A year ago, John Javier was writing recipes and working the pans at Happy Paradise, a hip semi fine diner in Hong Kong by May Chow, who was named Asia’s best female chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017. Before that he was at the helm of Master, a lauded and sincerely missed Surry Hills diner that served noteworthy modern Chinese food, and which closed in 2016. On his resume was Momofuku Seiobo, Copenhagen's Noma where he did a staging (an internship) and Quay. Now he’s cooking in a pub.
It was twins Teddy and Danny Sullivan, the two owners of Ultimo’s Lord Wolseley, who convinced Javier to join their newly named dining room, House Diner. It has replaced the Wolseley dining room's previous tenant, Pub Life Kitchen.
Their pitch to Javier was: “do whatever you want”. “With guys as accomplished as John, you don't pitch an idea. You say: ‘Would you like to do your thing here?’”
It’s a surprise, then, to see the menu is still very pub-like – well, it reads that way at least. There are two burgers, a steak, a pasta, a parmy and a piece of fish. All sounds standard, but then you read the fine print.
The pasta, a thin spaghetti, comes with a lamb belly and tripe ragu with mint; the chicken burger is Sichuan-spiced and layered with pickled daikon; a cobia fillet (also called black kingfish) is aged, barbequed and plated in a pool of soy-spiked tomato emulsion with homemade gnocchi, radish and parsley oil.
“It's easy for chefs to get completely wanky about menus – their egos get in the way and they do swipes and purees and all this shit – but if you're eating at a pub that's been here for years and years, you just want to eat good hearty food – food you can eat all the time,” says Javier.
In the kitchen with Javier is sous chef Anthony Lot, another former Happy Paradise chef and alumni of Belon, a highly regarded Hong Kong restaurant serving modern Parisian bistro fare. Lot does the cooking when Javier is flown around the world to do pop-ups, which seems to be quite a regular occurrence.
Due to the increasing demands on Javier’s time no one knows how long he’ll be here, but his menu will be staying indefinitely, albeit with a few changes. “I'll definitely be here until September. I'm sort of living every three months at a time at the moment. I've only got very loose plans,” he says.
265 Bulwara Road, Ultimo
(02) 9660 1736
Tue to Sat 12pm–3pm, 6pm–10pm