What's old is new again in The Chambers
The developer behind the vision to transform an old Cairns bank building into The Chambers, Joan Wilson, likes the fact that her head chef Ryan Dolan runs a quiet kitchen.
Unlike the fiery antics of Gordon Ramsay, Joan believes a scene of calm focus mixed with a kind of understated passion are the secrets to a successful restaurant.
“You know a chef is good when they run a quiet kitchen,” Joan tells Tropic. “Gone are the days of shouting and pot throwing. Ryan’s food does all the talking.”
Joan would never boast or brag about her vision for The Chambers, even though her commitment to invest in its redevelopment with pain-staking detail and dedication to its architectural heritage certainly warrants broader recognition and respect.
Instead - just like Ryan’s food - she wants visitors to this multi-faceted development to experience it of their own accord, free of hype or embellishment.
And there will be a lot to experience when the beautifully restored, over-sized doors on the corner of Spence and Lake Sts swing open for the very first time in coming months.
WHEN GREAT ARCHITECTURE MEETS GREAT FOOD
With an almost revelatory homage to details that speak of the building’s colourful history, and that of the city streets from which it sprung, The Chambers will reveal itself in myriad ways across three venues: the texture of original brickwork, the lovely curvature of the iconic archways, the light and shadows thrown against walls at different times of the day.
And the stunning selection of food and beverages, of course.
The Chambers will be home to a laidback café called Tattler, a fine-dining restaurant known as SoMa and a wine bar named esters.
Chef Ryan brings his passion for the rebellious style of cooking in France known as “bistronomy” to The Chambers, a revolution in dining where chefs eschewed the formal stuffiness of traditional French dining in favour of more affordable and relaxed – but no less delicious – menu offerings.
“The format introduced by French bistronomy chefs in the 1990s was simple; to be able to use their skills in a more instinctive, free-flowing style of cooking which changed regularly, using the same produce from Michelin Star restaurants but offering dishes at a fraction of the price,” Ryan explains to Tropic.
“Although the atmosphere of bistronomy restaurants was lively, décor was kept minimal. Gone were the white tablecloths and waiters hovering over the diners to pour water or comb the breadcrumbs off the table.
“The menus across the three venues inside The Chambers will be a balancing act, combining the perception of what local diners like to eat while bringing in a style of cooking that is new to Cairns.
“It’s also about looking at how we can use ingredients in different ways. What I want our customers to experience is something on the plate that shows a sense of place – something that is tropical, light, and above all tasty.”
RELAXED AND REFINED
His new colleague Angela Stayte – venue manager of The Chambers – joins him as a key driver of the new enterprise, responsible for delivering on the promise the building’s restoration holds.
“It’s relaxed and refined,” Angela says. “I knew from the moment I set foot on the construction site I wanted to be a part of this. The building was beautiful even in its rawness at the time. The excitement of bringing it to life sat well alongside my own design interests as well as a long history and passion for the industry.
“This is exciting for Cairns! And for all those involved bringing another level of service to the region through design, and a pure understanding of hospitality.”
Joan hopes The Chambers contributes to a CBD that is growing up and going places. Rather than go it alone and play hard ball with potential competitors, you get the satisfying sense that The Chambers team subscribes to the philosophy embodied by the old saying “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
“There are many establishments in Cairns with terrific offerings for locals and tourists alike,” Joan tells Tropic.
“Look at C’est Bon - have you tried to get a booking there lately! Piccolo Cucina have nailed Italian food, you’ve got Three Wolves with its understated location and fabulous cocktails, and add to that Cairns institutions like Barnacle Bills, Dundee’s and Ochre.
“We want The Chambers to be part of the emerging food and beverage scene in our city. I see our team as being friendly, attentive and service driven, the surroundings being beautifully relaxing whether indoors or out and the food and wine offerings being amazing.
“Throw in some beers, a classic cocktail or two, and add to that a choice of three venues… I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be ready for that. Can you?”
