After spending three-and-a-half years in America, Jessi Singh is back in Australia and is opening a restaurant in the space of Colin Fassnidge’s 4Fourteen, which will permanently shut on August 25. Singh's first Sydney restaurant, for which he will be executive chef and will be located in Surry Hills, will be called Don’t Tell Aunty.
“We’ve always had a goal to come home,” Singh tells Broadsheet.
Singh is best known for opening a string of successful eateries in Melbourne with his wife and business partner Jennifer: Dhaba at the Mill, Horn Please and Babu Ji. Then they sold them all before moving to the Big Apple in 2014.
The duo launched Babu Ji in New York, and it was an immediate hit. Praise flooded in from the New Yorker, the New York Times and Zagat. This success led the pair to open a sister restaurant in San Francisco.
A year after opening, the Singhs became caught up in legal battles with former employees, who accused them of withholding tips and underpaying staff. Another legal hiccup followed a couple of months later when Singh was accused of bullying.
The cases were settled and Singh denies any wrongdoing.
Singh still owns Babu Ji New York, and in February of this year, before moving back to Australia, the Singhs relocated their San Francisco store to Santa Barbara. He’s now working as executive chef and consultant at Horn Please, in Fitzroy North in Melbourne.
Singh says Don’t Tell Aunty – which is slated to open in early October – will maintain the fun and cheeky atmosphere that his other venues are known for. The menu will hero “inauthentic Indian cuisine” by taking advantage of seasonal and local ingredients that are not typically found in Indian cooking, including sea urchin, prawns, calamari and oysters. He’ll drop the heavy use of ghee and oil typical of traditional Indian food.
“The focus will be more on flavour and not on the spices. I make butter chicken but I don’t add butter to it, so it’s unauthentic butter chicken. It has all the flavour but less fat,” he says.
Singh is hiring respected American sommelier-turned winemaker Rajat Parr to consult on the drinks menu, which will include a gin and mezcal fruit-based cocktail list. There are also plans to include a self-serve beer fridge and wine cellar in the new space.
Don’t Tell Aunty is slated to open in early October.