Dan O’Donnell has been in the restaurant game for decades now. Classically French-trained in Sydney, he was head chef at Ponsonby institution Prego for ? years before starting the Stables Restaurant in Matakana in 2010. At the beginning of 2015, he was back in his old stomping ground of Cabramatta, West Sydney, where many of the street signs are in Vietnamese, and realised that he was horribly bored with Kiwi-bistro-with-a-French-twist. He needed freshness and spice. He and partner Nicola put the Stables on the market and in a few months it was sold.
Dan headed off on a study trip: Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam. In a ‘wet market’ he was watching a fishmonger expertly slicing fish, when he cut his thumb badly. On impulse, Dan stepped in and took over for the day. The Vietnamese fishmonger was called Jin.
One of his right-hands chefs, Kellie Nguyen, is fully trained in Culinary Arts from AUT and City and Guilds, but her Vietnamese mum’s cooking is the fuel to her fire. She’s the Asian dessert queen at Jin Jin. Five favourite ingredients? Black sesame, green tea, taro, red bean and durian. Yes, she can make durian delicious.
The interior is fabulous – designed by well-known local artist Virginia Leonard and built by Bryn Sutherland after hours, it features orchid colours, a wittily-papered feature wall, enormous swaying lampshades from Madder and Rouge, wall vases by local ceramicist Morgan Haines – and a huge, single Virginia Leonard piece: her buckled and beautiful take on a Willow-Pattern vase.
Ornate decals on the windows were installed by Mark Lewington, soft furnishings are by Steve Hamlet and old friend Gideon Keith did the menus and signage. Perfect chairs – both cane dining chairs inside and funky stools on the verandah – are by Cintesi. Wonki Ware crockery from local store Mooi Mooi complete the design.
There are fun plans afoot for summer dining but for now it’s full-on ‘8 till late’. The breakfasts are amazing – try the pork belly and prawn omelette with Thai green salad. Dan’s having a very good time. “All I really wanted to do was have somewhere I could play Rasta music all day. Sorted.”