Sav Sexton loves digging into retro Australiana. During their time at Good Gilbert, the chef plated up Wonder White (alongside a sustainable seafood platter), a caesar salad-inspired tartare, a fritz and chip sandwich with guindilla gribiche, and house-made Viennetta with miso caramel.
For their new gig at House of George – the new iteration of the Big Easy Group’s Yiasou George, on the corner of East Terrace and Vardon Avenue – Sexton is putting Ritz crackers on the menu.
The star canapé of ’70s dinner parties gets fancy here with a coil of anchovy-style whiting, a dob of “café de Vardon” butter – a spin on café de Paris butter that swaps out curry powder for tabil, a North African spice mix – and a dollop of smoked Yarra Valley salmon roe. The playful little number is an ode to chef Mitch Orr’s signature Jatz crackers at his Sydney diner Kiln.
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“[Big Easy Group director] OJ went to Sydney and ate at Kiln and … he was like, ‘I loved this silly little Jatz cracker anchovy thing.’ And I was like, ‘Awesome.’ So it’s definitely a riff off that,” Sexton tells Broadsheet. “We’ve made our own anchovies with local yellowfin whiting, but treated them the way anchovies get treated: they’ve been pickled, brined and smoked. And – this is controversial – I prefer Ritz over Jatz … but I feel like I’m right in saying that.”
From Ritz crackers to a smoky tangle of “grown-up” salt and pepper squid served with saltbush and mountain pepper, Sexton enjoys playing with nostalgia.
“I think a lot of people’s favourite dishes aren’t like an amazing 20-element dish they had in a three-hat restaurant,” says Sexton, who was cooking at Brisbane’s Alba Bar & Deli and Stokehouse Q before moving to Adelaide in 2021. “I think it’s like Sunday roast that they had in their mum’s house, or a hot summer day having a vanilla soft-serve. Most people’s favourite food is attached to a memory. Ritz remind me of after-school snacks with a tub of sweet chilly Philly.”
The crackers are also making an appearance – served in a sleeve alongside some dips – on the menu next door at Stag Public House, which Sexton is also overseeing these days. “The Stag had its menu revival a couple of weeks ago … I’ve pushed it in a more Australiana-retro direction … You know, we’ve put a roast of the day back on – just revamping those pub classics.”
The addition of Sexton to the team was the catalyst for House of George’s new name and expanded brief. The diner is moving beyond its Greek influences and weaving in flavours from the wider Mediterranean, as well as northern and southern Africa – with Sexton’s family heritage reflected in South African dishes such as the spongy, sticky, woodfired malva pudding.
“It’s South Africa’s version of sticky date … but instead of dates it’s an apricot-forward pudding,” says Sexton. “We’re making this awesome ouzo butterscotch that gets poured over it while it’s still hot so the cake soaks it all in. And just serving it with a big spoon and vanilla bean gelato.”
Fire now plays an even bigger role in the kitchen. Previously anchored by a wood oven next to the dining room, it now includes an open-flame grill (where Sexton is blistering Turkish snake peppers from K&R Produce, to serve with toum and shavings of smoked cheddar) and a rotisserie (put to good use for a “porchetta-style” lamb rump stuffed with merguez sausage – in honour of Yiasou George’s signature woodfired lamb).
“We’re using Margra lamb from New South Wales, which has been dubbed the Wagyu of Australian lamb,” says Sexton. “The lambs have a lot of intramuscular fat, which is the marbling that happens in Wagyu. We butterfly it, stuff it with lamb merguez sausage and cook it over the fire.” It’s then served with anchovy dressing, macadamia skordalia and chicken jus. “It’s like surf and turf on steroids,” Sexton laughs.
The kitchen itself is also a place of familiarity and nostalgia for Sexton. “The whole kitchen has moved into the dining room now, so when you walk in from Vardon Avenue you’re looking straight into the open kitchen and it does kind of feel like you’re walking into someone’s living room,” says Sexton. “In Africa, a lot of living rooms have open mini-hearths built in next to the fireplace, so it’s pretty commonplace for Afrikaners to grill meat in the living room, like, sitting on the couch next to their friends. So it definitely reminds me of that.
“It’s really inviting and warm.”
House of George (30 Vardon Avenue, Adelaide), opens on June 2.