This week, West Australian restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs welcome back dine-in customers as part of phase two of the state’s Covid-19 recovery. For chef Kiren Mainwaring, cooking for guests again will be especially meaningful.
At the start of the year, the former co-owner of East Perth’s Co-op Dining took on the role of head chef at Swan Valley winery Riverbank Estate. After two and a half months of settling in and learning the lay of the land, Mainwaring – just as he was finding his rhythm – was forced to close the restaurant for the statewide Covid-19 shutdown. Now that restrictions have eased, Mainwaring is back in the kitchen and excited about lighting the stove.
At Co-op Dining, Mainwaring made a name for himself with seasonal degustations starring intricate, carefully composed plates and plenty of DIY magic. At Riverbank, he’s pegged things back a notch and written an à la carte menu built on familiar Mediterranean favourites and flavours cooked with care: think house-made burrata with ‘nduja, hand-rolled cavatelli pasta with oyster mushrooms, and ciabatta with smoked butter and confit garlic. On Sundays, the menu will also include Italian street food specials such as porchetta cooked over a woodfired rotisserie.
“I’ll still be looking at the produce I’ve got and thinking what does it need, but I’ll do it more as a feast rather than a morsel,” says Mainwaring. Since closing Co-op Dining in June 2019, he’s spent time working in the kitchens of fine diners St Michael 6003 and Red Cabbage. “Sitting down as a family and eating food together: that’s the stage of life I’m at right now and the kind of food I want to eat. If you don’t enjoy the food you eat, then you’re not going to produce the best you can.”
Although Mainwaring is playing a relatively straight bat with the cooking, his commitment to local produce and producers remains. He’s reconnecting with many of the Swan Valley producers he uncovered during his time at Co-op Dining predecessor Dear Friends (which has since transformed into macaron stronghold Maison Saint-Honoré). Live seafood tanks hold mud crabs, blue swimmers, Gidgegannup marron and lobsters while beef is dry-aged in-house.
Vines are visible from the dining room, and grape-based elements are dotted throughout the menu. The house sourdough starter was made using estate-grown grapes. Red wine lees are employed as a pickling and brining medium. The kitchen produces its own mosto cotto, a sweet grape must syrup. Experienced Swan Valley winemaker Digby Leddin – once upon a time the senior winemaker at Lamont’s – comes to the party with a diverse range whose highlights include a plush grenache, a perky, spritzy rosé and a racy vermentino made from some of the state’s oldest vermentino vines.