The new HOTA Gallery at the Gold Coast’s cultural precinct, Home of the Arts, opened in May 2021, including two new dining venues, Palette and The Exhibitionist Bar.
Palette, on the ground floor, is a fine dining restaurant featuring Australian cuisine, especially fresh, high-quality seasonal produce from within the ‘100-mile table’.
Complementing the gallery, the restaurant venue with its warm wood, stone and filtered light is a striking continuation of the gallery’s rainforest theme. Additionally, for each new gallery exhibition, Palette has launched a new menu with dishes chosen to reference both the exhibition theme and individual artworks within the exhibition. In doing so, it also casts a light on the art of food.
As Palette launches its third menu, we interview HOTA Gallery’s Executive Chef Dayan Hartill-Law about his food philosophy and the way that Palette is seeking to develop the Gold Coast’s culinary identity.
Palette is launching a new menu this week. Where do you start when creating a menu?
This is a completely new menu of new dishes; we began development as soon as the previous menu was launched.
We reference art as much as possible, but we also don’t want to be placating that ethos. Art is just a bounce point. Within art there is ‘origin’, and the menu creation happens from that point.
We must pay attention to other principles as well. For example, we look at who we are and where we are.
At the start of any menu development, firstly I look at what native plants are flowering or fruiting by walking around the Gold Coast Botanic Gardens with my son. (Recently, I did a collaborative dinner with a young indigenous chef who gave me about 25 species of native plants, so now I can see the seasons in my own backyard.) We also begin to look at items in season in the previous menu that we can store for the next menu, looking forward to utilizing bunya miso that was so generously gifted to me by Kieron Anderson.
We are currently foraging for riberry, blue quandong, lilly pilly, native tamarind, and these become the building blocks to ferment, pickle, vinegar, dry… to give us elements to scatter through the menu. These native foods tie in to where we are and who we are, as all species are endemic to the region.
Talking about who we are, what was your vision for Palette, and how does it reflect time and place?
We don’t have a firmly established cultural identity on the Gold Coast. Our population is predicted to treble this summer and we really need a sense of pride in who we are and what we’re about.
So, it would seem illogical, in a building that has such cultural magnitude, for Palette not to talk to who we are. We are surrounded by amazing producers: small artisan producers, fishermen, hunters, foragers. We start a new menu by speaking to those producers, asking the farmers to plant different items for us, asking the fishermen what will be running then, and talking to aquaculture about what they are producing.
Transparency is important. Our team is well versed in explaining what we are doing and in advocating for our products. For example, one of the dishes on the new menu is ‘Aquaculture Murray Cod’. It’s predicted that if we continue with current practice, by 2050 there will be no wild seafood, so transparency about using aquaculture-produced fish can lead into those conversations about the future of food. For us, in this space, we always consider the traceability of the product and have long conversations surrounding origin and technique of catch when using wild products, favouring line caught or by-catch species. Saying that, we are in a part of the world that does aquaculture very well. Local producers, Rocky Point, for example, are pioneers for aquaculture in the world. They clean the water both on the way in and on the way out of enclosures, leaving no impact on the surrounding environment.
In your second menu, there were some standout dishes, such as the Fraser Island spanner crab and the Voronoi dessert, which respectively referenced flowers in Robinson’s rainforest and the HOTA Gallery building itself (which in turn references the rainforest). What are some of the standouts in the new menu?
The HOTA Gallery’s new exhibition ‘Art Mixtape’ launches on December 18. It’s a mixture of multiple disciplines, such as sculpture, paintings, video media and music.
The piece that most resonated with me is Sam Jinks’s ‘Messenger’, a sculpture of a crouching nude woman with huge golden wings. It’s so imposing, especially with the way it is situated in its own space in the gallery, so we decided to open the menu with reference to it because it’s so visually special.
‘Golden Chicken Wing’ is a boned-out wing of locally sourced chicken filled with an aged rice, seasoned with native plum vinegar and dried plum, served with pandan shoyu, leaning into some of the advanced fermentation we are doing in the space, leaning into a native lens through fermentation.
Some dishes reference other food, such as the Burrawong Gaian duck. As you eat it you will realise that it’s a variance on the Peking Duck experience.
We have bounced off Michael Lindeman’s artwork of six panels spelling out ‘çheese’ surrounded by armed rat traps to make up our selection of locally produced cheeses.
It’s quirky and fun, the eclectic mix of modern and traditional art in this exhibition.
You have worked in a variety of places and contexts: Big city – The Press Club & Quay, Resorts – Peppers & Lizard Island, Hotels – Versace, and now Home of the Arts. How have these influenced what we see on your menus today?
