The future of the hospitality/food and beverage industry isn’t exactly full of sunshine and flowers. With the recent increase in hospitality wages, new laws for lock outs, rising food costs and a myriad of other things – it’s become increasingly tricky for restaurateurs and chefs to grow their businesses and make decent money. The first wall for the majority of people is the CAPEX required to get going (capital expenditure – i.e. money to start up).
Here is where the interesting twist happens. What if there was a place that was pretty much fitted out with a full service kitchen, fridges, bar, etc, and all you needed to do was to add your own personal touches? What you would have there is Icon Park – the first crowd funded project dedicated to bars and restaurants.
The aim is to promote and showcase some amazing people and concepts within the Australian food and beverage scene by getting the public to vote and support their favourite concepts in order to bring them to life. To me this is the way the hospitality industry should be heading – lower risk, more creativity and a community that supports each other and works together.
Following on from the last Icon Park venture, namely Stanley Street Merchants, is Rupert and Ruby – the brainchild of Eli Challenger who heads up the kitchen over at Fat Rupert’s.
I had the chance to head down to Rupert and Ruby for a Sunday brunch/lunch and even though I was sporting a lovely little hangover from a little too much soju the previous night, I was ready to get into some food…. but first… coffee!
An important part to being able to write about food and dining is to be awake. Fortunately Rupert and Ruby are using some of the finest beans that have found their way into our grinders, by Melbourne roasters St Ali. They were able to get me into a somewhat more conscious state of mind with a fantastic coffee, as is their standard.
Another important part to being able to write about food and dining is to have an appropriate level of alcohol inside of you. Just kidding (not kidding) but maybe Ben who looks after the bar senses my impending alcoholism and offers us some cocktails. I can never say no to a bartender so we dive into the deep end. The Lush ($17), a mixture of gin, apricot brandy and blood orange is on the money and the fact that it has blood orange in it is a good enough reason to make it a morning cocktail. The Rue de Bourbon ($17) looks all class as it comes served in a flute with a nice flower, but the mixture of strawberry brandy, bourbon, boker’s bitters and prosecco gives a nice body and flavour to this spritzy cocktail.
I don’t think there could be a better hangover breakfast than the Fried chicken and waffles ($20). This soul food favourite has only really gained traction here in recent years; most likely due to the combination of sweet and savoury in the one bite which has taken us Aussies a little while to adapt to. Never the less, Rupert & Ruby have them on the menu and they are awesome! The chicken is tasty and moist and for those who are actually celiac, the coating on the fried chicken itself is gluten free so hold off on the waffles and enjoy. However there is nothing quite like the delight of slapping some fried chicken together with a piece of waffle that is smothered with some honey butter and vanilla bean ice cream. The assault of textures, temperatures, sweet and savoury that is going on with every bite is food poetry at its finest.
The soufflé on the breakfast menu was way too delicious to put into words. Described as a “twist on a classic” with pecorino cheese, crème fraiche and chives, Eli’s version of a classic cheese soufflé incorporates 2 luxurious egg yolks into the dish leading to some incredible #yolkporn moments whilst eating. The sharp nuttiness of the cheese is balanced by the creamy richness of the egg yolks; and as you dunk in your sourdough and pull away at the wonderfully light body of your soufflé, you cannot help but wonder if any other egg based breakfast you will eat will be better than this.
Even the most hardcore vegetarian should be able to appreciate the beauty that is the Big poppa ($15) – oh did you say double patty for only $5? Why of course I will. Speaking of which – these aren’t your run of the mill beef patties. Rather they are made up of one of the tastiest cuts, that being beef brisket which has been smoked for 12 hours before being ground into a patty and cooked to a perfect pink. Note to the wise: if your gourmet burger is not pink on the inside then it is wrong. End of story. This burger was full on juicy and meaty with a nice smoky undertone. Topped with cheese, pickles and secret sauce on a soft bun, this burger tastes even better than it looks and has come out of nowhere to become one of my top burgers in Sydney.
Dessert came in as an unexpected feature at Rupert & Ruby – with only two choices on the sweet side of things. I thought dessert may have just been tacked on the menu as a way to give diners something sweet to end the meal and make a few extra dollars. How wrong I was – and it goes to show that if you know what you are doing (and do it well), then you can keep it simple.
The Carrot cake ($15) with the hickory smoked cream cheese icing is one that every carrot cake fan should try. The story goes that one day they had left over hickory from the smoking of their other dishes in the menu, and figured they’d try smoking the frosting. The rest is history. Unlike many other carrot cakes out there, this one is incredibly soft, fluffy and light on the spices so you can get a hit of that smoked icing.
The star dessert for me however was the chocolate and orange jaffa cheesecake ($15). Bear in mind that the cheesecake changes every week or so depending on how they feel, but going by how fast these sell out I’m sure it will work its way back into rotation fairly soon. What makes this so amazing is that I HATE the combination of orange and chocolate even though I like orange and I like chocolate separately. So that being said, I absolutely mauled the hell out of this cheesecake! It was like a scene from one those discovery channel docos where the lion picks off the slowest zebra but with more carnage and ferocity. The orange in this case plays the role of supporting actor to the chocolates lead role if you will. By going not so hard on the orange component, the whole experience was infinitely better and the cheesecakes consistency tiptoed gracefully between not to heavy and not to light. It would take something special to coax me into liking chocolate with orange – and something special this cheesecake is.
With the space locked in until the end of this year, you actually don’t have that much time left to go. Two months seems like a long time but we all know how fast time goes and before you know it, Rupert & Ruby will make room for someone else to come in the New Year.
With more small businesses opening up and closing down than ever, it’s easy to say the outlook on the industry is bleak. But let’s focus on what people are doing to build the future of hospitality shall we? I for one, am excited to get on board with whatever Icon park is doing in the future – and if Eli Challenger represents what’s ahead of us in the world of food and beverage, then I have to say whole heartedly, that the future looks pretty damn good.
Rupert and Ruby Restaurant at IconPark
78 Stanley Street, East Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 7901 0396
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Icon park