He put the Southern Highlands on the culinary map with the keenly sustainable Biota Dining – now James Viles is set to make waves as culinary director at the harbourside Park Hyatt Sydney.
We’ll be seeing your name up in lights with the launch of Dining by James Viles as the Park Hyatt Sydney’s signature restaurant. How does it feel?
The rebadging is great and it’s part of a relaunch which covers everything: the menus, the cutlery, the plates, the colour scheme, every bit of soft furnishing. It’s a restaurant that has had some amazing chef alumni through it such as Ross Lusted and Alessandro Pavoni. They all did wonderful things at the time and it just needs another injection of love because it’s a quintessential Sydney venue.
You’ll be focusing on seafood for the first time in your career. What’s the story behind the shift?
When I first arrived at the Park Hyatt Sydney I felt I needed some inspiration. One day I was standing in the restaurant looking out at the water and saw a massive group of kingfish bursting up. It really set me on the path of the new menu, which is all about the very best of seasonal seafood on the east coast of Australia.
Tell us about some of the dishes…
A lot of our first flavours are chilled seafood items. We have a raw dish of trevally with a sauce made of the roe and a burnt citrus dressing. There’s whole Bass Strait octopus cooked over coals, served with a pair of scissors so the guests can cut it up themselves. We’ll be doing whole lobster with a native XO sauce; whole mud crab with a Tasmanian black pepper sauce. I’m working on a salad based on a Caesar but with artichoke leaves and hearts. It’s a nod to the fact that every hotel seems to have a Caesar salad but this one will have stunning artichokes and a dressing made the traditional way with a coddled egg rather than mayonnaise. Add some damn good anchovies and it’s marvellous.
You’re keen on welcoming Sydneysiders as well as tourists – how are you broadening the Park Hyatt’s ambit?
We have a boardwalk entrance now so people can come straight in. And we’re moving away from degustation altogether to how I like to eat – a much more relaxed and warm approach to dining. Often when people come to places like this they feel uptight before they even sit down. The menu can really help people relax. If it’s too serious it doesn’t help but if we focus on the ingredients and quality cooking, we can make people feel more at home.
We hear you’re aiming to make the best club sandwich in Sydney…
You heard right. It’s at The Living Room which is a more relaxed space than the main dining room. We use super fine-shaved chook that’s steamed then cut with precision like sashimi. There’s nothing that shouldn’t be on a club sandwich – no cheese! And it’s cut into fingers, so there are no skewers.
You’re now in the heart of Sydney. How does sustainability remain a driving force for you?
Hotels have an incredible amount of waste so there’s nothing better than making something that taps into that. We have Scotch eggs, for instance, made with quail eggs wrapped in mince from salami offcuts. We’re making our own vinegars and buying whole-format cuts such as whole rainbow trout and using the bones and carcass for a trout XO sauce.
We’ve put two flow hives [beehives] on the roof and we should have our first batch of honey by November. We’ll also have a dry-waste compost system that will go into a loading dock to turn all our perishables into mulch to be picked up and go into gardens around Sydney. We’ve taken all plastics out of the operation, as well. There’s a lot to do but we’re getting there.
Image credit: Park Hyatt Sydney