Everything comes from somewhere. What I do now is influenced by everything I’ve done in the past. Some of my most formative times were spent at Quay, Sydney. What I learned then, I teach my team to do now. Few people do things better than Peter Gilmore, from approaching guests to food preparation.
On the new menu, ‘Sea Wonders’ is a tip of the hat to my early years cooking at Quay. There are four different fish or shellfish treated in different ways. Their form and presentation are technically pleasing. I think it’s a step up from anything we’ve done previously.
The new dish ‘XXXX’ uses a combination of flavors: chocolate, cherry and beer, one of the flavor profiles we used in The Press Club, Melbourne. It’s funny and quirky. We’re leading into Australia being open, and XXXX is what people think of when they think of Queensland.
What are the challenges of opening a fine dining restaurant on the Gold Coast?
In recent years, the demand for cheap eats has dominated the market. Dining out has been accessible to everyone and we’ve had a huge influx of restaurants and cafés.
What we lost, meanwhile, was the top tier in dining on the Gold Coast. Recently, there has been no restaurant where you could go and submit to the experience, letting them lead you on a journey, (with the exception of Tim and Shannon at the North Room with whom we previously have collaborated, and Anekawa, my former sous chef who opened his own space, and is really pushing the dining scene forwards).
We also need somewhere that talks to provenance and pays tribute to the place. It needs to offer the highest standards of service, food preparation, wine provenance and technique. Yet, it also should embody everything we’ve come to love about accessible dining, such as having familiarity and being approachable, inviting individuals into this space.
At Palette we have pivoted a little since opening to give more accessibility and flexibility, offering not only a degustation menu but ‘a la carte’ as well, which is especially important at lunchtime for our gallery goers and those diners who join us for pre-theatre meals. We’ve also chosen some dishes with well-known components, for example Hervey Bay scallops with pancetta on the last menu.
Now, seven months in, people have more understanding of what the space is about. They understand that we are using fermentation and ageing, native ingredients and produce from a 100-mile radius. There are multiple touch points or entries where people can intellectually connect with the experience.
People also understand that to get things produced locally and ethically, you have to be prepared to pay for it. An example is our fish dish which features Coopers Shoot tomatoes, the best tomato that I have ever eaten in my life. This is something we want to share with our diners, and because of the amazing practices that they use on the farm, we are able to prioritize flavour but, speaking financially for a moment, they are five times more expensive than your average tomato.
Our goal is to have people walk through the door and, instead of being pressured by constraints of the outside world and all that we have been through in the past couple of years, we want people to come into the space and feel warm and welcome, to know that they can feel comfortable and confident to be a little loud, ask questions and dive into the space as much as possible. Then they can walk away and feel like they have had an experience unlike any other, having tried flavours that they have never tried, tried a funky wine or cocktail and, above all else, had fun.
You gained your first solo chef hat in 2016. How important is recognition to you as a chef? Is it your measure of success?
I started cooking in 2003 and it was all about working towards critical recognition from that point. But then, when I got there, the thrill of the chase was gone. It’s a benchmark moment that requires reflection, (just as negative reviews do).
Without sounding ungrateful, awards are great to benchmark yourself against. However, like most things in life, they are a moment in time. To quote Myffy Rigby (Head Reviewer/Editor of the Good Food Guide) “…they are out of date as soon as they hit the shelf…” (referring to the Good Food Guide). The reality is that, while it is an honor to have reviewers in your space, once you begin cooking for a reviewer, you’re not doing it for the right reason. What is important is having people come into this space and return. I make a genuine effort to engage with diners, to drop one dish to each table during service. That immediate feedback is measurable worth and success.
Also, probably the most crucial aspect for me is that I have a team who love what they’re doing. They have the knowledge that people are choosing us, that even during Covid they’re deciding to leave the safety of their own homes to dine with us. The privilege of being open and being able to serve them is an honour that we do not take for granted. Hospitality is a global community and, speaking to so many of my industry peers around the world, they are not so lucky. For us to have a full space is a great privilege.
We are hopeful that we can create something that will reverberate into the marketplace to become an accepted standard. There are no boundaries in this space. We are creating our own market by doing what we are, having pride in place with our region, its people, producers, flora, and fauna. That to me is measurable success.
Palette at HOTA Gallery, 135 Bundall Rd, Surfers Paradise QLD 4217
Open: Wed – Sat 11.30 – 2.30, 5pm – 10pm; Sun 11am – 4pm
NOTE: Tasting menu $120; Vegetarian / vegan available $120; A la carte available; Sunday high tea $60/75
Some photos supplied by Palette.