Brunswick East’s refined-but-casual diner, Etta, last week announced that former Ramblr head chef Charley Snadden-Wilson is now heading up the kitchen.
The news comes after Etta’s original New Zealand-born head chef Hayden McMillan and partner Dominique Fourie McMillan moved on to focus on family. The pair opened Etta along with friend Hannah Green, who is now the sole owner, in early 2017.
Snadden-Wilson grew up in New Zealand, learning to forage and hunt from a young age. He spent time in the kitchen under chef-owner Dave Verheul at the acclaimed, now-closed Town Mouse and as sous chef at equally celebrated city wine bar Embla before taking on the head chef role at Ramblr, which ran its final service in March this year, making way for a 10-seat pizza-by-the-slice bar from the same crew.
The new menu echoes the old in many ways, modern Australian with a European slant, but overall it’s tighter and more conducive to sharing. Only two dishes hero meat – more generous are the vegetarian options.
“We’re just trying to create a nice, more accessible sort of vibe,” says Snadden-Wilson. “So you can come in and have a plate of pasta and a snack, or you can have a whole stack of food. As opposed to, you know, telling people how to eat.”
Gone is McMillan’s well-loved bread with burnt butter and the tamari and sugar-roasted buttercup pumpkin. In their place, pomme anna (finely sliced, layered potatoes in butter) with black garlic and parmesan; stracciatella with leek and chilli; and a comforting plate of pine mushrooms on cavatelli (small shell pasta) in a mushroom and brown butter sauce.
“Everything goes over the barbeque at some point,” says Snadden-Wilson. “I spent the first couple of years at Embla working the fire section, and it just feels like a very intuitive way of cooking. It’s cooking that I feel more comfortable doing.”
Many plates benefit from whey-based or lacto ferments, which are used as seasoning and lend a sweeter, more well-rounded acidic lift. These might include artichokes glazed in a fermented celeriac caramel, or fried bread soaked in fermented tomato juice, then fried again with hot-smoked hapuka flaked on top.
“So we can use tomato all year round," says Snadden-Wilson. "We’re coming to the end of the season so we’re just going crazy and fermenting them. It’s amazing – we can have tomatoes of all sorts in the middle of winter.”
A ginger steamed pudding with roast blood plum and sour cream is a nostalgic nod to the chef’s mother and grandmother, who’d cook a similar dessert for him in winter when he was young (“It’s obviously more refined,” he says, laughing). Eventually he plans to make his own vinegars and charcuterie, too.
“I’ll be trying to make as much as possible in-house, but it’s the third week in, so that’ll develop over time,” he says. “Just to be able to do the food that I want, to have such amazing support, to have that freedom, it’s amazing. And it’s just lovely to be working with [Green], we just kind of clicked.”