When Amanda emailed me last month to ask if I was interesting in collaborating with…
It says a lot about a restaurant that it’s already booked out for its first week – when it hasn’t even opened yet.
But hatted Canberra chef Louis Couttoupes has a legion of fans, and if lockdown ending last night wasn’t enough to send them spiralling out of their homes with delirium, the fact that Louis’ new venture Onzieme opens next Tuesday has them all headed for old Kingston.
Onzieme is at the end of Kennedy Street, near the corner of Eyre Street. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from Louis’ former and massively popular pop-up, Kiosk. Prior to Kiosk he earned a hat at Bar Rochford.
For most of this year, and particularly in the challenging months of lockdown, Louis and his dad have been working fiendishly to bring Onzieme to light.
The essence of the restaurant is very much enshrined in its name – the back streets of the eleventh arrondissement in Paris where a whole strip of bistros hug the canal side of the Left Bank. You can also call it 11e, which is what all the signage reads.
Onzieme is not only a location for Louis, but a gastronomic movement, where top chefs have traded in their fussy menus, starched tablecloths and rarefied dining rooms for the less structured experience of a bistro, and the inherent charm of blackboard menus showing off the talents of the kitchen team and what’s best and available that day, accompanied by natural wines and just a little bit of chaos.
Onzieme promises a very bespoke experience for diners who will choose from an ever-changing menu written on a clear glass wall.
Showcasing Louis’ signature style of shared plates featuring seasonal food, beautiful vegetables, foraged ingredients and a nose-to-tail approach, the kitchen features a large wood-fired oven and is completely open to diners to encourage the connection between the creative process and what is served to the table.
In what will be a local first, Louis is reserving two seats at the kitchen bar for the ultimate foodie experience where diners can chat to Louis about what he is making and can request particular ingredients or tastes and trust him to deliver something amazing – completely off-menu. But first he needs to bed the new restaurant in and negotiate the post-lockdown landscape.
With an experienced kitchen team behind him, including former eightysix, and Porteño (Sydney) chef Nick Peterson, former Chairman Group Cantonese expert Shin Chu, and young gun Jimmy Elvins who has spent nearly four years fine-tuning his skills under Kurt Neuman at Grazing in Gundaroo, Louis said there would be no ‘cookie cutter’ approach to any dish.
The menu will change weekly, if not daily, and those who have managed to nab a table next week will experience dishes such as Gim Bugak with smoked tofu and cured yolk, beef skewer with fermented chilli; Spring greens with yoghurt and buckwheat; Kingfish with puy lentils and avgolemono; and half a chook with hay and tarragon.
Desserts include yuzu posset with meringue and roselle, and Calpis sorbet with pineapple and coconut. Of course, this assumes that Louis doesn’t change all that up by the time the doors actually open.
The restaurant will be managed by Tom Blakely, formerly of XO and one of the Mount Majura Vineyard team. Louis said the wine list will be balanced to present his preference for minimal intervention wines, using hand-picked grapes, native yeast fermentation alongside Tom’s more classic preferences.
Meanwhile, diners can enjoy the relaxed surrounds which have largely been the love, sweat and toil of Louis and his dad, using reclaimed and recycled materials and adhering to the neo-bistro movement of not having everything glossy, bright and matching.
The ground floor will seat 44 while outdoor seating will cater for another 30. But excitingly, the venue comes with a basement space, which Louis has transformed into an intimate wine bar and promises to be an inviting place for snacks and après-work drinks.
He loves that the feel of old Kingston sparks his memories of working in the backstreets of Paris and that the walls have a little bit of history to them.
“I have enjoyed the eccentricities of the old building and me and Dad have had a fun and creative time designing it as we go.”
The whole experience, from the hand-built furniture, to the flavours in each mouthful, will be testament to Louis’ vision.
Photography by Megann Evans