When Aria closed its doors for renovations in August, it was for one simple reason – to improve it. “I didn't shut Aria and refurb it because it wasn't successful,” says Matt Moran, the restaurant’s co-owner and executive chef. Quite the opposite – the last two years were some of the restaurant’s best in its 17-year history. “It was about taking it to another level,” Moran says.
Aria’s bones, identity and staff remain but the restaurant’s fit-out and menu have undergone lavish upgrades. “We’ve spared no expense,” says Moran. The former is undoubtedly the greatest change with a multi-million-dollar redesign led by George Livissianis.
The carpeted-hotel look has been completely extinguished. Now the restaurant carries a similar feel to Noma Australia – earthy, textured and evocative of the Australian landscape. Bush colours come from a new timber ceiling, leather-panelled walls and two separate wall-mounted arrangements by florist Tracey Deep. Away from the sun-lit main dining area, a waiting room is more muted and perhaps more serious, with dark blue-green carpets and velvet chairs; while the entrance is more playful thanks to some striking portraits from artist Christian Thompson. “I remember when we opened all the crockery was this French expensive stuff but now we've got all these Australian designers making beautiful plates,” Moran says.
While all the above was being organised and built, Moran sent Aria’s head chef and sous chef, Jason Staudt and Kazu Matsumoto, on research trips. “I sent Jason overseas in the break, he worked at a couple of two- and three-star Michelin restaurants and he was down in Brae. Kazu went to work in Sixpenny and the Bridge Room,” says Moran.
When the team was back together he told them to try out all their new ideas while maintaining the Aria philosophy of seasonality and premium produce. Ultimately though, it’s still the same intricate, refined food that changes just as frequently. “I never want to change the philosophy of what Aria is,” says Moran. “This is my heart and soul; it's my golden child.”
1 Macquarie Street, East Circular Quay
(02) 9252 2555
Mon to Sun 12pm–2.30pm, 5.30pm–11pm