When Ben Williamson and Ben Bertei’s paths first crossed in Brisbane more than a decade ago, “the city’s cool restaurants were either steakhouses or fine diners,” says Williamson. “Apart from E’cco Bistro, that’s really all there was.”

The two classically trained chefs recognised the gap and set out to fill it: Williamson with Gerard’s Bistro, Bertei – alongside Tyron Simon – with Longtime Dining (now closed).

Then came Same Same, where Bertei – and later, Williamson – headed up the kitchen. “They closed Longtime and, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Same Same was born a day later,” says Williamson, who’s a partner in the Anyday group (which, alongside Same Same and its upstairs bar Los, also owns Japanese restaurant Honto, woodfire bistro Agnes and its spin-off bakery, and Italian trattoria Bianca).

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While Bertei has since broken away from the group, moving to Adelaide to open cuisine-crossing, Thai-inspired diner Kiin, the pair keep in touch and find inspiration in each other’s cooking – so much so, they’re set to join forces for an exciting reunion dinner in May. We took five with Williamson and Bertei to chat about their history and find out what’s in store for the event.

When did you guys first meet?

Ben Bertei: We’ve known each other for a long time. I think we first met at a Variety charity event. And even though Brisbane’s a big city, it’s a small city in a lot of ways, and you kind of know everyone. Ben came on board [with the group behind Same Same] just before the pandemic, when Agnes was about to launch. That’s when we started working together and not working together, really.

Ben Williamson: We were basically borrowing your staff, weren’t we?

BB: Pretty much. There was a lot of incestuous staff borrowing going on. I would pick his brain for something, he’d want to know something about Same Same and how we were doing dishes – things like that.

What are your memories of the Longtime Dining and Gerard’s Bistro days?

BW: Gerard’s was born from doing interesting food that was at that level but in a relaxed format – something I thought Brisbane was really lacking. And when Ben and Ty [Simon] opened Longtime a year or so later, it was completely raucous.

BB: It was a borderline nightclub.

BW: People complained the food was too spicy, Benny would spice it up. It was that sort of place – it was just the antithesis for people. And it was packed all the time. With no booking policy, people would line up for three hours to get into the place.

BB: We didn’t directly work together, but we were constantly in each other’s restaurants. We’d always have a good yarn and a good laugh.

BW: Ben would come to Gerard’s all the time, I’d come up and eat Ben’s food at Longtime all the time. I’d come and sit at the bar and harass him. And then towards the end – I was at Gerard’s for seven years – I decided I wanted to do something on my own. Because I loved Longtime so much I started talking to Ty, which is how Agnes was born, I suppose.

Do you still bounce ideas off each other?

BW: Definitely. When I sort of inherited Ben’s legacy at Same Same to take over, I had a lot of experience in classic cookery but not a lot of experience in Thai cookery. I spent a lot of time in Thailand so I understood to a degree, but I had to learn pretty quickly how the kitchen runs. I was in Ben’s ear a lot. I still am. I think we both have a love for massive, punchy flavours. What do you think, Benny?

BB: I was just going to say that – definitely. I think that’s why we had that spark and bond to begin with. I made the decision to go down the Asian route quite a while ago but obviously had the classical training, and I think that crosses over a lot now.

BW: It’s also that willingness to break the rules. The thing I love about the menu at Kiin – you used to do a bit of it at Same Same but you’re really leaning into it now – is “just break the rules”. Thai doesn’t have to be strictly traditional Thai. You can really have some fun with it and cross those boundaries and try something unique. I lived in the Middle East for five years but I never wanted to do a very traditional take on it. Then, after all those years cooking Middle Eastern food, I didn’t want to get pigeonholed to a particular cuisine anymore. With Agnes, the wood fire made sense in the context of this decrepit building we’d found. It was full of piles of pigeon crap, but it was a beautiful and unique building, and we wanted to harness that. As long as it makes sense in the context of the broader menu. That’s very much worked [at Agnes], and I think there’s a lot of similarity between that and what Ben’s doing down at Kiin.

You’re working on a very exciting Kiin x Agnes collaboration: a one-night-only reunion dinner in Adelaide. How did this Tasting Australia event come about?

BB: I’d always had this idea in my head since Agnes opened because I knew that if we put our minds to it, we could come up with something really exciting. Then I tried to do a sneaky trip up to Queensland and thought I was being quite crafty about it but I got spotted crossing a road, so Ben made a phone call. It kind of snowballed from there.

BW: What we’ve come up with is going to be quite unique. We thought rather than bringing Same Same down there, let’s make this an Agnes-meets-Thailand event and really lean into that woodfire concept and break some boundaries. I’m pretty nervous about coming down and executing it on the highest level, but I’m pretty excited.

Can you share any menu details?

BW: For the main we’re looking at fermenting some pork. We’re going to get some really good-quality heritage pork, of which there’s tons down in that part of the world, and ferment it in Thai rice, so you’re going to get a lot of that really funky lactic flavour coming into it.

BB: I’m excited about two of the little starters. You’ve got the tomato and nectarine toasts, but then combine that with lemongrass and chilli jam. Then there’s the tartlet with carrot and nahm jim. That to me screams “Agnes”, but with a twist. We’ve also got your obligatory stuffed chicken wing, but with Ben’s take on it, Buffalo style, and we’re trying to do a coconut version of the blue cheese sauce.

BW: Yeah, get some lemongrass in there and make it nice and funky, stuff it with a nice fermented Thai sausage or something along those lines.

What’s next on your respective career bucket lists?

BW: I would love to go on a trip to Thailand with Benny. I’ve done a few of them with Ty and while it’s fun, I reckon it would be a heap of fun with you, mate.

BB: I’m pretty eclectic. I like to hit the streets, cherrypick different restaurants and see what’s hot, what’s not. I just love Thailand. As soon as you get off the plane, that smell just hits you and juices start flowing. To go with someone like Ben would be amazing, because your brains are synced, and you start seeing stuff and talking about it and your imagination just goes.

BW: Maybe a joint restaurant in Bangkok, Benny, the two of us?

BB: I’d never say no to that.

Agnes x Kiin – a Reunion Dinner is on Wednesday May 8 at Kiin. Tickets are $475 and available online.