The concept behind Pepper Lunch is that of a fast food style self-grilled meats restaurant, or "fast steak" restaurant. It's a Japanese food chain that has spread throughout Asia and now Perth, offering relatively quick meat or fish based meals (with an emphasis on steak/beef) served on sizzling hot plates or bowls that allow you to cook to your own liking.
Having taken over one of the street facing shops on Barrack Street in the CBD, Pepper Lunch isn't a large restaurant by any means but amply seats enough to keep it bustling through the busy lunch crowd - larger groups of say more than four may have a bit of a wait or will need to come early or outside of peak times. However, in keeping with a fast food theme you are required to order at the counter after which they give you a number that you display on your table to assist them in bringing your order to your table. As you'd expect with this set up, the service isn't amazing but at least it's decent enough and the staff will help you out with ordering or with "do you know how to eat it?" assistance.
As you'd expect, the menu at Pepper Lunch is heavily based around grilling meats as well as the flavour of none other than pepper (from subtle to strong)! However, the menu is split between rice meals (rice with beef, chicken or salmon and sauce/flavours), J-Curry being rice meals served with pre-made Japanese curry, and main meals which are the beef, chicken and salmon steaks served directly on the hot plate with vegetables whilst steamed rice and miso are optional extras. Or if you can't decide between one meat, there is also a combo section where you can order more than one meat in your mains. However, prices generally start around the $10 mark for rice meals, through to $15-20 for the steak main meals plus rice.
Kimchi beef with cheese - $11.50
This meal, part of the pepper rice range, was a pre-cooked-rice based meal topped with raw slices of beef, kimchi, corn kernels and a stretchy cheese. All were served in the sizzling iron bowl, ready for you to combine the ingredients and cook the meat.
After cooking and combining the ingredients in this meal, and being the first dish I tried, I was pleasantly surprised with how satisfying it was. First and foremost, the kimchi gave the dish its overriding flavour, preventing it from being bland - the light red chilli and sweet but more so sour pickle elements amongst the other spices gave the dish a real kick of flavour. Adding to the kimchi preserved cabbage and flavours was a (true to Pepper Lunch's name) distinct pepper flavour, not enough to be overbearing but enough to be noticed.
Whilst the kimchi beef dish is available with or without cheese (with comes with an additional cost), if you love cheese then the with-cheese version is worth it. The cheese taste and its stretchy texture worked excellently with the kimchi and beef flavour of the dish.
Curry beef - $9.50
Similar to the Kimchi beef with cheese dish above, this meal came in a sizzling iron hot bowl ready to be cooked and combined.
The curry beef came with similar slices of beef and corn kernels, but was finished with a curry powder and pepper. Combining the dish, the meal definitely had a curry flavour. However, as the dish used a curry powder as opposed to the pre-cooked sauce based Japanese curries, the dish didn't seem as hearty (but on the other hand not as heavy) as a sauce-based curry dish and in fact seemed to have an almost powdery texture to it. This was further brought out by the pepper in the dish which overall meant the dish had a good level of curry and pepper flavour running through it.
So overall, whilst this definitely fit the description of a curry beef dish, my personal preference is to go for the sauce based J-curry dish instead. That dish in particular I found to be quite filling.
One bite cut - $11 (rice + miso or soft drink $3.50 upgrade)
Another (and possibly more special) part of the menu was the "main meal" section - filled with steaks, chicken and fish (salmon) dishes that were to be cooked to your liking, adding sauce as you so desire.
This "one bite cut" from the main menu section was a pre-cut steak served with some vegetables cleverly placed such that if your steak reached your cooking point of perfection you could move the remaining pieces on top of the vegetables rather than have to scoff them down before they overcooked on the sizzling iron plate.
The one bite cut beef was admittedly the basic grade of beef on the main menu. As such, the beef was a little tough though I'm not completely sure whether it was due to the beef itself or that perhaps it was left too long on the heat by the time I tried a piece. However, given there were options with higher grades (and marbelisation) of beef, I'd guess other cuts of steak could offer greater tenderness.
Overall though, the flavours of the dish were quite simple with no special marinades or additions other than simple sauces to add to the meat whilst it cooked. The novelty of cooking the steak and adding the side sauces was nice, but just expect that what you see is what you get.
We liked: The novelty factor; new tastes to the Perth CBD scene; some satisfying meals for lunch.
We didn't like: Some of the dishes can be a bit plain tasting, but this is (upmarket) fast food; due to the (effectively) open grills at each table, you can end up smelling like your lunch.
Other things to note: During peak times, there can be a bit of a wait for a table; despite being called Pepper Lunch, it's also open some dinners.
Shop 5g, 95 Barrack Street
PERTH WA 6000
(08) 9325 3532
Sunday to Thursday - 11am to 9pm
Friday to Saturday - 11am to 10pm