Ethan Ortlipp would like nothing more than to see a sea of smiling faces enjoying the sun in the courtyard of the Royal Crown Hotel at Dudley.
As the sign says at the rear of the hotel, there are "no bad vibes" there. Ortlipp and his business partners have worked hard to breathe new life into the old hotel since taking over the reins in 2017.
The sad fact is, it's just not feasible. Yet.
Good news stories about the hospitality industry are, thankfully, emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic haze but there are just as many hard luck stories, if not more.
Ortlipp also gave us Coal & Cedar on Newcastle's Hunter Street, an intimate speakeasy cocktail bar. Both it and the Royal Crown were forced to close as social distancing restrictions were introduced in mid-March, with the Royal Crown now open for takeaways only. He kindly took five with Food & Wine to share his experiences.
You've had to shut both venues for many weeks now. It must have been a difficult decision to make?It has been a substantial amount of time now. Even before the forced closures mixed messages from the government kept patronage low. This was followed by the rapidly changing indoor/outdoor capacity we were adapting to and the fact that February/March are generally the slowest months for the hospitality sector already. Close to 30 staff were affected across my venues. A lot of them, great friends. Closing the doors for an unknown length of time was difficult but nowhere near as difficult as telling our team their jobs were gone and we were unable to tell them if and when they would return.
You decided to hold off from opening for 10 "dine-in" customers. What factors influenced that decision? Coal & Cedar is a bar, not a restaurant, and the 10-person rule was mostly suited to small restaurants that were already operating their kitchen for takeaway and served a classic single dish menu. We offer progressive share platters for our guests. The rules outlined by the NSW Government state that all patrons can only attend venues to consume meals. For this reason alone we could not open. We also don't want to compromise our customer experience. The vibe and atmosphere of our venues are equally as important as our food and drink offering. The Royal Crown Hotel at Dudley won't open until further down the track either. There are substantial costs in reactivating a large dormant venue and until more realistic restrictions are enacted or more patronage is allowed, sadly it would be a slow death for us and for most. The Federal Government's statements such as "pubs are open" and "time for happy hour" are misleading in regards to how small hospitality businesses operate.
Was it difficult to transition into offering takeaway meals at the Royal Crown?At Dudley the transition to take away wasn't incredibly difficult. The majority of the menu stayed available and the community has been incredibly supportive and very likely ensured we can make it to the other end. My general manager is quite tech savvy and had a strong online ordering system synced within a week or so. Our menu is definitely not your ordinary pub grub.
Will you be opening for 50 dine-in customers? Coal & Cedar will open for 50 if a few of the associated conditions are dropped, like having to eat a meal and so forth. We may wait a week or so after those restrictions are lifted to observe customer behaviour at our Sydney friends' venues to ensure optimum operation under whatever conditions are imposed. The hotel will have to wait a bit longer as we are a pokie-free venue and rely on good service, high patronage, dining and our community sport teams.
Anything else you would like to share? I'd like to mention that already several venues have closed and won't be returning, with many more on the ropes. I'm not sure who will be left by the end of the year without some innovative support and deregulation in the sector. The hospitality industry and I have some intelligent proposals to discuss with the City of Newcastle councillors. The aim is to limit the rapid deterioration of the city's night-time economy and to avoid the very real risk of many more business closures and empty shopfronts returning to Newcastle. There are huge domestic tourism opportunities on the horizon and if we act now we can beat some of the major cities in night-time recovery and employment opportunities.
Farm to Bowl Collaboration Ramen
Susuru Ramen & Gyoza are collaborating with Steve and Liz Binnie, of Binnie Beef, to add a special Wagyu ramen dish to the menu as of June 1.
It's called the Wagyu Karubi Rib Kuppa Ramen.
"We have collaborated with Steve and Liz, local passionate farmers producing, in my opinion, some of the best wagyu I have tasted," Taiyo Namba said.
"Chef Mark Rusev has made a ramen based on the traditional Korean beef rib soup dish 'Kuppa', perfect for the current winter chills.
"Mark has come onboard with Susuru recently and is in his element playing with the myriad of flavours and the deep culture that informs the dish 'ramen'."
Kuppa is traditionally done with Karubi ribs. The mouth-watering flavours that Wagyu offers, Namba says, are rich omega fats that assist in retaining most of the desired flavours through cooking and literally makes the meat melt in your mouth.
"It's the first of many experiences", Rusev said,
"It's hard to focus on one thing when there are so many ideas to play with but I'm enjoying experimenting with the layers of flavours and showcasing each special."
Steve Binnie said his cattle were born and raised in their pristine environment, grazing on natural rye grass and clover pastures and drinking pure, clean water from its natural springs. From here, they are transported to the Darling Downs, to be finished on barley and silage for more than 400 days.
Limited edition craft beer
Craft beer champions Founders First have partnered with Liquorland, Vintage Cellars and First Choice Liquor to sell 5000 cases of limited edition Indie Craft Knock Offs at 1000 stores across Australia. The case includes beers from craft brands like Jetty Road, Sparkke, Sauce, Young Henry's, Slipstream, Beerfarm and Newcastle's FogHorn Brewery. With thousands of pubs, venues and small bars across the country shutting their doors in March, craft breweries need your support.
Bao on the move
Bao Brothers are bringing their Bao at Home kits to Singleton this Saturday, May 30. You can find them at Townhead Park from 2pm to 3pm. Founders and brothers-in-law Nathan Martin and Dave Griffin grew up in Singleton, as did their childhood friend and former head chef at Bao Brothers After Dark, James Mulholland.
Freebie of the week
In The Curry Guy Easy, curry house expert Dan Toombs shares the secret of fuss-free curries. Toombs, also known as The Curry Guy, has perfected the art of British Indian restaurant cooking, having spent years researching the methods and secrets of Indian chefs. Here he shares that knowledge. There are 100 dishes to try at home, including Chicken 65, Black Dhal, Aloo Chaat, Simple Dosas, Prawn Balti and Lamb Keema Saag, as well as hints, cheats and ingredient shortcuts to save time and money.
The Curry Guy Easy is out now through Hardie Grant Books, RRP $24.99. Food & Wine has a copy to give away. To enter, send the words "The Curry Guy" with your name, address and number to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries close on Monday at 9am.