Who’s Wilma? And what’s this new Pearl in Canberra’s dining scene? | HerCanberra

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Who’s Wilma? And what’s this new Pearl in Canberra’s dining scene?

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Kokomo’s is no more and you only need to pop your head in the front door to see that something completely different has risen in its place.

Wilma is dark, moody, and elegant—its interior styling and menu a world away from the bustling casual cocktail scene that made the city corner so busy.

Wilma is all about thoughtful dining, New Asian dishes and the technique of primitive barbecue, with an extensive menu for the serious foodie.

Harvac (the company behind Akiba, Sage Dining Rooms and Loquita) wants the impressive location to be the scene for a more considered food experience than the casual vibe Kokomo’s attracted.

Photography: Ashley St George, Pew Pew Studio.

Harvac director Peter Harrington said that while it was a wildly popular venue, “our focus on food got away from us with Kokomo’s”.

With two storeys of dark linen sheers, glossy Japanese black stained wood, brass accents, Venetian plaster and leather banquets, Wilma has a sedate and luxurious feel and is almost unrecognisable from its former tropical motif days. There is even a dress code gently reminding diners of the art of dressing smartly for dinner (or in other words no sports or streetwear.)

Headed by esteemed Australian chef and restaurateur, James Viles, who is known for his two-hatted Biota Dining in Bowral along with his commitment to sustainability, the other big name joining the kitchen line-up is Brendan Hill, formerly of Sydney’s Aria and 12-Micron.

Brendan Hill and James Viles. Photography: Ashley St George, Pew Pew Studio.

And to add some bling to the space, Wilma is joined by The Pearl, a sister bar featuring Asian-inspired cocktails such as an Osaka Old Fashioned and Lychee Dragonfruit Margarita, along with a bar menu featuring scallop prawn tartare, snag sangas with bulldog sauce, and hot style numbing chicken with sesame and garlic chives.

James and Brendan will be using primitive cooking methods with Australian ingredients to create a crowd-pleasing menu full of Asian-Australian favourites.

This is the menu James has dreamt of putting together for years. Even while running the award-winning Biota in Bowral, he considered installing lazy Susan’s on every table. “I lived and worked in Hong Kong and Shanghai for a while, and I love eating and cooking Southern Asian barbeque. It’s been a huge part of the last 20 years of my life,” he said.

Photography: Ashley St George, Pew Pew Studio.

The 200+ capacity restaurant will focus on barbequing as primitively as possible, using coals and wood fire to maximise flavour. James will be burning wood in an offset smoker and coals in a custom-made, two-tier konro yakitori grill, weighing just over half a tone and made out of black steel by a local blacksmith. Able to run the different levels of the grill and barbeque at different heats, he will be cooking a lot more than just yakitori.

The barbeque section will see the likes of roasted duck, char siu pork and a chilli beef short rib finished over the coals and then glazed. The char siu pork will use the same cut of pork and flavours traditionally used, but instead of doing it in an oven, it will be done in an offset smoker, so you get a hot smoked char siu pork, which keeps in the moisture and adds a layer of extra flavour.

Photography: Ashley St George, Pew Pew Studio.

James will also be tracking down local Australian timbers to work with in the smoker; red gum and spotted gum, which adds an Australian element to the well known and loved Asian flavours. The enormous menu is best experienced through one of the restaurant’s two banquet options which will bring the art of long weekend lunches to the heart of the city. Wilma will also be home to a live raw bar, with chefs slicing sashimi and shucking oysters in front of diners.

The snacks menu is where you’ll find san choy bow, prawn toast with Davidson plum sweet and sour sauce . James’ favourite dish on the menu can be found in the wok section. “I really love XO pippies, I don’t know any chef who doesn’t,” he said. “We’re doing ours with what we call a ‘wastage XO sauce’, which uses the leftover fish frames from the sashimi bar. Instead of shallots we’ll serve our XO pippies with stir fried Warrigal greens and of course the fried bread on the side.”

Photography: Ashley St George, Pew Pew Studio.

While Wilma is an Asian barbeque restaurant, James is bringing the same connection to regional Australia that Biota was celebrated for, with many native Australian and locally sourced ingredients appearing on the menu, like the aforementioned Warrigal greens and Davidson plum, as well as ducks from nearby Tarago and truffles from Majura (which are used in Wilma’s combination truffle and egg fried rice).

“We’re not traditional Central or Southern Asian cuisine. We’re taking those flavours that Australians have fallen in love with since the 1960s.

“There’s a Chinese restaurant in every regional Australian town, and the reason for that is that those flavours and those profiles, the Australian culture was adapted to them, we love them. It doesn’t matter who you are, we all love it.”

James said he was thrilled with the new restaurant, which also signified a new era for Harvac dining.

He also acknowledged that it was “pretty courageous” to move away from the crowd-pulling Kokomo’s. “But substantial and ground-breaking food is what the company stands for.”

And for those Canberrans for whom a Kokomo’s cocktail was worth waiting for on a Friday night, there will be a list of old favourites (including the Mango Weiss Bar) to ease the transition to the new and luxe Wilma. Just don’t wear your trainers please!

The Essentials

What: Wilma and The Pearl
Where: 1 Genge Street, Civic
When: Friday 3 December- Sunday 5 December | 5:30pm – 9:30pm. From Wednesday 8 December: Wednesday and Thursday | 5:30pm – 9:30pm and Friday – Sunday | 11:30am – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 9:30pm
Web: wilmabbq.com.au

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