The New Normal: Immersive Restaurant Experiences

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In the Australian hospitality scene, having a clear, succinct concept for your restaurant is key.

These days people are no longer satisfied with a jack-of-all trades approach; diners want masters of craft behind the stainless-steel pass of the open-plan kitchens. Consistency of product is key when you’re working with such a focussed offering, yet, if the vibe and the details are lacking, the whole concept could fall down. In order to find out what exactly it takes to bring a truly unique, immersive and successful food concept to life, we went behind the scenes with two restauranteur teams to uncover all the details from the produce selected, to the finishing touches. Join us to find out why Sydneysiders are all aboard with a one-dish Tuscan restaurant and an expansive CBD Brasserie merging the nuances of a French bistro and an all-day NYC diner.

Brave new restaurant

Down an unassuming alleyway in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, descend down a set of stairs into the back entrance of a small, dark bar; you wouldn’t be the first to think you’d stumbled into the wrong place. However, continue through the door behind the Venetian-inspired bar and into what feels like a hidden Osteria in the cobblestone laneways of Florence.

The brainchild of well-known restauranteurs Warren Burns and James Bradey, this T-bone only restaurant is a brave venture to say the least. But that didn’t faze these hospitality veterans when they decided to launch.

“Sydney needs a focus in hospitality,” Burns tells us, “the days of trying to run a mass serving that ticks all the boxes are done. We wanted to focus on one thing and do it well.”

That meant a month-long trip through Florence sampling the best known (and less known) Bistecca restaurants all in the name of research. What they discovered was, honestly, the constraints of Italian tradition were squeezing the flavour out of these choice cuts of meat. Burns and Bradey did their due diligence chatting with the famous chefs behind the scenes and learning the ins and outs of Italian requirements for the Tuscan specialty.

In Tuscany, there’s very little marbling on the beef (traditionally coming from the Chianina breed of cattle), and they do little to season it or add flavour. The Bistecca team knew that wasn’t going to fly in Sydney.

Here, it all starts with grass-fed, hormone-free beef from the Riverina region of NSW, sourced through their close relationship with Haverick Meats.

“It’s just the way they do it,” says Burns, “it’s a family business and that’s how we run our businesses as well. We feel so supported by them.”

Once the T-bones arrives at the venue, they’re dry-aged in-house for two days for a bit of extra flavour without being too strong, as can happen from longer aging periods.

Being the star of the show, the care taken in sourcing the beef, prepping it and cooking it are the number one priority at Bistecca, but there really is so much more to the concept that makes it what it is.

It’s in the details of the tabletops dressed in butcher paper where the weight of your chosen cut is scrawled in black texter, the green detail in the ceramics and the antique touches, like the lockboxes at the entrance (used to hold your phone, if you so dare to leave it).

“In Italy, the food, the wine, it’s part of life,” says Burns. And that’s what they want people to feel when they come into Bistecca: completely immersed in the experience of the food and those it’s shared with.

A one-stop shop

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“It’s old world New York meets contemporary brasserie,” says John Vissaritis, owner of District Brasserie. What he and business partner Sam Loutfi wanted to create was an all-day diner, a place where the busy elite of Sydney’s CBD could come for a business meal – a breakfast meeting or a long, lingering lunch, and know they were going to get quality food and a quality experience.

There’s a distinctly French rhythm to the venue, everything from the dark, moody lighting to the detailing around the granite bar and leather booths.

In the lead up to launching District Brasserie, the team’s first venture back into the Sydney market in some years, they spend a lot of time in the U.S., and what they noticed were the sheer amount of all-day dining options with menus full of high-end, quality ingredients that were also serving all-day speciality coffee and organic, artisan bakery products.

“That was lacking in Sydney,” explains Vissaritis. So, he and Loutfi decided to change that.

Located on the ground level of Chifley Tower, District Brasserie has the ability to be whatever you want it to be. Grab a croissant or a couple of pieces of sourdough, baked fresh in-house that morning, or a range of fresh sandwiches and salads. Or, if you’ve got the time, sit down and dive into the menu where you’ll discover beautiful Jack’s Creek Beef dishes grilled to perfection over charcoal and mangrove wood in their Josper charcoal oven.

“The Josper was in my mother’s garage when we started,” Vissaritis tell us, “and thanks to our lasting relationship with Haverick Meats, we were able to test different cuts of meat while we were learning the ins and outs of this style of cooking – they supplied everything for weeks of testing.”

For the team at District, the care and consideration put into sourcing the produce from some of Australia’s best regions such as mutli-award winning Jack’s Creek from central NSW, are key to bringing their menus to life and giving them the ability to thrive as a quality, all-day offering in the CBD.

For Loutfi and Vissaritis, this venue was the culmination of all of the things they’ve loved about the hospitality industry in the past 20 years coming together under one roof.

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