Sam Ward is having trouble describing his new menu.
The young Perth chef scored a GT Best New Talent Award for his work at El Público, so it's fair to assume that Mexican cuisine is part of the plan, but Ward is thinking beyond the masa and mole. Jamaican spices will feature, as will Trinidadian flatbreads: just two of the influences Ward picked up while travelling through the Caribbean for six months last year. And just in case the mix wasn't cosmopolitan enough already, Ward also wants his food to reflect the meals he grew up with in New Zealand.
In short, diners are in for a wild ride when the doors open to Highgate Drink and Dine mid-May. The new restaurant/bar identity of Highgate's Ace Pizza, which closes 17 April, is being pitched as a neighbourhood hang-out, with Ward writing a menu designed to appeal as much to solo patrons on their way home from work as to throngs of destination-diners.
Ward says he's excited about this newfound kitchen freedom. "If I have an idea for something, cool, I can just cook it and not have to adapt it to be a certain way," he says. "I can still use Mexican flavours, but I can use Caribbean flavours, too. I can cook food that tastes good, whether it has a title or not."
Diners can thus look forward to the likes of jerk-spiced quail with apricot and hazelnuts, and a Trinidadian-style baigan choka - roasted eggplant dip - served with a baked-to-order flatbread. The wood-fired oven and grill, a legacy of the Ace Pizza days, will get a work-out, as will Western Australian produce.
Ward plans to buy whole beasts each week - Swan Valley hogget, for instance, or free-range pigs from Jindong - and serve different parts of the animal each night. Come in at the start of the week and dinner might feature cutlets; come the weekend, it might be backstrap or breast. The menu, it's safe to say, will be constantly in motion. And that, says Ward, is what it's all about. "It's the food I want to eat and the food I want to serve to my friends."
Highgate Drink & Dine, 448 Beaufort St, Highgate, WA