There’s something kind of calming about Pilot restaurant, opening in the spot at the back of the Ainslie shops where Pulp Kitchen had previously lived for many years.
A sheer curtain hugs the dining room, walls have been covered with the tiniest round off-white tiles, crockery in the palest shades of green and brown and blue line the counter between the dining floor and kitchen, a new terrazzo bar greets you at the entrance.
It kind of feels, well, homely.
“I’m so glad you said that,” co-owner Dash Rumble says. “That’s exactly what we wanted it to be.”
Rumble, and her partner in life and business, Ross McQuinn, are also surprisingly calm given they’re opening in a few days.
McQuinn, who worked with former owner Gus Armstrong at Pulp Kitchen since mid 2017 before heading off to Underground Spirits for a while, says “It does feel a bit surreal."
“But we've been looking for a space for so long and we've had this idea for a long time so it’s great to finally see it all come together.”
The pair are smart enough to realise they’ve got big shoes to fill.
“Pulp Kitchen has been an institution for so long,” McQuinn says. “That’s in part why we almost felt little sad about changing the name.
“But we’ve had our own pretty clear ideas and we want to do things our way.”
Leading the way in the kitchen will be chef Malcolm Hanslow, who was short-listed as one of the Josephine Pignolet Young Chefs of the Year earlier this year, returning to Canberra keen to run his own kitchen, after working in places such as Oscillate Wildly, Ester and Automata.
“With Mal, there’s this simplicity to his treatment of food, but it’s still rich and powerful and a dedication to using quality produce,” McQuinn says.
“He has a very unique style which involves a lot of smoking, char grilling and using Asian ingredients such as katsuobushi and koji but not necessarily in Asian dishes.”
McQuinn says some of the ideas they’re bringing haven’t been seen in Canberra before.
“We’ll have a big focus on non-alcoholics,” he says, “Our set menu will have both alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings, we’ve seen that people are trending away from getting totally boozed.”
That said, there’s a nice drinks list. All the beer and spirits are Australian, as is most of the wine list, including several Canberra District wines from the likes of Nick Spencer, Mount Majura and Lark Hill.
Indeed they’ve been big supporters of local producers. The crockery is from Georgia Bryant of Linburn Handmade and Chris Harford. World renowned glass artist Scott Chaseling has made limited edition decanters through the Canberra Glassworks, quirky little vessels that crumble at the base. I want one.
Crystal Jung from Urban Jungle, at the Fyshwick Niche Markets, is busy pre-opening gently placing foliage into a feature wall, a piece of art that will fluctuate as much as the menu.
Hanslow is inspired by local produce and different techniques and says he’s always looking for reasons to try something new.
“I’ve been perfecting this opening menu for about three weeks now,” he says, “and already I’m thinking about what I might do to mix it up.”
Be prepared to feel at home at Pilot, indeed you might never want to leave, but be prepared for a few surprises as well.