It's brave to propose a collaboration with a chef before you've eaten at their restaurant. But that's precisely what Joel Bickford, Aria Sydney's head chef, did when he approached Clinton McIver, his counterpart at Melbourne's Amaru.
"I hadn't eaten at Amaru, but I liked what I saw on their Instagram – our restaurants have a similar style," says Bickford. He contacted McIver through a mutual friend, and the pair then spent three days in Melbourne researching and planning their collaborative menu. "We both knew what we wanted – a relaxed and refined dégustation with nice produce presented simply," says Bickford. "If we didn't think it would work, we wouldn't have done it."
In July, Bickford and McIver will present the eight-course menu at their respective restaurants, though the distance separating the chefs proved challenging in the lead-up to finalising the dishes. "Clinton doesn't just work up the road," says Bickford. "But we've both been around the block around the few times, and when you design a menu, you know the do's and don'ts."
The menu includes a dessert built around clementine, violet and chocolate; and steamed trevally with squid, sweet peas and a garlic-buttermilk sauce. "There's beautiful fish, the pop of the peas and a really nice peppery horseradish finish from cime di rapa," says Bickford. "And the squid is sliced paper-thin and dipped in warm mushroom oil to take off the rawness."
It's a tale of two cities, and two very differently sized dining rooms. Diners will fit snugly in Amaru's 34-seater restaurant, while 50 diners for the Sydney event will be hosted in Aria's front room – it's one of three dining spaces in the 200-seat restaurant, with stunning views of the harbour. "We have put so much thought into this menu and how it would play out in the dining room for our guests," says McIver. "We've purposely kept each dinner pretty intimate and personalised."
It's not the first time the chefs have collaborated with out-of-towners. McIver previously hosted Hobart's Fico in his kitchen, while Bickford, during his time at The Gantry, invited Biota's James Viles into the waterside restaurant. "With these collaborations, you've got to be smart about it and pick people whose styles you know," says Bickford. "And when you know, you know."
Aria Sydney, Monday 8 July, 1 Macquarie St, Sydney, NSW, ariasydney.com.au
Amaru, Monday 15 July, 1121 High St, Armadale, Vic, amarumelbourne.com.au
Tickets to the Amaru x Aria dinners are $200, with optional wine pairings for $150. Beverages are avaialable à la carte.