it. And don’t say no if offered it.
Overall, the drinks are perfect as always. The dishes from the new menu stand up well but my favourite picks would be the pork cheeks, the pork ribs and the pig’s ears. If you have a friend who’s a fan of the magical animal from which these come from then Papa Jack’s has you covered.