The past is always holding hands with the present: just ask Rohan Park. As a teen, he boarded in the Swan Valley for a year while finishing high school. Now he’s back in WA’s oldest wine region to lead the team at Old Young’s Kitchen, the approachable yet ambitious restaurant off-shoot of Old Young’s Distillery. Taking over the former Rustique site, this smart-casual dining room has long lunch written all over it.

Although this is Park’s first gig running the kitchen, his CV features plenty of key venues including winery restaurants Leeuwin Estate, Wills Domain, and Arimia as well as CBD fine-diner Fleur. Most prominent, however, is the three-year “second apprenticeship” he spent with roving food pop-up Fervor: an opportunity to not just delve into the world of native Australian ingredients, but to revisit areas such as Kununurra and Broome that he lived in growing up.

“Everything’s a round circle,” says Park. “I was boarding five minutes’ walk away from my partner’s house and I got to go back up north as an adult and appreciate these places I spent time in. It’s all serendipitous.”

Although many cooks like to talk about their food being a reflection of themselves, Park’s life story seems to translate especially well to the plate. The broccolini and verjuice dressing, for one, is a throwback to his time at (now shuttered) Watershed in Margaret River. His olives and olive oils are sourced from groves in Frankland Valley, another nod to his years at south-west winery restaurants. (One could argue gently tweaked crowd-pleasers including jamon croquettes, fries and chorizo have also been borrowed from the winery restaurant playbook.)

Our man’s interest in Japanese cuisine is reflected in his prolific use of koji – a mould used to make sake, soy sauce, miso and other fermented foods – as well as a really excellent warm udon, kimchi and cream cheese number. (According to Park, this bowlful of savoury comfort is the result of a fridge clean-out at home after service at 3am one morning.) Also from the department of delicious riffs on kimchi: the fermented cabbage salad with finger limes, tomato and swatches of toasted nori, a contribution from Park’s head chef in the kitchen, Glenn McCue.

But, for me, the menu’s biggest wow moments tend to involve indigenous ingredients. Raw kangaroo dressed with a pork garum served with youlk (native tubers) for crunch. The way a native shallot ketchup made with fermented wattleseed chilli and native lemongrass oil set off sweet scallops. It isn’t just the taste of these dishes that’s worth writing home about, but Park’s commitment to sourcing these ingredients respectfully. What he doesn’t grow himself or get from family and friends he sources through Dale Tilbrook from Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery (literally) down the road.

“Being a TO [traditional owner] herself, she [Tilbrook] is doing it for love,” says Park. “I know if I’m buying from her, the money’s going to all the right places. To the ladies in South Australia who are getting bush tomatoes. To the traditional owners in Tasmania where my pepperberry comes from. I’m not going through a middleman who’s adding a 300 per cent mark up.”

Maalinup isn’t the only local business being supported by Old Young’s Kitchen. Old Young’s spirits aside, guests can sip on Swan Valley wines, beers and ciders as well as a small edit of non-alcoholic options.

Old Young’s Kitchen
10581A West Swan Rd, Henley Brook
(08) 9296 6656

Hours:
Thu to Mon 11am–5pm

oldyoungskitchen.com.au