FROM DAWN TILL DARK
A CHEF WHO CARES ABOUT THE ‘MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY’ IS QUITE A RARITY – WELCOME TO A1 CANTEEN.
Clayton Wells has a thing for breakfast. He likes eating breakfast and he likes cooking breakfast. For a chef with a fine dining restaurant who works late nights, this is rare. In fact his colleagues all thought he was slightly crazy opening up an establishment that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“I like all things breakfast and chefs don’t say that very often,” Wells tells WISH one afternoon at his new all-day restaurant called A1 Canteen in Chippendale in inner Sydney. “Everyone keeps saying to me ‘why would you open something that is open first thing in the morning?’ but I actually enjoy it.”
A1 Canteen is the second restaurant for Wells and the second restaurant he has done in partnership with Singapore-based boutique hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng. His fine-dining venue Automata was the first restaurant to open in the Old Clare Hotel and Kensington Street redevelopment – part of the total transformation of an old brewery site in Chippendale.
“It was just under three years ago, almost to the day,” says Wells of Automata’s opening, which offers only tasting menus. “I just wanted to do something on the casual side of things. There is nothing really open around here all day, from breakfast through to dinner. I just found there was a bit of a need for it. Across the road is a university, we have the ABC around the corner and there are all these little architectural studios in Chippendale, so there are a lot of people around here.”
Wells experimented with the concept as a pop-up in the Old Clare Hotel 18 months ago and it was a success (both with the customers and with Wells liking cooking breakfast as much as he had hoped), and so A1 was born. It is across the street from Automata, so they can share kitchens, staff and ideas for new dishes. It does breakfast, lunch, dinner and, of course, good coffee.
“It’s my version of the classic Western-style breakfast,” he says of his brunch menu. “We are not reinventing the wheel. There is nothing crazy in there. “It is still scrambled eggs on a muffin with a sausage. It is just looking for quality ingredients that are not outrageous. I just wanted it to be a place that served good quality food with my take on it.” That take includes bacon sandwich with cheddar, fermented cucumber and Branston pickle or tomatoes on toast with harissa dressing and smoked fetta. Lunch is salads and sandwiches (the muffuletta, an Italian pressed sandwich, is especially a hit) and dinner are dishes made to share (a break from the tasting menu at Automata).
Wells’ take on casual dining is on the money as A1 Canteen has only been open for a few months and has already taken out multiple awards, including The Weekend Australian Magazine’s hottest new restaurant for 2018. “No, not at all,” Wells says when asked whether he expected such praise so early on. “It is very nice to have that recognition and see people are excited by what we are doing.”