Former Arc Dining and Saint Peter head chef Alanna Sapwell will return to the kitchen in July with her new pop-up restaurant, Esmay. There’s just one catch: you’ll need to travel up the M1 to visit, with Sapwell taking over Danielle Gjestland’s celebrated Wasabi restaurant on the Noosa River.
Gjestland's longterm plans to sell Wasabi have taken a backseat since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Sapwell's pop-up will follow on from the restaurant's recently wrapped Wasbi-Sabi takeaway menu.
“I’d been looking around Brisbane for a place to do a pop-up,” Sapwell says. “Then Dan came to me and said, ‘What do you think about Noosa? I know this great waterfront restaurant.’ I didn’t think I’d be in a position to go from waterfront restaurant to waterfront restaurant, but there you go.”
Sapwell says she had a lot of time after Arc Dining’s sudden closure in March to reflect on what she wanted to do next.
“It was something independent,” she says, “but I didn’t have $300,000 up my sleeve, so that’s why I looked at doing a pop-up.”
Esmay will open on July 15 with a daily set menu priced at $60 per person. What’s cooked will depend on what’s available locally day-to-day, but Sapwell says to expect snacks such as crispy mountain potatoes with nettles and truffles, and Mooloolaba sweet spanner crab toasties. Mains might be local flathead served with chestnut mushrooms and warrigal greens, or Bendele Farm organic spatchcock with black garlic and bread sauce.
Otherwise, Sapwell is planning to lean on local suppliers such as fisherman Chris Arnold, who stops each day at the jetty outside Wasabi.
“[Chris Arnold] comes up with the most spectacular fish,” Sapwell says. “But to work with him, you need to buy the whole catch. It could be all different fish and you have to commit to the whole kit and caboodle. Which is fine for me and ideal for the restaurant, because you’re throwing away your menus every day due to Covid-19.”
She’ll also be making good use of Gjestland’s own Honeysuckle Hill Farm in Pomona.
“Dan really downplayed [Honeysuckle Hill]. We got there and it’s a dream farm. Even the chickens are all different – they’re all beautiful and completely unique. There are all these eggs that are a range of colours.
“That’s why we’ve shaped the menu as we have … There’s only a limited amount of certain ingredients. There’s a lot of native Australian stuff there, so things I’ve never come across, but you [might] have 20 serves of that and then you won’t see it again. It’s quite fun to play with all these ingredients and give people a unique experience.”
For drinks, former Arc sommelier Ian Trinkle has helped Sapwell put together a compact wine list of sparkling, whites and reds, favouring new-world producers in lighter styles.
As for opening a pop-up in the middle of a global pandemic, Sapwell says it’s the ideal time to try something new, as diners have become used to changing restaurant experiences.
“We’re not in an environment where anyone expects a restaurant to be run a certain way,” she says. “We already know the framework of what Covid has done and what we’re up against. So we’ve shaped this pop-up around those expectations.”