It’s 8pm on a cool night on William Street in Paddington. Diners inside 10 William Street cosy up at two-seater tables, sipping glasses of Italian wine and negronis with bowls of pasta, plates of veal scalopina and pizza fritta. The team here, headed by chef Dan Pepperell, is a solid one. It needs to be: this tiny eatery can serve between 120–150 people for dinner on a busy night, all from a tiny kitchen with just two chefs. “It’s about four-by-five-metres wide,” says Pepperell, “the size of a large bathroom.” It uses just six burners, an oven and a little Hibachi grill (a small, portable Japanese charcoal grill). “You can grill three pork chops on it at one time,” says Pepperell. “It’s very small but great for flavour.”
Pepperell isn’t phased by the limitations of a small kitchen. “We prep a lot,” he says. “A lot has to do with how much we can do beforehand, and what can be assembled as quickly as possible. There has to be no fussiness about plating up.” With this in mind, food at 10 William Street is simple, fresh and minimal, sticking to no more than four components per dish. If there is a meat dish on the rotating menu, it tends to be in thin cuts, so staff can throw it on the grill or in the frying pan and cook it with speed. “We designed the menu to be tasty, but it has to be fast,” says Pepperell.
In a city now defined by small bars and restaurants built into a range of very design- conscious spaces in high-density, inner-city suburbs, it’s no wonder some end up with pokey kitchens. Like 10 William Street, nearby bars such as 121BC in Surry Hills and Love Tilly Devine in Darlinghurst are pumping out high quality food with limited bench space and equipment. They do it by having a very organised prepping schedule before service.
Up on Oxford Street, The Wine Library’s 15-page wine list is accompanied by Mediterranean-style bar snacks. Spiced lamb and ricotta gozleme and salt-cod fish fingers are cooked on one tiny heated element and shuffled down the long, slim room by waiters as drinkers knock elbows at the bar. “The whole joint pretty much runs off a toasted- sandwich press,” says owner James Hird, also of Buzo and Vincent.
But of all the wine guys doing food, Matt Swieboda, owner of Love Tilly Devine, purports to have, “the most low-tech set up.” At his bar, down a lane off a backstreet in Darlinghurst, spaces to sit for a drink are few and far between. And space to cook a flank steak is even more rare. Before service at Love Tilly, food for the night will be prepped with an oven and a portable hot plate – so it’s almost ready to go. “When we get to service it’s really just using a Salamander toaster to heat things up and toast bread, everything else is put together with what we have organised before,” Swieboda says, making the food sound far easier than it is.
This kitchen can serve up to 120 people a night from a three-by-three-metre space, which includes preparing and pouring drinks, with one person preparing food during service. This isn’t just cheese plates and cured meats we’re talking, either. “We always had the idea that Sydney was mature enough to have wine bars that didn’t need to provide a full restaurant menu. We thought as long as the quality of the produce was high, customers would be happy to have slightly simpler food,” says Swieboda. “But over time Sydney has become demanding with the style of food it wants, even in a wine-bar setting. So we have lifted our game from what our original idea was three years ago when we opened.”
Tonight it’s serving dishes such as fresh sardines, grilled to order and served with chicory. Braised shoulder of lamb comes with a red-wine sauce and Dutch cream potatoes. The lamb, tender and savoury, has been cooked for seven hours, then will be heated to order. Swieboda, who has worked at Peter Gilmore’s celebrated restaurant Quay, says that even in high-end, fine dining restaurants. The size and space is actually pretty small compared to a commercial kitchen, “but nothing like a Parisian-style kitchen, which basically has no space,” he says. “We looked at that model and thought, if the Parisians can do it, so can we.”
And true to this Parisian style, Swieboda’s favourite dish to prepare in tight confines on a busy Friday night is the pate?. “It’s a recipe that takes us five hours to produce, but at the time of service, all you need to do is toast some bread and serve. In a wine-bar setting, that’s perfect,” he says.