The opening of The Old Clare Hotel and its resident restaurants has been a slow, exciting reveal. We’ve seen previews on Instagram and Facebook, peeked inside the bar and rooftop, all the while waiting patiently. Finally, it’s time: Automata opens on Wednesday.
“This wasn’t a quick turnaround restaurant. We had time on our side, to do things properly,” says chef Clayton Wells. Looking after the interior and working closely with Wells was Matt Machine, an architect who also specialises in motorbikes and steel sculpture and designed aspects of Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor. “At first glance, there is a real industrial look to it – concrete floor, dark steel,” says Wells. But it’s balanced by beautiful, lighter pieces. There are pendant lights everywhere – when the lights are on, it looks incredible. It transforms the space.”
The name (pronounced “or-tom-eter”) comes from a phrase at the heart of the restaurant, “automation before electronics.” “My business partner, Loh Lik Peng, found this chandelier and thought it would look great in a restaurant. That’s where it started. We basically built the restaurant around the chandelier,” Wells laughs. “[The phrase] is about the design, the aesthetic coming first.” The chandelier in question (by London designers The Rag and Bone Man) looks almost robotic – a character out of Star Wars – referencing old engines and airplane parts.
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Spending three years at Momofuku Seiōbo has, of course, molded Wells’ style but don’t expect to find many similarities. “I come from a fine-dining background and I still love cooking that sort of food. But I didn’t want a restaurant where you have a long night in a quiet room,” says Wells.
There will be a five-course set menu, starting with snacks, then four savoury dishes and one sweet dessert. The menu will be updated weekly, with Wells’ current favourite dish being a steamed bass groper with cured roe emulsion and seaweed. The chef’s dishes often come structured in layers – a tulip of witlof reveals tender partridge with burnt apple and capers. There’s often a surprising flavour pairing, such as pumpkin seed, tangelo and sea buckthorn (a type of shrub) together on one plate. As soon as you taste it, you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.
The wine list is curated by sommelier Tim Watkins, who was last seen at Ester and Monopole. There’s a mix of international and local wines, with some natural varieties from around the world and a small, eclectic list of beers. There’ll also be a range of aperitifs, curated by Watkins and restaurant manager Abby Meinke (most recently of Moon Park). “There will be quite a few vermouths, some of them local. It’s becoming pretty popular,” says Wells.
“I want it to be fun, energetic, a little bit loud and rowdy,” says the chef. Let’s not let him down.
Automata will open Wednesday September 16. Reservations can be made through the website.