Russell Armstrong came from Australia to open the EB Social Kitchen & Bar for the new owners of the Exclusive Books Group. But it’s no tea-and-sandwich joint. Russell has worked at Michelin three-star restaurants in Paris and London, opened award-winning restaurants in Australia and consulted widely.
The EB Social Kitchen’s menu, with its tapas-style sharing approach, is designed to complement its setting, which is a little unusual for a top restaurant: in a bookshop in a mall. (Equally unusual for a mall, it has a view!) The architects were Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, but Russell was given free rein on the open kitchen, which becomes part of the restaurant and bookshop.
Here Graham Wood catches up with Russell about his unusual establishment:
The restaurant is beautifully designed – and diners have a view of the kitchen. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the layout?
When you’re sitting at the bar you get a full-on view of what’s happening in service. It’s a good eye-opener. It also becomes part of the theatre of dining. [But it’s also] good because I can see people coming in and what’s happening out on the floor.
Funny, I always thought the point of open kitchens was to allow customers to see in, not so the chef could see out…
I can see what’s happening in the front section of the kitchen as well. So I can see what the guys are doing in desserts. I can see what they’re doing in the cold prep area. It’s about awareness.
So the restaurant had to work to include the utilitarian aspects of the kitchen?
What I wanted from the word go was what I call ‘industrial chic’. It’s got that concrete, glass, brass and stainless steel manufactured look, softened with beautiful furniture.
You also have a Josper coal-burning oven that’s quite central to the kitchen.
That smoky kind of braai smell and taste is really lovely. If you’re going to have a Josper, you have to commit to it, so the menu has a good component of things made in it.
I noticed you’re particular about presentation. Every dish looks immaculate.
As it should. I like things beautifully crafted, simply plated, and that’s it. There’s a big push around the world to just do simply beautiful food. I don’t want my food to be fussed with for half an hour before it even comes to me. I also like to look at a plate and go, ‘Wow, that looks great.’
What’s the most important thing in a kitchen?
Any kitchen, to be honest, is like a good car – you have to have a good engine. The engine comes from the cooking facilities – good ovens, good stove tops and good refrigeration.
Keep up with what’s going on at the EB Social Kitchen & Bar by keeping an eye on the restaurant’s Facebook page.