Can you tell our readers a little about Concrete Blonde and the food philosophy it was founded upon?
We are Modern Australian and this is very evident from the menu. Chef Ian Oakes is Australian (born and bred) and achieved a “1 hat” status for four consecutive years at his last restaurant, which was also Modern Australian. Concrete Blonde was designed my Dreamtime Australia Design to be a modern restaurant that could sit well within any cuisine and would compare in design to any restaurant in the world.
How do you see the flavours complimenting each other and is it a difficult balancing act?
With our menu being Modern Australian, we are given a lot of leverage with the range with the dishes that we are able to serve and create. Australia is a melting pot of nations and there is an amazing array of influences surrounding us. Accordingly, the wine list matches the amazing flavours of the food.
What are the three most important things when conceiving a menu?
Quality product; balance of flavours; balance of textures.
What were the key decisions that influenced the architecture and design of Concrete Blonde?
The space was bare when we purchased the shop. There was a lot of Concrete (floor and ceilings) and the huge round columns. We wanted to retain the exposed concrete of the construction but not to have the “industrial” elements become too overbearing. The open kitchen was paramount as we were keen to ensure that the patrons would be able to engage with the kitchen staff during the whole evening process. It was important that there was enough “theatre” to keep patrons’ interest in the goings on, but not too much that it detracted from their meal. The concrete is important so there are added elements of this throughout the design – the entrance at the front door with the name is actually a steel plate that has been treated with concrete and then etched. The same applies to the cloakroom glass door and the use of FC panels throughout that have been treated to blend in with the rest of the raw elements.
Having opened in 2011, Concrete Blonde is a young establishment – what are the biggest challenges you face in the first year?
Being on the mezzanine level and off the street is a benefit and a detriment. The negative is that no one knows that we are there and it takes time for out venue to be discovered. The positive is that once people know where we are, they are not sitting on the street and our patrons have the opportunity to dine in a beautiful restaurant that encompasses the most spectacular terrace that is, in its own way, “private” and serene. It takes time to become known and develop a clientele. This is a city of great restaurants, so getting the word to people about what we are doing at Concrete Blonde is a challenge.
How has the restaurant evolved from day one to now?
There have been changes to the menu, style of service, opening hours, etc. We are always looking at how we can increase the guest experience. We, like all great restaurants, are constantly evolving.
What do you want people telling their friends after a meal at Concrete Blonde?
“The food, the service, the theatre, the ambiance and the feeling we had when we were there was amazing. I can’t wait to come back”.
With so much competition, what do you feel is unique to the experience offered by Concrete Blonde?
We are offering great food, exceptional service and a sensational atmosphere. Our location is unique and offers patrons the opportunity to dine in a world class facility ensuring that they leave having satiated all their senses.
How nerve-wracking was handing over the Concrete Blonde kitchen to MasterChef 2012’s hopefuls?
Not nerve-wracking at all. We had been working with Matt Fitzpatrick (Challenge Producer) for about 3 months prior to the filming and we knew that we were in good hands with the whole team from Shine Australia and also with George, Gary and Matt. In fact, it was a wonderful experience for all of us.
Obviously Concrete Blonde is committed to serving exceptional food, but what do you feel are the essentials of good service?
Care and anticipation is key to great service. Making sure that you love your guests from the first email, phone call, when they arrive, whilst they are in and when they leave. Treating patrons as you would if they arrived at your own home is the key to ensuring that they are not regarded as mere customers, but as invited guests.
Many of this year’s contestants, and we’re sure many viewers too, have dreams of opening their own restaurants one day. What are advice would you give to them?
Learn all disciplines of the restaurant trade before opening your own. Be a waiter, work in a bar, interview someone for a job, understand how to read an invoice, appreciate the coffee and the food and drink. Lastly, understand that good restaurateurs start early and finish late, six days a week.
Have passion for all parts of the experience and know your competition.
Concrete Blonde is at 33 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross, NSW