Sydney Harbour is the new playground for inspiration and fresh food ideas for James Viles, former chef-owner of Bowral’s now-closed Biota Dining.
He’s settling into his new role as culinary director of the luxe harbourfront Park Hyatt hotel in The Rocks. Viles has been charged with overhauling the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Dining by James Viles (formerly known as The Dining Room), and leading all aspects of food, beverage and events at the hotel.
“I was really hesitant to come back [to Sydney] to be honest, because I just love being in Mother Nature and I’m inspired by things that are around me to do my work. I didn’t think Sydney could offer that – but you just have to look,” Viles tells Broadsheet, explaining how he frequently sees kingfish “slapping the top of the water” out the front of the hotel. “Since making the decision to come on board, I’m actually really, really excited about using seafood.”
Some of that seafood will include line-caught fish and octopus from Bass Strait cooked over coal and presented as large share plates in the main restaurant, or sliced-to-order sashimi and rock lobster rolls served at the hotel’s “relaxed harbourside dining” area, The Living Room.
The commitment to sustainability Viles became known for at Biota – where he grew ingredients in a kitchen garden, foraged for natives in the surrounding countryside and stuck to a nose-to-tail philosophy – continues at the hotel. He’s introduced a pasture-fed meat program, and the kitchen now has its own dry-age facility.
“You can order this beautiful pasture-fed piece of meat and we’ll bring it to the table raw, talk to you about where it’s from, who the farmer was, and then take it back and cook it to how you like it,” he says. “I just want to do real food for real people.”
A key ingredient in the hotel’s kitchen is honey harvested from the beehives Viles has installed on the hotel’s rooftop. And chefs are pickling and fermenting in-house. Native ingredients, including some found growing around the harbour, are used in the bar’s cocktails. The Davo Plum Spritz has Aperol, Davidson plum, prosecco and soda, and the Eucalyptus Gimlet is a combination of Cazadores tequila, mango, eucalyptus and grapefruit.
Viles has paid equal attention to the in-room dining menu, where the options are often lacking. He’s added a diverse mix of dishes, including a Nepalese-style lamb curry with rice and roti, and Fabbrica’s casarecce cacio e pepe. He’s even given that room service classic, the club sandwich, a makeover. “You still need a club sandwich, but a damn fine club.”
To complement what Viles is plating up, the hotel has appointed Erick Tuesta (ex-Ovolo and Fink Group) as sommelier. He’s initiated a big focus on locally produced drops from both Australia’s major and lesser-known wine regions.
And while Viles might be running a hotel kitchen (he describes the Park Hyatt as more like a “big private residence”), he wants it to be not just for guests but Sydneysiders as well. “We want to be like any other restaurant in Sydney.”
James Viles’s breakfast menu, and menus at The Living Room, Park Hyatt’s bar and in-room dining are now available, with Dining by James Viles set to open in the coming months.