THREE VENUES IN ONE
Light, relaxed and concealed in a lively, tropic urban-garden, Tattle will place an emphasis on fresh flavours plated in bright, captivating dishes. Think of it as hearty café cuisine meets a modern, leafy aesthetic.
“It’s a fresh, alfresco dining space with a relaxed service style,” says Angela Stayte, venue manager at The Chambers. “It’s a place to sit and relax with a fresh salad and a glass of wine and for those on the go, grab a coffee and a healthy takeaway option. Like the other venues at The Chambers, it’s all about making those every day dining options a little bit special.”
As for the menu offerings, expect everything from favourite breakfasts to lunch-time mimosas.
“The idea of the Sunday Brunch is enticing”, Stayte continues. “Imagine a deliciously constructed breakfast board with a little bit of everything; house cured ham, pickles, rustic bread, seasonal fruits and to finish it off, one or two zingy Blood Marys.”
Other dishes include watermelon salad popping with fetta and purple basil sprouts, mushrooms roasted in garlic and served with lemon thyme, and creamed corn atop crispy potato rosti.
“I learned the hard way that breakfast isn't something that people like to mess around with too much,” says head chef Ryan Dolan. “The sweet and savoury offerings are tweaked to fit The Chambers identity, but the customer still has the option to create their own. Being in a central location made me think of steering lunch towards a selection of tasty sandwiches on display to grab and go, but also with the option to dine in.”
SoMa offers a unique selection of food and flavours, building on the French cooking phenomena of “Bistronomy”. Bistronomy is best described as food created for the true pleasure of the people, where daring tastes combine with a simple cooking style for vibrant and elemental dishes.
This innovative, freeform cooking style allows for versatile menu items such as Roast Carrots with Chickpeas and Sheep’s Milk Curd, Pan Roasted Sweetlip followed by Pineapple Mille-feuille.
“I wanted a selection of dishes that weren't too alien for the customers,’ says chef Ryan. “Most of the dishes have familiar flavour combinations sometimes slightly tweaked; for example, as a type of ‘surf and turf’ there is a pork and pipis dish.
“The dessert selections are more leftfield because I personally don't like too much sugar which can mask the flavour. I like to rely more on the natural sweetness of certain ingredients. But there are still the decadent options like the chocolate pave - which was inspired by mixing a Snickers bar and banana split. You can't go wrong with chocolate, peanuts and banana, right?”
Occupying the corner of the premises, SoMa’s relaxed interior is bathed in natural lighting, creating a soft and inviting space accented by the familiar textures of the Tropical North with a light touch of greenery and warm rattan furniture.
“All the most important decisions in life are made around the dinner table, with the friends you have and the wine you drink,” says Joan Wilson. “There is nothing better than simple food with big bang tastes – welcome to SoMa.”
Wine Bar and Kitchen
An intimate, galley style bar immersed in rich, earthy colours and elements. Serving up spirits, cocktails, beer and of course, a large selection of International and Domestic wines, esters also has plans for a wine club and tastings, with the aim of deepening customer’s relationship with wine and food, no matter their level of expertise.
“esters will have a fresh approach to the typical wine list, with enough choice for serious tipplers and an easy approach for beginners,” Joan Wilson explains. “Our wine list will have options in terms of price point and wine style.”
As a complement to the extensive wine list, the tapas-style selection at esters is based in dominant, rustic ingredients recreated with an upmarket twist. Chicken done Adobar style with Harissa Mayonnaise sits just as easily on the menu beside Kombu Cured Ocean Trout with Sorrel Leaves for instance.
“I wanted to design a menu that had a balance of fun and surprising options,” says Chef Dolan. “Simple, uncomplicated sharing plates and tapas that go well with the wide selection of the wines and classic cocktails on offer, maintaining an aspect of interaction without interfering or distracting from the social aspect – simply food and friends.”
Open at dusk, esters aims to challenge the senses and tastes, whether in the laid-back vibe of the courtyard or nestled under the mood-lighting of the evocative, on-trend interior.
“Wine shouldn’t be complicated,” Wilson laughs. “Good wine should be enjoyed with great company.”