Stacks of bright citrus fruit all in a row, Cape Grim beef hanging aged and gnarly in a softly lit cabinet, walls of tea in colourful canisters and boxes - at times, the new David Jones' food hall at Bondi Junction conjures romantic ideas of old-fashioned markets, something the company was striving for when it began its three-year project to overhaul their food offer. But the new space certainly doesn't have the raw or earthy feel of your local farmers' market, and there's nothing old-fashioned about the smoked garlic, Australian natives and edible flowers on the shelves (or the abundance of prepared packaged fresh food).
The reboot of the Bondi Junction location - part of an overall $100 million investment in the company's food offer - took 18 months from idea to launch and is the first stone to be laid in an ambitious three-year strategy to place the company at the forefront of food retailing in Australia.
Masterminded by Neil Perry, whose game plan was to bring produce back to the fore, the new-look space features nine 'worlds' - seafood, chocolate, cheese among them - with experts manning each counter, offering samples and answering questions about their goods, carefully selected from here and overseas. Free-range pork from Darling Downs, the catch of the day overseen by Steve Costi, say, or cave-ripened Gorgonzola from the Italian alps. The ingredients are so good the in-store restaurant will be using them in simple dishes structured around the grill, oyster bar and wok. "There's nothing better than eating somewhere where the incredible ingredients surround you," Perry says.
The menu, classic and likeable, includes market fish drizzled with a caper, brown butter and lemon sauce, a dish of mushrooms and polenta given crunch with pangrattato, and a stir-fry of Hazeldene chicken and cashew nuts, all complemented by steaks, a wagyu burger and sashimi, plus some interesting cocktails and craft beers. (Wine, which doesn't fall under Neil Perry's purview, feels a bit out of step with the food offer.)
About 10 per cent of the new product range includes exclusive products, complemented by the likes of a house Sensory Lab espresso blend and bespoke ice-cream under a DJs label made by Serendipity (hello banoffee-pie flavour), while the new premium home brand line of pantry staples and fresh pre-packed goods forms close to half of the offer. The shelf space devoted to packets of pre-chopped vegetables seems more in step with fast convenience culture than the conversation around packaging waste that's currently top-mind in Australia, and the offer of cherries in winter suggests a buying strategy more about having it all than having it in season.
Bondi Junction opened to the public today; next up is the re-opening of Wollongong's food hall after a 10-year hiatus, then a more modest make-over of a yet-to-be-named Melbourne store and a $200-million renovation of the Sydney CBD space that begins this September. Stand-alone retail stores ¬- smaller and focused on convenience - are also being discussed.
While there's plenty of sparkle - some of it distracting - in the new food hall, it's built on solid foundations: a respect for food and the people that love it.
David Jones Food Hall, Westfield Bondi Junction, 500 Oxford St, Bondi Junction, NSW, (02) 9619 1111, davidjones.com.au. Open Mon-Wed 9am-7pm, Thurs-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 9.30am-7pm.