As the founder of Gather Food & Wine and the former executive chef at Press, Tom Tilbury has built his name in fine-dining settings with a sharp focus on produce and producers. His next project, as the culinary director of Aces, is a bit of a shift in course. And that’s the point.
“[The change] was super exciting, the fact it was different but also really close to my heart,” Tilbury tells Broadsheet. “Spending so much time at the Central Markets and that Gouger Street area – it’s just such a food bowl in terms of restaurants and culture. It’s so interesting. And my food style, if I look deep into it, is quite Italian anyway … So it just felt really natural.
“The venue itself is in an incredible location … Gouger Street is getting a big overhaul and Field Street and the mall are getting renovated so that area is coming back to strength. It’s always busy on a Friday and Saturday night but it’s gonna be revamped and neatened up and that’s exciting for the city.”
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Aces was operated by the Fantasia family for 30 years before new partners came on board in late 2019. The venue closed in early 2022 following a publicised pay dispute and the impact of Covid. Its new iteration – in a two-storey site on the corner of Gouger and Moonta streets, right next to the paifang archway – brings Tilbury on as a partner alongside the Fantasias and investor FRP Capital.
Whereas the original Aces had retro pizza bar vibes, its new iteration (with a fit-out by Frame Creative) will be more upmarket and ambitious, complete with crockery from 288-year-old luxe Italian brand Ginori 1735, an open kitchen, a private dining room with a lazy Susan, chefs in white, and front-of-house footwear supplied by Vans.
“It’s ’80s New York-Italian vibes,” Tilbury says. “Very red with black-and-white chequered tiles, a lot of timber, some cool statues here and there … I think it’s safe to say it’s completely different [to the old Aces].”
“Everything hits on nostalgia and things people may be familiar with, which is nice,” he continues. “Everyone’s always trying to find the new thing and push forward a little bit but it’s nice to touch on what’s been around for a long time, and what people love about going to eat out.”
Expect a classic menu of whole fish, steaks, and handmade pastas like southern rock lobster ravioli in a rich lobster broth with crispy chilli, a “next-level” carbonara, and a dish inspired by the snow crab with garlic butter on egg noodles at former Sydney institution Golden Century. “We’re gonna do it with vongole and handmade spaghetti,” says Tilbury.
Unlike its predecessor, there won’t be pizza. But there will be a range of small plates including a family meatball recipe from the Fantasias (made with pork and veal from The Dairyman in the Barossa), oysters with lardo and pink pepper, parmesan fritters with anchovies and pickled onions, a seasonal fish crudo, beef carpaccio, mortadella buns and more.
“I’ve put together a menu that’s very me in terms of the small plates and snacks, but fitting in that Italian ethos with some ’80s nostalgia items, and some little nods to Chinatown as well,” says Tilbury. “We’re in such an amazing location for Chinese culture – you’ll be eating in the dining room looking at the arches.
“Italian and Chinese mould really well together.” So much so, Tilbury and his team will be serving up lunchtime Yum Ciao – Aces’ spin on yum cha with roving Italian small plates instead of dim sum.
Aces will open later this year at 96 Gouger Street, Adelaide.