Update: Automata, the hotly anticipated first restaurant to open in Chippendale's newly restored The Old Clare Hotel, opens today. The 60-seat space offers a changing five-course menu for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday and Sunday lunch. Read all about it from the acclaimed head chef himself, Clayton Wells, in our interview below.
This month I sat down with Clayton Wells, arguably the chef causing the biggest buzz in Sydney right now. Along with his Singapore-based business partner Loh Lik Peng, he's the man behind one of the most highly anticipated restaurants of 2015 - Automata in Sydney's Chippendale.
The 60-seat restaurant will encompass the ground floor of the Old Clare Hotel site adjacent to the Carlton United Brewery building. Clayton is working closely with architect Matt Machine, who specialises in steel sculpture and custom motorcycles, to transform the unique heritage-listed site.
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How long have you been working in restaurants?
It's about to roll on to 15 years quite soon. I started with an apprenticeship working in hotels and after about five years I moved into restaurants.
What sparked your interest in a career in the restaurant industry?
I kind of just fell into it around the end of high school. I wasn't interested in a desk job at all, so I did a bit of work experience at a place near where I was living and was hooked straight away.
What have been some of the most memorable venues you've worked in and why?
I worked for Peter Gilmore at Quay in 2006 and it was a pretty big leap after spending the previous years in hotels. It really opened my eyes to the amazing produce available in Australia and the attention to detail required to be a restaurant of that calibre.
The first restaurant opening I was part of was Viajante in London with chef Nuno Mendes in 2010. Five years ago, it was a battle opening a restaurant in East London, but Viajante soon became a restaurant worth travelling to and in our first year we were awarded a Michelin star.
I came back from London to open Momofuku Seiobo with Ben Greeno in 2011. We didn't even know what style of food we were going to do until the last minute, so taking part of developing the cuisine at the first Momofuku outside of New York was pretty special.
What can you tell me about Automata?
We'll be doing a five-course set menu which will change frequently, utilising the best ingredients possible with minimal fuss. We want to surprise diners each time they return with new dishes and flavours.
The name Automata came up in the design stage of the restaurant where our inspiration was 'automation before electronics.'
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Why did you decide to open a venue at this time - do you see it as the next frontier for you as a chef or do you feel there's a hole in the Sydney restaurant scene that you need to fill?
It was my business partner Peng, whom I had worked with at Viajante in London, who approached me about starting my own place here in Sydney. When I visited the site in Chippendale with him I knew straightaway that it was the right time.
I'm combining the fine dining style of food that I like to cook with the casual restaurant feel that I enjoy eating in.
What can diners expect when doors open?
I really want it to be a fun neighbourhood place that people will keep coming back to for a good time, but I don't want them to get tired of eating the same dishes over and over again. That's why I want to keep the menu constantly evolving.