Before Husk and Vine opened, people were touting it as Parramatta's first fine diner. It was a nice sentiment, but it was wrong.
The confusion probably came from the set-up. With Stephen Seckold (ex-Flying Fish chef and now with hospitality consultancy SITE) signed on as executive chef for the opening, and Nic Graham (QT Hotels) leading the design, it certainly sounds like an ambitious, high-end project. It looks like one, too, with hundreds of sandstone rocks suspended from the ceiling around the edges of the room, dim lighting and a black, emerald and grey colour palette.
But the menu is all bread, pasta, stews and chocolate puddings. “There's no chef-y food here. I call it modern comfort food,” says Seckold, who modelled the menu on Parramatta’s demographics. “I thought we [could] pull all the influences from around [here] and pay homage to each one.” But, he assures us, he and head chef Ashley Brennan (ex Sugaroom) will not be cooking fusion food. “The pasta is traditional Italian and the flatbreads are done in the traditional Middle Eastern way. I'm not messing around with anything.”
The centre of that idea is taboon, a large, puffy, Middle Eastern flatbread that Brennan triple proves and serves with hummus or roast garlic and parsley. There’s Indian influence in the lamb ribs with date and tamarind glaze; Lebanese in the za’atar fried chicken; North African in the lamb shoulder, harissa, okra and chickpea stew; and Italian in the house-made pastas.
“The idea is husk and wine – bread and wine. It's approachable, nothing over complicated,” says Andy Emerson, another SITE Hospitality employee, who’s behind the drinks. The focus is on single-varietal wines that are classic representations of the grape. “Mostly small suppliers in Australia and New Zealand. Nothing too crazy or funky.”
The name, fit-out and pretty much everything here is inspired by an accidental find uncovered during the building’s development. “When they were excavating the site, they found some ruins from the 1800s – the Wheatsheaf, an old hotel in a wheat storage area. They decided to use that as a focal point for the idea,” says Emerson.