Ben Devlin is making the leap from head chef at Halcyon House's fine-diner Paper Daisy to chef-owner of a 30-seat restaurant in Pottsville. Never heard of it? The small town is about 30 minutes from Byron Bay where Devlin grew up.
"It's a little bit quieter and a little bit more relaxed than what Byron is," he says. "But still has that same feeling and same people."
It's good news for the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, adding another detour-worthy diner to a handful of others that are scattered along the coast. With that in mind, Devlin plans to offer more lunch services than dinner and, come the weekend, a standout brunch menu with a drinks list to match. Think house-made kombuchas and teas, with alcoholic options in the mix, too.
The entire menu at the as-yet unnamed restaurant centres around a wood-fired grill, with lots of fermented sauces, smoked vegetables and tropical fruit from the region also making appearances. Devlin is keeping the carte short and sweet, with no more than 12 dishes on at one time. There will be the option to order à la carte, try them all or opt for a more concise chef's menu.
In the morning, you might see a rye flour blini with egg yolk vinegar and steamed Balmain bugs from "a great farm up the road", or perhaps an omelette of smoked and dried tomatoes glazed with a crab stock.
For the lunch and dinner menus, Devlin is experimenting with hot-smoked zucchini paired with green romesco and a chickpea-koji sauce as well as a bread course of steamed bread, green garlic garum and 'nduja made with albacore tuna rather than the usual pork. Dessert includes a steamed pudding of black sapote fruit from the region, served with a sweet macadamia miso.
So, why would a chef want to leave an award-winning boutique hotel for a solo venture?
"Opening my own place has been my goal for as long as I realised it was a thing to do," Devlin says. "All the really great people I've worked for have been people that owned their own restaurants. I saw that career path as the way to go."
Despite the seaside location of the restaurant, don't expect the décor to be typical coastal chic. Devlin has engaged Julie King of Whitewood Agency in Byron Bay to deliver a space that is warm and welcoming, and reflects the landscape. Armed with aerial shots of of Pottsville and the surrounding region, King will work with a palette of blue, yellow, red and green to depict the volcanic soil, lush vegetation and coastal areas captured in the photos.
As for the future of Paper Daisy, there's no word on who will replace Devlin but we can confirm it's someone from outside the region.
Devlin's new restaurant will open in late January or early February of 2019.