Since leaving his head chef posting at Paper Daisy, ranked 67th in the Gourmet Traveller 2019 Restaurant Guide, excitement has been building about Pipit, chef Ben Devlin's new venture in the NSW Northern Rivers region.
It's not fine-dining, despite his Noma credentials. And it's not exactly "coastal", despite being located in Pottsville, a town roughly halfway between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. "Coastal – it doesn't sound like much of a descriptor, does it?," says Devlin.
But this is the Northern Rivers, where produce farms and quality seafood suppliers are abundant. And then there's that woodfire grill in Pipit's modest kitchen.
Devlin has brought the best design elements of Paper Daisy's woodfire grill to Pottsville – it's a three-in-one design that allows for ingredients to be cooked on, above and under the grill.
"There are racks above, so we can smoke or dry ingredients, and ash from the fire falls into a drawer below," he says. "The drawer gets extremely hot – about 300 degrees. It's almost like having a tiny woodfire oven underneath for flatbreads, or burying vegetables in ash."
On the menu, vegetables are king: grilled cabbage stuffed with mud crab, fig-leaf-baked celeriac with grain porridge and chrysanthemum, and an eggplant "tartare" with fresh peanuts from Palisa Anderson's Boon Luck Farm ("They're juicy and crisp – there's nothing like pulling peanuts from the ground yourself"). Where there's protein, there's cobia, pipis or hot-smoked mackerel; spatchcock at a pinch, if you're seeking land animals. Just don't expect beef.
"There are some spectacular cattle farms in Australia. But I think about the amount of food that goes into a cow to get a kilo of meat – it seems a little unbalanced for me," he says.
Trimming – whether it was beef from the menu, or the size of the menu itself – was an easy choice. During his Paper Daisy tenure, Devlin contended with breakfast, lunch, dinner and bar menus; here, brevity rules. "We're focusing on a few dishes we're happy with, and will change them more frequently," he says.
On Pipit's opening weekend (11-12 May), they're hosting two fundraising lunches for OzHarvest. Proceeds from the four-course set-menu lunches will go directly to the not-for-profit rorganisation that tackles food waste. Both are now booked out, though diners will have the chance to experience Pipit when it commences its regular trading.
Perhaps by then, the realisation that he's opened a restaurant will sink in for Devlin. Outside the kitchen, he's spent the past months tiling, painting and grouting the restaurant's interiors himself. Oh, and juggling the demands of his four-month-old baby with his partner, co-owner and restaurant manager Yen Trinh.
"I feel more like a tiler and a builder than a chef," says Devlin. "But I look around and think, 'This is wild'. This is the position I've wanted to be in for a really long time."
Shop 4/8 Coronation Ave, Pottsville, NSW, pipitrestaurant.com, lunch from noon, Fri – Mon, dinner from 6pm Thu – Sat.