Food News

Feels like home: where chefs go for a comfort meal

It's the food, and so much more: Indonesian aunties who ply you with sweets, staff who know your child's favourite booster seat. For these chefs, these restaurants and pubs double as a second home.

By Alexandra Carlton
Chef-owner | Navi, Melbourne
"I love phở and so does my wife Georgia, it's part of the reason we moved back to Melbourne, and particularly to the west. A regular of ours is Phở Chủ Thể in Footscray, where the broth is always fragrant. My eldest daughter Eleanor gets so excited when we say we're going there for dinner. They serve her a kid's helping with scissors so you can cut up the noodles. When she was two we cut them up for her but now she's four she cuts up her own and adds her desired sauces. The staff already know what the girls are going to eat before we say anything and they know that Eleanor wants the blue booster seat, not the red. Going there is the one family outing where we all sit relaxed for a minute (just a minute!) and enjoy our dinner."
Phở Chủ Thể, 92 Hopkins St, Footscray, Vic, Instagram/@phochuthe
Chef-owner | Salt & Palm, Sydney
"The staff at Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara in Sydney are like typical Indonesian aunties and uncles, who always want to make sure you're eating enough. They keep coming to the table asking if I'd like some more sambal; do you want this, do you want that. Last time I was there they gave me three desserts, which reminds me of my mum and auntie back in Indonesia who would always say 'you're too skinny!' and feed me more. They play old Indonesian ballads like the ones my uncle used to play – you don't really hear that kind of music any more. It's such wonderful hospitality and makes you feel like you're with family."
Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara, 34 Penshurst St, Penshurst, NSW, Instagram/@ayambakar7sydney
During the current Sydney lockdown, Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara is open for takeaway only.
Executive chef | Kooroomba Kitchen, Mount Alford, Qld
"My grandfather Arthur Parsonage returned to Sydney from World War II and entered a raffle run by the government to win a business. He won, and that business was a butcher shop. He decided he needed an extra outlet for all the meat he was producing so he opened the first Black Stump restaurant in Sydney in the early '70s.
I was going to the Black Stump before I could even walk. It was the place where I learned about the workings of a restaurant, and also where I got to eat my favourite things: prawns wrapped in bacon, and oysters. Everything was sent out on scorching cast-iron platters and you'd watch the customers' heads turn as they were delivered, steam and smoke filling the restaurant. The Black Stump ended up becoming a chain, but those memories have followed me throughout my life. It inspires me to this day to create a space that brings people together at a restaurant table and makes them feel at home."
Head chef, The Agrarian Kitchen, New norfolk, Tas
"I was holidaying in Tasmania the first time I walked into Tom McHugo's in Hobart – a pub I didn't know, in a city I'd never been to before. I walked up to the bar and [owner] Whitney [Ball] struck up a conversation as if we were old friends. I sat down, sipped a Derwent Ale and knew I was home. Two or three months later I decided to move to Tasmania for good. Obviously the main reason was for my job at The Agrarian Kitchen, but it was also the sort of comfortable feeling
I got at places like Tom McHugo's that impacted my decision.
It's a place that the whole hospitality community is drawn to; you see familiar faces every time you're there and the staff are friendly and warm. Coming from Byron Bay, where things have become so busy and overrun with tourists, I didn't get that sort of feeling in my hometown any more. I didn't have a local pub or restaurant I could go to that gave me that sense of community. Tom McHugo's has a sign behind the bar that says 'home away from home'. It's the feeling I got the moment I stepped inside, and it's never left me."
Tom McHugo's Hobart Hotel, 87 Macquarie St, Hobart, Tas, Instagram/@tmchugos
Want the recipe fo Tom McHugo's lamb and duchess potato pie?
Director and executive chef | Farmer's Daughters, Melbourne
"Gippsland has a lot of triggers that remind me of my childhood in Peru, particularly the diversity of the climate and the produce. My son is three, and I've always wondered how I could give him that sense of identity that I had in Peru. By spending time among the producers and growers and restaurants in Gippsland, I hope I can make him as proud to be from Victoria as I am to be from Peru. Trevor Perkins at Hogget Kitchen in Warragul has kindly shared his knowledge of the region and helped me to connect with local producers, and earn their respect and trust. They source all their product locally and make you feel part of their family in their own dining room. When we go there I feel an immediate connection to the region. If I could move there I would."
Hogget Kitchen, 6 Farrington Cl, Warragul, Vic,
Co-owner | Butter, Sydney
"Pizza is probably my favourite food. I mean, when can you say no to bread and meat! And being of Italian heritage, going to Bella Brutta in Newtown brings back a lot of memories of big family gatherings where someone was always rolling out dough and getting the wood-fired oven going. My auntie would make dough overnight with dry yeast – simple and tasty. The only thing I used to hate was the sfincione [Sicilian-style pizza] with anchovies because I hated anchovies, but my auntie would make one for me without them. Bella Brutta's clam pizza is amazing and the mortadella is incredible but it's really all about Luke Powell's unique tasty base. I always eat a pizza and a half when I go there. And these days I always order the anchovies."
Bella Brutta, 135 King St, Newtown, NSW,
During the current Sydney lockdown, Bella Brutta is open for takeaway only.
Head chef | Bacchus Restaurant, Brisbane
"Pause, just a few kilometres outside of Brisbane, looks like a boutique house. The welcome from Luca, the restaurant manager and sommelier, is astonishing; the way he speaks makes me feel like I'm chatting to my brother, but his knowledge of wines and the stories behind them is phenomenal. It's so surprising to find food like this 30 kilometres from Brisbane in a small town. The flavours, presentation and research that goes into each dish is amazing. For me, a chef with Italian heritage, the best experience is always when the pasta course is unveiled. The pasta here is some of the best I have ever eaten. The spaghettini with bisque and fish; the carbonara ravioli. Both are an explosion of taste. The entire atmosphere, the service, the location and the food make me feel right at home."
Pause, 16 Main St, Samford Village, Qld,
During the current Brisbane lockdown, Pause is offering four-course dine-at-home meals.
Owner | Ishizuka, Melbourne
"Kenzan in Melbourne feels like Japan, especially the sushi counter. When I'm there I feel omotenashi, or Japanese hospitality. They do omakase, which are the best creations of the day according to the chef's preference. You sit at the counter and feel the intimacy with the chef, exchanging enthusiasm and passion."
Kenzan, 45 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic,
  • undefined: Alexandra Carlton