Restaurant News

Coming soon: Alanna Sapwell’s pop-up restaurant in Noosa at the former Wasabi site

Esmay is a three-month restaurant made for post-COVID times, brought to you by the ex-Arc Dining head chef.

By Jordan Kretchmer
Chef Alanna Sapwell.
It goes without saying that COVID-19 was not factored into everyone's grand plans for 2020. Take Alanna Sapwell, for example. Gourmet Traveller's Best New Talent for 2020 was left without her head chef posting after Brisbane's Arc Dining suddenly closed in March.
So too Danielle Gjestland of Wasabi. After 17 years running the contemporary Japanese restaurant, Gjestland was due to sell her Noosa eatery and farm earlier this year, with plans to move to Japan with her husband.
Their plans have been waylaid, but for the good of the Noosa neighbourhood, their paths have crossed too. Sapwell is set to open Esmay, a pop-up restaurant in the former Wasabi site from 15 July. It's due to run for three months, with Sapwell doing – well, everything really. She'll devise the menu, oversee the wine list, deal with suppliers, write the press releases, and update the website. "It's a new learning curve for me to see the restaurant as a whole, not just from the kitchen," says Sapwell. "It's going to be hard, but it can't hurt and it's such an amazing opportunity."
While Esmay is Sapwell's solo project, she acknowledges the help and support of Gjestland. "Danielle is so amazingly supportive of the industry. She has been a mentor for so many people, and even now she's encouraging me to really grab [this opportunity] by the reins," she says. "It's a huge amount of generosity."
Danielle Gjestland, co-owner of the now-closed Wasabi.
Lockdown has given Sapwell the opportunity to pause, and think – really think – about her temporary restaurant for the post-COVID world. Affordability and fun will be the hallmarks of Esmay. "More than ever people don't have those deep pockets right now – but we still want good food and wine," says Sapwell. "I've used that as my base, then structured it backwards from there."
The menu will feature set menus of two or three courses, pitched at the $60 mark, and an ever-changing selection of "hyper-seasonal" snacks using produce from Gjestland's Honeysuckle Farm, and other small producers in the area. They might look like crisp mountain potatoes with nettle and truffles, or a toastie with the flesh and coral from Mooloolaba spanner crabs. "Some things from there will go on the menu for two days and never again, because that's the only time we can get that kind of produce," says Sapwell.
It's a restaurant borne from COVID-19, so the menu bears the influence of #isocooking. In Sapwell's terms this translates to roasted spatchcock with black garlic stuffed under the skin, with bread sauce. "I'd forgotten how delicious this comfort food is, so there are a few iso meals that I will be bringing into the restaurant, with some fine-tuning." And given its location, seafood is on the cards. "Given it's right on the water I'd be crazy not to do seafood. A big John Dory on some mushrooms and Geraldton wax – something along those lines."
This is not the gig Sapwell could have anticipated six months ago. Still, she's energised and excited by this turn of fortunes. "I'd never expected to have access to a waterfront restaurant," she says. "I'm pretty much pinching myself that it's happening."
Esmay is slated to open on 15 July at 2 Quamby Pl, Noosa Heads, Qld, (07) 5449 2443,
Open Wed-Sat from 5pm, Sun from noon.
  • undefined: Jordan Kretchmer