Hole lotta love
ON HIS farm behind Brighton, Richard Weston grows baby turnips that taste like apples, asparagus so fresh and tender you can eat it raw, plus olives, heritage tomatoes, eggplants, peas, beans, beets and a heap of herbs, salad leaves and vegetables for the almost exclusive use of Garagistes, Ethos, MONA and Pigeon Hole.
Gesturing to his farm and the land extending beyond to the hills of Broadmarsh, he says: “This is virgin land. It’s run sheep but has never seen the plough and the soil is deep, rich and full of life – just perfect for what we’re growing.”
Early last December, he made a sideways move and bought Pigeon Hole as Jay Patey – who had established the cafe as one of the most popular in town – moved on to concentrate on his Pigeon Whole Bakery business and its relocation from Moonah to the revamped old Mercury building in the city.
Weston says the purchase was driven by his passionate belief that the future of food lies in its freshness and provenance and by his desire to better showcase his farm’s produce.
In this respect, Weston could not have appointed a chef more in tune with his own philosophy than Thomas Westcott, who had worked around the traps for some time before completing the final two years of his apprenticeship under Luke Burgess at Garagistes.
“My ideal restaurant,” Westcott says, “Would be one where you brought nothing in and instead based your menus on things you grew and provided yourself. Self- sufficiency, sustainability, vertical integration [ ugh!], call it what you will. “But this is what we’re trying to do here.” Initially he and the cafe’s long- time chef, Ash Bonney, stuck close to Pigeon Hole’s tried and trusted style.
While the cafe’s retro furnishings and decor, mismatched crockery, cutlery and the popular panini and baked eggs are all still there, since their Christmas- New Year break, Westcott says they’re now slowly introducing to the menu dishes using more of Weston’s produce and better suited to the chefs’ personal styles.
Two of these new dishes I tried at breakfast last week were outstanding.
The first was a bowl of fresh broad beans simply blanched and served cold, dressed with excellent local olive oil mixed through with crisped flakes of lovage. This was sprinkled with a topping of fish floss, which the kitchen had made in an Asian- inspired technique from mackerel fillets salted and air- dried until stiff and hard before being shredded, flossed and fluffed.
The second was a more straightforward offering of sliced pickled ox tongue and cumin- pickled zucchini, the acids off- set by the sweetness of small dollops of raisin puree.