Last year, Robert English of Avé Restaurant won the Mid North Coast Signature Dish Awards, and his humble Bellingen restaurant was thrust into the spotlight. Since then, Robert and his partner Amanda have gone on to obtain a liquor licence and being awarded a Chef’s Hat from the AGFG.
Congratulations on winning the Mid North Coast Signature Dish Competition last year. How exciting was that for you?
We were proud to showcase our style of food and be recognised in the area. This competition has boosted our small family owned restaurant into the spotlight.
Tell us about your winning dish, including what local ingredients you choose to use.
It was an assiette of local squid consisting of squid ink risotto with crispy tentacles, sautéed squid with saffron mussels and smoked ham foam. The local ingredients were: a locally produced ham, local squid and garnishes from local growers like radish, watercress, flowers and broad beans.
How did Avé Restaurant evolve?
We moved up from the Hunter Valley in 2009 to build the restaurant in this quaint 100 year old church. We originally opened as a breakfast and lunch venue, but after trialling a few nights (and by popular demand), we decided to open four nights a week, along with four lunches. Last year we also started our external catering, which really took off and has kept us very busy.
You recently acquired an alcohol license. Was choosing the wine menu made easier, considering you both worked in wineries in the Hunter Valley?
No, there is a lot of great wine – and it takes time to taste such a large array. It’s a hard life sometimes in this industry! We think we’re off to a great start with the list, and it can only get better.
What’s on the menu at Avé Restaurant?
On the menu this season we have a few unique items like: House smoked caviar with kangaroo carpaccio. I use a local apple wood to smoke our caviar, to impart even more depth to an already amazing product. House made goats’ ricotta with brulée lemon and daylilies (an edible flower with an amazing variety of flavours and colours). I also use garlic shoots and heirloom tomatoes on this dish to match the strong flavours of the ricotta. Sous-vide beef striploin with morels – a low temperature poaching method that helps retain maximum flavour and breaks down the protein over a twenty-hour period.
What ingredients excite you the most this season?
At the moment, our favourite would be a local apple wood I use for smoking caviar and infusing the bisque. We also enjoy using garlic shoots and the flowers.
If you have to give the home cooks one tip, what would it be and why?
Dine out; it’s easier.
What makes dining at Avé Restaurant unique?
It is a combination of the food, the service and the atmosphere, along with being situated in an old church … the only church serving more than bread!
What can diners expect from Avé?
We can guarantee that the food will always be of the highest quality utilising exciting and unique produce – and using techniques which are not seen in any other restaurants in this area.
What is your greatest quote in life?There are many great quotes to live by, but the one that stands out at the moment is a quote by Len Evans, a wine legend, “Live each day as if it will be your last, but plan your life as if you’ll live forever”.
What is your goal as an establishment?
To provide guests our absolute best by continually reinventing our food and wine and treating our customers as if they were family. There is a deep satisfaction for us in what we do, and this is only magnified when our guests leave feeling that dining with us was a great experience – not only a meal.
You recently were awarded a Chef’s Hat by the Australian Good Food Guide; how did that make you feel?
Being one of two restaurants in the whole Mid North Coast with this recognition has really inspired us to push ourselves even further this year; although, we’d rather focus on providing our guests with a quality product than just winning awards.