If we’ve learned anything from season two of The Bear, opening a restaurant is no piece of cake (pardon the pun). Add in a post-pandemic world (with post-pandemic material costs), a saturated food bowl like Surry Hills, and a foreign concept; you’re either setting yourself up for failure or a spectacular win. Patrick Dang hopes for the latter.
Despite not finding wads of cash stuffed in tinned cans of San Marzano tomatoes buried in the pantry, Dang and his wife, Ederlyn, opened Le Salle by Bar Chaplin at the tail end of last year. Translating to “the room” in French, it is exactly that. A dining room for 16 guests or eight couples, wedged under a residential building, it’s something between a wine bar and a restaurant. The catch? There’s only one chef behind the pass.
Again, coming back to our favourite chef ‘Carmy,’ we know it takes a village to raise and run a restaurant, but for Le Salle, it takes two — Patrick and Ederlyn. The room is decorated in a high-gilt style, with a stretch of red velvet draped over a glass wall and unwisely heavy dark wood tables that match the various shelves leaning on walls. The cream-coloured chairs, with black backs and legs, are for the eyes as much as they are for your comfort. With one chef at the pass and one server, the clink of plates and ladles on bottom-heavy stainless steel pots is missing. It’s eerily quiet, apart from the humm from fellow diners and the occasional cling of a fork meeting the rim of a plate. It’s more about the food than the atmospheric buzz.
For Patrick, the restaurant and wine bar represents a return to form. Having worked in kitchens from Melbourne to Taiwan in 5-star hotels, Michelin-starred kitchens, and hatted dining rooms, Patrick’s return to his hometown of Sydney, where he started his first apprenticeship, is almost serendipitous.
“I wanted to come back to where it all started and serve my life on a plate in a solo project,” he says.
Ederlyn also hails from a globetrotting career background, having worked front of house in establishments spanning Singapore to Melbourne, in dining rooms you might recognise — Firedoor and Vue de Monde.
“It’s nice we can do this together,” she says, recounting the countless late nights at Le Salle, washing dishes after the last seating leaves at 8:30 pm (sharp), flicking the lights off before 11 pm and getting home in time to snuggle their dog.
The kitchen is no bigger than a coffee counter, more because before it was Le Salle, the corner spot hemmed into the fabric of Hutchinson Street was a coffee shop popular among the local businesses on Flinders Street.
“We have a small dishwasher, no fridge, and no real pantry,” says Ederlyn of the tiny space they navigate. Despite the confinement, the dishes cast on the pass resemble the finesse of the snow egg at Quay or cured kangaroo at Aria, typically requiring a full brigade of chefs working on a production line for each element. “It’s just me, and I love it,” confesses Patrick.
After 25 years of working in kitchens, taking orders, and dishing out orders, Patrick is relieved to run this ship solo, noting the freedom to dish up anything he wants was a main factor in the decision.
“We didn’t want to run a big restaurant; we just wanted something small and simple, where people could come in, have a few glasses of wine, a nice meal, and not have to take out a mortgage to afford it.”
At Le Salle, you are served a Menu Du Jour (menu of the day) — with a price tag of $88 per person, not including wine — at the time of seating. If you’re the first sitting, you can still smell the freshly imprinted ink on the paper. Unlike most restaurants where wine is an afterthought, Patrick and Ederlyn work together to design food for the wine. The selection is moderate but spans the globe, as does the dish inspiration, but the majority of the time, Patrick sources produce locally. Where he stores it is another discussion. There’s no industrial, room-sized freezer for fish or meat that one could get themselves locked in (looking at you, Carmy); instead, Patrick handpicks fish at the markets the morning of and has a stable of suppliers dropping off bite-sized bunches of ingredients he needs for that night. It requires painstaking organisation with room for flexibility. “If I can’t get octopus that day, it’s off the menu — it’s as simple as that.”
Over a two-hour period, a stable pace of dishes is brought out by Ederlyn, leading with the wine she’s picked for each dish. You get four courses, including a one-bite snack assortment to start, which could be anything from a bowl of snow with two scallops blanketed underneath. It might look sweet, but the first bite reveals a vinegary, charcoal ensemble with a softness akin to chewing silk. The dishes to follow range from a John Dory Crudo to a veal tartare, which is part of the supplementary assortment of dishes for when you want something a little more. There’s usually a vegetable, seafood, and meat dish, and a cheese trolley or something sweet with Instagram-ready plating for dessert. The plateware is a hotchpotch of styles, colours, and sizes, handmade by a potterer in Jindabyne, including the cutlery rests.
You could get used to eating like this if you could spare the $88 weekly or even monthly, but that’s not the point here. At Le Salle, Patrick would never consider serving you something he could serve you at home. “There’s no point putting a price tag on it if it’s easy,” he explains. “I don’t do it to show off my talent or skills; I do it to present humble ingredients in a way most people haven’t experienced before.” For most restaurants, it’s about home cooking, about soul; for Patrick, it’s about being something different. Similar to how you don’t go to a hotel looking to feel at home, you don’t come to Le Salle for a hearty bowl of pasta; you come for something different, out of the box.
Le Salle by Bar Chaplin, as Patrick puts it, communicates without the use of words, only plates. Hence, the Chaplin tag along.