A few months ago, Parcs, one of Melbourne's best and most idiosyncratic new diners, closed. Founding chef Dennis Yong's steadfast commitment to repurposing food waste – Parcs is "scrap" backwards – took any guest lucky enough to stop by the small 20-seat restaurant to some uniquely delicious places.
Since Yong's departure in June and owner-operators The Windsor Hotel Group's subsequent assurance that it would eventually return in some form, we've eagerly awaited news. Now, we've got it: Parcs is coming back and reopening in less than two weeks. And despite Yong leaving some big shoes to fill, his replacement, The Windsor Hotel Group's executive chef Damien Neylon, might just be the right person for the job.
Neylon is the former head chef at regional Victorian dining institution Brae (he's also worked at institutions such as Mugaritz and Osteria Francescana), so he's spent much of the last decade executing Brae chef Dan Hunter's cooking philosophy of self-sufficiency and seasonality, all the while relying on trusted relationships with small farmers and producers. Whereas the old Parcs was known for making the most of food waste, perhaps this new incarnation will become known for preventing food waste.
"The menu will change every two weeks," Neylon says. "Obviously working at Brae for a long time, micro-seasonality has really influenced my thought process." So, rather than menus that focus in broad strokes on the four seasons of the year, the new menus at Parcs will focus on the 12 micro-seasons of each year. "We've broken each season up into early, mid and late," says Neylon. "A good example is white asparagus, which is around just for a short period – it'll be in season in about two or three weeks and that'll be showcased on the late spring menu."
"Once we go into early summer, it'll be gone and then we might use the first of the zucchini flowers, so we'll try and change things." Although for the time being Neylon is sourcing ingredients from close to home ("really taking what's available here in the city and from surrounding farms and small producers," he says), the plan is for Parcs to eventually get all of its vegetables from a rooftop garden on top of the Windsor Hotel that Neylon tends to. But upcycling existing food remains at the core of what Parcs does – chiefly thanks to the alchemy of pickling and preserving.
"I think pretty much 50 to 70 percent of the menu will be repurposed in some way," Neylon says. "Really relying on our skills in the kitchen to repurpose things that might be deemed waste products and using them in new ways."
Despite that continued ethos, expect the new Parcs to have a more multicultural, improvisational lean to it. "We won't be limited to one style of cuisine or culture," Neylon says. "On the opening menu, there's a tea made of broadbean leaves in the style of Chinese Pu'er tea, but we've also been making an Ethiopian flatbread with sourdough starter and a Malaysian belacan shrimp paste."
Drinks at new Parcs will pick up where old Parcs left off, this time with a broader list than before, with just as much of an emphasis on biodynamic and sustainable producers as before, along with more sakes and cocktails.
Neylon is heading up a kitchen with only two other people in it, has to come up with a new 20-dish menu every two weeks, and still hold down his day job as the Windsor Hotel Group's executive chef, but he's relishing the challenge.
"I'm probably doing two peoples' roles here, but I'm feeling excited and ready to go," he says. Because after all, Parcs staying closed would have been a waste.
Parcs reopens at 198 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, on October 17. parcs.com.au