Aaron Carr, chef at Vasse Felix for a remarkable 21 years, is leaving the pioneering Margaret River winery to open a new restaurant.
The veteran south-west chef is joining forces with Tony Davis and Redmond Sweeney of new-wave wine label Snake & Herring and setting up shop in Dunsborough, a coastal town and popular holiday destination located 10 minutes from Yallingup.
While Carr is keeping an open mind about the concept ("You never know what's going to work until you get into the kitchen and cook," he says), the plan is to open for lunch and dinner and make West Australian producers the focal point of both the kitchen and cellar. In the same way his new business partners scour the land for parcels of grapes, he'll be doing the same with ingredients.
"Like the wine, the menu is going to be a bit of a safari," says Carr, who cites the direct, flavour-first cooking of restaurants such as Sydney's Ester and Fred's as inspiration. "It's about keeping things as simple as possible and letting the produce speak for itself. Because it's so good, that should be easy."
He's equally excited about the location of the as-yet-unnamed venture: the restaurant is in a building that will back onto the town's Dugalup Brook Creek and will feature both indoor and outdoor areas. Interior designer and frequent collaborator with The Lucas Group (Chin Chin, Hawker Hall) Samantha Eades is overseeing the fit-out of the rammed limestone, concrete and steel space.
"I wouldn't have gone into it if it was just a café," says Carr. "It felt like the right time to do something for myself and get in with a young wine company that wants to grow and is keen to have a crack."
Carr's new venture is due to open in November, just in time for this year's Margaret River Gourmet Escape. Carr finishes at Vasse Felix at the end of May and a successor is yet to be announced.