65 Ocean Street, Woollahra, NSW (02) 8388 8688 or www.chiswickrestaurant.com.au
The approach at the recently opened Chiswick in Sydney’s Woollahra, is part of the trend towards de-formalisation in dining. The first thing you might ask: “‘De-formalisation…’ is that even a word?” Fair point and sincerest apologies to the philologists amongst our readership. But what distinguishes de-formalisation in dining from the merely informal on the one hand and the formal on the other, is that it involves the quality and techniques of a fine dining experience in a de-formalised, de-constructed context. Think Café Vue at Heide in relation to Vue de Monde, Shortgrain in relation to Longgrain and here, Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan’s Chiswick in relation to Aria. De-formalisation, where signature style and menu items are crystallised and packaged for accessibility and affordability without sacrificing excellence, is a business model that has seen some growth and success, as the top end of the market re-calibrates to the economic climate and changing customer sentiment. Not as if that was necessarily Moran and Sullivan’s objective here. Their approach was somewhat determined by the site. GARDEN PARTY Chiswick is located in Woollahra’s Chiswick Gardens at the much-loved, sorely missed, former Prunier’s Restaurant. The restaurant’s suburban, garden setting demands a casual, local, family-oriented approach. Its low lying converted stables, which now resemble a contemporary glasshouse, has French doors that open directly onto the gardens. Children can play on the lawn in full view — after not finishing their meals and being excused anyway — while their parents finish theirs. The vegetable garden that partially supplies the kitchen begs to be be meandered through. A drink can be taken onto the portico where one can loll contentedly on the bench seat. It’s all very Sunday family lunch, spontaneous weeknight dinner at the long refectory table and see who you run into, or book a table with people you like and share the many dishes on the menu designed precisely for that. Locals have a great attachment to the Chiswick site and its history.
As with much of Woollahra, Chiswick Gardens were once part of the 1130-acre Cooper Estate. Mr Cooper and his ‘wife’, for which nearby Cooper Park is named, were a fabulously eccentric couple of which there are many stories to be told (including ours on the Bite Club in this same issue, which also has the Coopers at its core). Sidle up to a second or third generation local at Chiswick and ask if they have a Cooper connection and listen to the history of the place unfold. Some of that history will include when the council acquired the private garden for use as a public park in 1938, and when the main house was demolished and the stables converted, into what is now the restaurant. One of the most significant historical moments in the story will be in 1971, when restaurateur Tony Geminis moved his earlier-established Pruniers from Double Bay to the Chiswick Gardens. Its 65-year legacy, 40 of them in Woollahra, is a testament to a tenure that restaurateurs rarely achieve. If Moran and Sullivan can achieve anything like that, they’ll be happy. Those who aren’t going to be happy however are the brides of Woollahra. In its incarnation as Prunier’s the venue was host to many a wedding reception, possibly due to the proximity of All Saints a few doors down. Chiswick won’t be doing them. Sorry. No discussion will be entered into. What it is doing though, has been well received to date with tables booked four weeks in advance.
INTERACTIVE TABLE FOR TWO
The approach at Chiswick is a three pronged one, based around de-formalisation as already discussed, interactivity and traceability. Interactivity is embedded in the menu with the shared dishes that include a whole roasted dory, beef ale pie, a wood-roasted chicken and the Moran family lamb. The kitchen is interactive to the extent that it is open to view, adding to the theatricality of the experience, as is the kitchen garden where the chefs ‘forage’ for herbs and vegetables. There is also a degree of interactivity between the inside and outside written into the design of the place afforded by the French doors that open onto the garden. The style of service is also more casual and conversational and therefore interactive with an aim of putting people at ease. Part of that ease is due to experience and familiarity. The front of house team and the chefs have in fact all worked with Moran and Sullivan before. Head chef, Tim Bryan racked up six years with Moran in the kitchen at Aria, as well as The Square in London. Marta Presciutti leads the team on the floor, having worked at The Fat Duck until 2009 and at ARIA for the past two years. Christina on reception and Richie and Laura are all come from Aria, with a couple of others nabbed form the nearby Four-in-Hand.
LOCAL & TRACEABLE
Keeping it in the family, much of the lamb and beef is sourced for Chiswick as is Aria’s from Moran’s father, Jim’s farm, in Rockley near Bathhurst. This contributes to the principle of traceability informing the approach at Chiswick. What Jim can’t provide is sourced form Victor Churchill’s in Woollahra and likewise while the menu includes comment on what is good in the garden, like beetroot, broadbeans, snow peas and rhubarb, what the garden can’t provides is traceably sourced. Those old enough to remember, say that Chiswick is a reprise of Moran and Sullivan’s first venture, the Paddington Inn Bistro which launched their careers two decades ago. Maybe like many successful people after a certain point they want to revisit the very thing that excited them in the first place. Moran said, “Peter and I have always wanted to create a ‘locals restaurant’ — a place where you can drop in to share a plate and have a drink at the bar after work or enjoy a long Sunday lunch with close family and friends. Chiswick is the sort of place we would want in our neighbourhood — produce-driven dishes and shared plates; friendly and accessible.”
Story: Heather Barton