Wickham restaurant Flotilla quickly carved its own "refined but casual" niche in Newcastle's diverse dining scene when it opened in April last year.
It sat there, comfortably, until COVID-19 forced it to close.
Chris Joannou and business partner Zach Scholtz worked with architect Jason Elsley to create something special, inspired by Abbott Kinney in Los Angeles. The restaurant was designed to seat just 48 diners, eight of which have prime position at a bar overlooking the open kitchen and its charcoal oven.
Those numbers have now been reduced due to social distancing regulations however diners will still be able to experience the thrill of watching head chef Paul Niddrie and his team in action when Flotilla re-opens this weekend.
If they can book a seat, that is. Flotilla's re-opening is one of the hottest tickets in town.
"For a little venue like Flotilla, which has a strong sense of its own community and regular customers, the support has been both overwhelming and quite humbling," former Silverchair bassist Joannou says.
"It was a deliberate move to delay re-opening, yes. The size of the venue was one key driver. We're pretty limited with numbers but we felt it was the right time to fire it back up and get people back in."
Speaking of fired up, head chef Paul Niddrie has been chomping at the bit to get back in the kitchen. He's been helping Joannou at his other venues, The Edwards and The Criterion, in recent weeks but Flotilla is his passion.
"Everything is coming together all at once and it's a little stressful but I can't wait to start serving," Niddrie says.
"I was blown away by all the bookings. Pretty humbled and chuffed, to be honest."
So, Flotilla is his baby?
"Yes, it's my baby," he says, laughing.
Niddrie loves to cook and he loves to be creative when he cooks. At Flotilla he has the freedom to do both.
"When we first opened we did it really quickly and it didn't leave us with much time to experiment. This time around, I've had the opportunity to work on a couple of things and the way in which I want people to dine with us," he says.
"Traditionally you see an entree, main and dessert in restaurants and we will still stick with that, but with a bit more fluidity in the menu."
He would like, for example, people to be able order three or four small plates, one large plate, one to share plus some sides.
"What's more exciting than when you look down at your table and there are three or four dishes, amazing colours and exciting flavours?," he asks.
"I love to cook and that's my motivation for being a chef. If you take that away, cheffing is way too difficult. It's a nightmare of a job, so if I didn't love cooking, I wouldn't do it. So for me, one of the reasons I love cooking is because I love sharing food with people.
"I love cooking for people who have saved for a few weeks to go out for that special occasion and they've chosen my restaurant. The people who love food and appreciate food are the people that i want to cook for."
"In previous menus I was playing a lot with dry-ageing fish, which we will still be doing, but I think we needed to approach it from a different way - and this excites me," he says.
"COVID has meant restaurants can't have as many people through the doors and people don't have as much disposable income. I think we need to be a little more proactive and charge a little less but be smarter with the way we cook.
"So before I used to have a 160-gram piece of wagyu on the menu, which was lovely, but instead of plating it with a nice garnish and a lovely sauce, I'm being a bit more creative and inventive.
"We'll be serving a play on yakitori - barbecued wagyu short rib skewers finished with shrimp paste, a kohlrabi fondant and shiitake crumbs. The idea is we can still have premium protein on the table, but we use it in a different way and make it more affordable."
As for dessert, he is revisiting his childhood and taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
"I am hoping one of the desserts will be based on Neapolitan ice-cream. I have such strong memories of the Black & Gold brand and the strawberry strip that was always the last to go," he says, laughing.
"You would pick the container up and you'd know immediately that your sibling had been into it because one side of the container was heavier than the other.
"There will be three ice-creams but instead of the traditional three flavours it will be black sesame, raspberry and yoghurt. You will get a bit of nostalgia looking at it, but when you're eating it, it's a different story."
He admits to "having a love affair with miso like every other chef out there" and will be playing with miso, polenta and apples on another dessert.
Niddrie trained in Newcastle under Peter Bryant and Mark Hosie and says they always had their finger on the pulse.
"They know how to get people into venues and I hope I have learned a little from them in this regard, at the very least," he says.
"Our Chef's Dining Table created a point of difference in Newcastle, the way Restaurant Mason does in a very classic way, and subo in a very contemporary way.
"We have a bit more of a laidback vibe and there was a little gap in the market where we were able to show Newcastle what else dining can be at that kind of level. Well, I hope we're doing that."
Having diners watch on as he and his team cook in Flotilla's kitchen is, Niddrie says, a good reason for staff to be at their absolute best at all times.
"You need to be confident in your movements and your actions in the kitchen and if you're doing that, there's no reason to be nervous about being watched. Chefs need to be disciplined. It's a hard job and it's only harder if you're not organised."
Joannou and Scholtz have given Niddrie the opportunity to try new ideas in the Flotilla kitchen and for that he is grateful.
"Chris has never once pulled me back on anything. He is very creative and has some amazing ideas himself," Niddrie says.
"He's watched the menus at Flotilla develop and just before COVID hit he remarked on the level of maturity of the menu and how it had refined itself into having its own personality that screamed Flotilla.
"It's a nice vote of confidence. He knows how to drive me and pushes me to go above and beyond."