Built around his love of Chinese food and driven by his distinctly personal interpretation of it, Andrew McConnell has gathered creatives, artists and designers to collaborate on creating the sensory adventure that is Golden Fields, his first solo restaurant. "For me it's about a longing to want to cook the food I ate when I lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong for five years,” he says. “I ate Chinese food everyday and it became a significant part of my life. These are flavours I am comfortable with – I cook them at home.”
Andrew is describing why, after helming two popular and highly regarded restaurants in Melbourne – Gertrude Street’s Cutler & Co and the lauded Cumulus Inc in Flinders Lane – he has opened another restaurant. Though some would suggest it crazy, for the award-winning chef, it's about achieving a long-held goal. "This is something I've always wanted to do and haven't really had the chance until now.”
Refusing to be pigeonholed, Andrew is clear about what his new project is, and is not. "It’s not a Chinese restaurant, it’s a modern restaurant influenced by my time living and travelling in Asia,” he says. And when you take a seat in Golden Fields, it is exactly this sense of purposeful self-expression Andrew wants to share with his diners.
It’s written all over the Golden Fields menu. In lieu of bread, you’ll receive pumpkin seeds roasted with soy. Platters and bowls in simple stainless steel house fat pork dumplings with a classic Shanghai dipping sauce of black vinegar and chilli; a playful take on Peking Duck sees twice-cooked duck with pockets of steamed bread, vinegar and plum sauce to be assembled and eaten like a sandwich; a salad of chrysanthemum and watercress is splashed with a subtle yet distinctive dressing of ginger oil and white sesame oil; poached crayfish in a hot buttered roll with Kewpie mayonnaise is already a mainstay.
Each dish is executed intelligently with texture and balance and when you move out into the greater parts of the dining room this quality is continued and maintained. Every element of the restaurant has been tried, tested and designed and tried, tested and designed again, from the texture on the bottom of the hand-made ceramic dining plate made by ceramicist and artist Shane Kent and subtle use of wood for only the tables and chairs, to the almost animated, rich red chicken feet protruding from one wall (each covered with 14 coats of paint).
But realising one’s own vision often requires the expertise of others. While Andrew’s childhood love of art and experience working with business partner and former wife, architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb have clearly informed his work, opening a solo venture has seen him employ an impressive group of creative’s, artisans and designers helmed by Dion Hall and Nick Cox from Projects of Imagination, to forge a singular narrative that not only expresses who he is but also how intently he considers the diner.
Tracking the progress of the build over the last few months – from the scattering of workbenches, clouds of dust and screech of drills that filled the space in March, to a space that was finding its spatial and textural cohesion in April – and checking in with Andrew and his creative team has exposed what perhaps some people already knew about the chef and restaurateur. Not only does he get how to feed people, he understands the importance of the design process and its impact on diners’ experiences.
Indeed, a standard Chinese dining hall Golden Fields certainly is not. "I've been quite careful about getting away from a lot of those clichés,” says McConnell. “No calligraphy on the walls or Chinese figures.
“The room will really develop its own personality throughout."
The Golden Fields experience may be one brimming with design-based details but each element never fails to highlight the core reason it has been created – good food and a place for us to enjoy it.
Read more about the people involved in the making of Golden Fields.
The Fit Out- Architecture and Interior Design by Projects of Imagination
Dion Hall, co-director and founder of design studio Projects of Imagination (with business partner Nick Cox) coordinated the design for McConnell. It’s the first time the pair have worked together. “I like what the guys at Projects of Imagination did at Pandora’s Box [in Prahran],” says McConnell of his collaborator.... read more
Shane Kent, of Kent & Others, is a Melbourne-based lecturer, artist and ceramicist who trained in Japan in the late 1970s. His deep awareness and understanding of Eastern ceramics and its interpretation was a good fit for Golden Fields and the exploration into what form ‘the plate’ would take assumed many forms...read more
The Identity- Logo, Menus, Cards and Signage by Studio Round
Nuance, texture, geometry and metaphors need a collective identity. So to find one image that would bring it all together, McConnell enlisted long-time friend and collaborator, Michaela Webb, director of the design team at Studio Round, to develop Golden Fields’ identity... read more
The Staff - Managed by Leeroy Kirk-Walker.
All of this design, all of this energy, means nothing without service and staff moving throughout the room. This room has to function as a restaurant on a daily basis, otherwise all this work has been for nothing. McConnell’s manager Leeroy Kirk-Walker is responsible for the daily operations of Golden Fields... read more