THE BRITISH IMPORT, AND ONE-TIME GORDON RAMSAY PROTÉGÉ, ON THE CONTINUED RISE OF SO-CALLED PUB GRUB.
We love to bend the arm down the boozer, but over the past few years, things have changed. Pub dining Down Under has dusted off its dark, pokie-den demeanour to shine a bright light on what it means to eat in a local watering hole, taking restaurants head on. Given the social signifcance of gastro pubs in the UK, it’s no surprise expat chef James Wallis is integral in leading this charge by dishing up top nosh at Sydney’s The Tilbury. With a stellar CV featuring two AA rosettes for his work at Manchester’s Room Restaurant, and, more notably, being crowned by Gordon Ramsay as Best British restaurant for Sheffeld’s Milestone, Wallis took the reins of the Woolloomooloo haunt last May, overseeing its revamp with a focus on local produce. He sat down with GQ to talk food, Ramsay and the future of pub dining.
GQ: You’ve worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK – how do they compare to hatted restaurants in Australia?
James Wallis: Though the accolades are determined via different guidelines, the prestige is carried through and you can expect an impeccable dining experience at both. It’s been exciting to get access to the vast array of produce that Australia has and use only the freshest ingredients at The Tilbury.
GQ: Gordon Ramsay named you as Best British restaurant, what’d that mean for you?
JW: As you can expect, working with Gordon Ramsay at Milestone, and being named ‘Best British Restaurant’, was a career-defning experience. Gordon is an incredible chef and an even tougher taskmaster who I learnt so much from. One of the most important lessons was keep it simple and let the food speak for itself.
GQ: How do British gastro pubs compare to the Australian equivalent?
JW: Australia has an amazing pub dining culture. It’s rare to fnd an outside dining space like The Tilbury’s, and to be around such great produce is inspiring.
GQ: Are you cooking the food you did in the UK, or have you altered it for this market?
JW: In the UK I worked closely with suppliers to ensure we only served the best seasonal produce, and we are doing so here too. Australia loves seafood, so we make sure to use the best seasonal produce in its prime.
GQ: What sort of impact did the recent redesign of the Tilbury have on the menu?
JW: It was a great excuse to reinvigorate things. Keeping in line with the playfulness and colours of the new ft-out, we had a bit of fun with the menu – incorporating colour across all of our dishes using ingredients such as watermelon and pink peppercorn.
GQ: Where do you see pub food in the future?
JW: Australians will always love pubs and the two [pubs and restaurants] will evolve independently, with such a vast array of styles and markets to cater to, they’ll always be styles to suit all demographics. It depends on the experience you’re after.
GQ: What are your top three restaurant experiences since moving here?
JW: Sydney’s Mohr Fish for its simplicity and produce, Nomad for the interesting favour combinations and restaurant ft-out, and Firedoor for its meat cuts and the fact it’s cooked to order on the grill.
GQ: Tell us about your signature dish.
JW: At the moment it’s a scallop dish with turnip, pig’s tail and seaweed. Playing on a real rich man poor man theme, the humble turnip is treated with as much respect as the scallop, cooked frst in miso then pan seared like the scallop. Served as a silky puree and also raw, this pairing is all brought together with the fattiness of the pig’s tail. The Tilbury, 12-18 Nicholson St, Woolloomooloo Sydney; tilburyhotel.com.au
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