Reopening after social distancing restrictions lifted was like opening a new restaurant for the team at Pilot. When the Ainslie restaurant welcomed customers back to dine in, the team did so with a new format.
The latest evolution of Pilot sees it exclusively selling a new degustation menu of 10 courses, intending to give diners a more intimate dining experience.
"We decided to try this concept which we've been talking about for a while and we didn't know if it would work in the Pilot space or if we should try it somewhere else but this was a good opportunity for us to test the waters," co-owner Dash Rumble says.
"We are constantly striving to provide the most incredible experience that we can, and moving to a set menu will allow us to go even further than we have previously.
"Before COVID, we found that the vast majority of our guests chose our prix fixe set menu option, so we listened.
"We are using the extra time and space that a set menu gives us to focus on the tiny details of our service and food that pushes a great night into the realms of something really special.
"We love to feed people and make them have a good time so it's kind of an opportunity to do that in the best way that we can."
The 10-course seasonally-influenced menu includes XO potato - a potato profiterole fried and stuffed with xo and salted egg yolk jam; chicken meatballs in sourdough broth; hapuka, cauliflower, and olive caramel; and to finish, dishes include burnt honey ice-cream with pressed apple terrine, whipped caramel, crunchy oats, and macadamia praline.
"Our head chef Malcolm Hanslow has always known the vibe that he would want to do," Rumble says.
"He works on what's seasonal and what they can get that's local.
"I wouldn't use the term freestyle, because all of his things are well-thought-out, but it's definitely based around the best produce that he can get, for sure.
"When we opened Pilot the general vibe of the menu was to take classic dishes and familiar flavours and present them in a creative way.
"So we're kind of doing - because Mal has always done food like that - a similar vibe but it's just a lot more refined."
Pilot has also worked with Tea Garden Co in Fyshwick to create a custom tea of oolong, green tea, wattle seed, and toasted rice to lead the set menu, in ceramics handmade locally by Tina Thorburn of Clay by Tina.
"We love restaurants and we love to eat out and some of the best restaurants we've been to before have had a tea offering or something non-alcoholic as a surprise throughout the meal - either at the start or in the middle of it," Rumble says.
"I think that extra level of care to say 'Hey, we're about to warm up your pallet' that was the reason behind it. I think in summer we'd like to do something cold and refreshing and be like, 'Hi, sit down, relax, be cool' but because it's winter we wanted people to be warm as soon as they enter the venue.
"I think it's a nice thing, particularly for a venue like ours as some people might be frazzled or unsure when stepping into a venue when you know how much you're spending. It's our way of making people feel comfortable and at home as soon as they sit down."
It's been one-and-half years since Pilot first opened its doors and in that time it has cemented itself as one of the capital's best restaurants.
Still, Rumble says they were nervous to introduce the new format to the restaurant.
"We were lucky because we've created a nice little customer base since we've opened - regulars, friends, and family. I think that they were people who really loved Pilot pre-COVID, so that was the scariest thing for us," she says.
"We have a little bit more confidence to do this new model, but it's also not wanting to disassociate ourselves that came before that really did like it.
"It's definitely scary but as much as it is scary, I think people are a lot more aware of spending their money during this time and being open to what restaurants and businesses around Australia are doing.
"Everyone has been coming in with an open mind which is really nice because it is quite daunting coming in and doing a new thing."