Sydney’s culinary landscape today is very different to when fine-dining restaurant Quay opened. The year was 1988, the city’s high-end food scene was blossoming and the culinary heavy hitters of today – the likes of Neil Perry and Tetsuya – were rising stars.
These days our restaurants are more likely to be owned by large groups (Merivale, Solotel, The Sydney Collective and the W. Short Hotel Group) and our preference when sitting down for a meal is for something casual rather than high-end.
That’s not to say there’s isn’t a place for white tablecloths, a rarefied setting and food made with remarkable ingredient served on bespoke plates. But as executive chef of Quay Peter Gilmore told Broadsheet, “What’s most important is you must keep evolving; you can’t rest on your laurels. You’ve got to keep things interesting for yourself, your staff and your customers.”
That’s why on April 1 Quay will close for three months to undergo a major renovation to its dining room, event spaces and kitchen, the first of this scale in the restaurant’s 30-year life. The changes include a new layout to accommodate a series of small dining spaces around the restaurant, and as a result a reduction in how many guests it can accommodate. It also involves a repositioning of the space to open up dining on the Harbour Bridge side. “This is an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we do fine dining,” says Gilmore.
The Fink Group, which owns Quay as well as Otto and Bennelong, has recruited TZG architects to do the makeover, and it says the look and feel of Quay 2.0 will be more in line with Gilmore’s evolution and approach to food. That means (and they aren’t giving away too many details) it is trying to create a more “interactive journey”.
“Today, dining is not only about what is on the plate but also what is around you. We want there to be a natural thread linking Peter’s food with the room,” says the group’s creative director John Fink.
When it emerges after the hiatus, Quay will offer a tasting-menu-only experience for the first time. Controversially it will also be a menu without Sydney’s most famous dessert, the Snow Egg. “This is a time of change and I want to be looking forward,” says Gilmore. “It was a tough decision but removing it gives me the opportunity to grow and evolve the menu to give guests a new dining experience.”
What Sydney can expect, says Fink, is an elevated service experience. “Excellent, personal service is the new black. Passion for hospitality is inspired in others through good leadership, professionalism and skills, skills, skills. I have found in my travels that the best service has always come in smaller, more personal restaurants. So I want to break the room down a bit; make it a more personal experience. We have a saying right now: We are going to build ‘the biggest little restaurant in Australia’.”
Quay will close for three months on April 1. Before it does Gilmore will host a retrospective dinner on Wednesday March 28 showcasing the defining dishes of Gilmore’s 16 years at Quay.