'What Philippa Sibley did next' has long been a game for Melbourne's restaurant-spotters. As peripatetic as she is highly regarded, in recent years Sibley revved up the crowds at Albert St Food & Wine and Prix Fixe before moving on again. But having signed on to turn around the food fortunes of glam CBD hangout Syracuse, Sibley says that this time she's there for a long time as well as a good time. "I have a positive feeling about this one."
A handsome Victorian bank renovated by Con Christopoulos and partners more than 20 years ago into the city's best looking wine bar, Syracuse has been owned since 2011 by husband and wife Richard and Nancy Moussi. Sibley says she's going to "go in with fresh eyes and rip the shit out of it. The room's beautiful and there's a huge bar area I want to put in an oyster bar with crabs, charcuterie, really Frenchy."
Syracuse might be named after a city in Sicily but Sibley will be sticking to her trademark broader remit of Mediterranean. "A bit French, a bit Italian. I can't be too Italian apart from the fact I can make a great risotto."
As befitting a chef typecast for her talent in patisserie, Sibley will be making a big dessert push as well. Don't expect to see her version of the Snickers, though - a creation aired on MasterChef that ended up proving a culinary albatross. In good news for lovers of her exceptional sorbets, however, she'll be "dragging my Pacojet along with me".
Sibley starts at Syracuse mid-May; in the meantime punters can get their hands on a small range of goods she's been working on over the past few months, including coconut-based dairy-free ice-creams and sorbets just released at Fredericks Fine Grocer in Richmond, and a chutney called Only A Ginger? (made from apricot, yellow tomatoes, yellow mustard and saffron, inspired by ginger-haired performer Tim Minchin). In the near future, you can also look out for a range of jerky including duck with mandarin, juniper and smoked almond. "Test batches were so delicious," says Sibley, "but I'm going to need a bigger dehydrator."
Syracuse, 25 Bank Pl, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9670 1777, syracuserestaurant.com.au