English-born chef Carl Johnson has some impressive kitchen experience behind him. He spent years working around well-respected English hotels and fine diners, with an 11-month stint at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Group. Since arriving down under, he’s clocked up time as head chef at CBD fine diner The Bridge Room (until its closure in 2019) and sous chef at Quay.

Now he’s been appointed head chef at the lush, foliage-filled oasis of an all-day diner, The Botanica at Vaucluse, which recently reopened after temporarily closing late last year. There, he’s overseeing a fresh and light menu of breakfast dishes such as avocado-topped shakshuka and sweet potato waffles, and lunch and dinner dishes including king prawn dumplings, smoked eggplant with silken tofu, and oven-roasted ocean trout. Plus, everything (aside from the sourdough toast at breakfast) is gluten-free. It’s the ideal food for enjoying in a pretty setting.

What’s your new job title?
Head chef. Taking inspiration from everything surrounding the restaurant and turning it into amazing dishes. I want to make Botanica a food destination.

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Why did you decide to join The Botanica?
The opportunity to create a menu that was completely my own was too good to pass up. Having full control over the dishes you put on a menu is the best feeling. I also love how original Botanica is. To have a restaurant surrounded by citrus trees and herb bushes with a garden out the back growing vegetables is just unheard of. You don’t get much fresher than that.

Do you have any big plans or ideas for your new role?
Fine-dining-level food but in a relaxed and casual setting. I really enjoy cooking simple food but elevating it to another level, really letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Our cheese plate has honey served at the table from fresh honeycomb, the salmon on your breakfast is smoked in-house over woodchips.

Are you bringing along any other ideas or dishes you’re known for?
I wouldn’t say I’m known for dishes. Yet. But I’m definitely bringing along all my experiences. Michelin kitchens in the UK set a high standard for me and taught me classical techniques, then Quay and The Bridge Room introduced me to Asian cooking and how to use Australian produce to its best potential.

Will we see any cool new dishes or ideas?
Theatre. I’m a big fan of dining out being a full experience. I want the food to be as visually pleasing and as exciting as the decor. I’m thinking dry ice, floral scents. I want the whole experience to be memorable.