Despite his popularity and success in the industry, Mark Best still considers himself a “small restaurateur” and is excited about the access to infrastructure that his new partnership with the Four Seasons will provide.
Best is launching Pei Modern at the hotel on 15 October, after first introducing the produce-oriented bistro in Melbourne in 2012.
“They approached me and I just saw a natural fit. I saw the space; there’s synergies with the space we have in Melbourne as well, and I was excited to bring the concept we’d developed in Melbourne to my home town,” he says.
The Sydney restaurant will replace The Woods at Four Seasons, previously operated by Hamish Ingham, and will seat 190. This makes it roughly one-third bigger than the Melbourne site.
“It’s still broken up into a similar concept where we basically have a cellar bar space – a less formal space – and then we have the main restaurant space centred around then kitchen,” Best told Hospitality.
Casarecce with chicken dumplings
In regards to the menu, Best said there will be similarities between the offerings at Sydney and Melbourne, but the Sydney site will capitalise on the wood fired oven which was a star attraction at The Woods.
“There’s similarities. There are core offerings that are already legendary [in Melbourne], like the casarecce with chicken dumplings, the spiced doughnuts with whey caramel and bloody orange curd … those things will be making the trip north but we also have the beauty of a very large wood fired oven which we inherited, which is incredible and will basically be the engine room of the offering here,” he says.
“I don’t think they utilised it that much [before]; I think we’ll use it a hell of a lot more on Flinders Island lambs, whole Holmbrae chickens and roasting whole ducks, things like that.”
Best had been considering opening Pei Modern in Sydney before being approached by the hotel in late 2013, and says while the process to opening has been “a slow dance”, he feels both parties will benefit well from the partnership.
“It’s an iconic brand, the Four Seasons. It’s an iconic luxury brand worldwide and I guess we’ll have an inbound audience just for the hotel itself, and also its location is in the financial district, right on a corner, so there are a couple of really good points there,” he says.
“And as a small restaurateur, we’re very, very excited to use the infrastructure of the hotel’s team.”
Despite his excitement to work with the hotel’s management and HR teams, Best says he and his team have worked on Pei Modern’s food offering independently.
“I would pretty much insist on doing it myself. We have Matt Germanchis, my head chef and partner in Melbourne, here for 12 months. We’ve brought a whole heap of restaurant people to run the front of house, and Annette Lacey, who won the Vin de Champagne award recently … It’s a restaurant culture, plenty of experience.”
Whole Holmbrae chicken
Best, who also operates the Sydney fine diner Marque, says up until now hotels haven’t given as much thought to their food and beverage offering as they should, and insists it’s important for hotel operators to bring in professionals who specialise in running restaurants rather than trying to keep it all in-house.
“You could mention Glass in the Hilton, maybe Bentley at the Radisson; it’s a big opportunity for hotels, and the food and beverage part of the hotel offering has been sadly overlooked for a long time, and people are trying to redress that. I think getting in people who really know their job is the smart move.
“There’s a difference between a F&B outlet and a restaurant. We’re very much a restaurant operating in their space. I’m a small restaurateur you know, and there’s a very different dynamic bringing that into the space rather than having it run by an F&B team, which would [give] a very different outcome,” Best says.
Like both Marque and Melbourne’s Pei Modern, the new Sydney venue will offer a special lunch menu, Eat, Pei, Quick, which comprises starters to share, a main, and petit fours with coffee for $39 per person.
“It’s for the business community. Everyone is quite time poor these days, and busy. They come for delicious food in a timely fashion and we’re able to deliver on that,” he says.
Best insists the cheaper lunch offering doesn’t hurt the venue’s profitability, but rather opens it up to a broader market.
“If you don’t have your numbers in line, the more you do, the more you lose. You certainly have to have your percentages in line. We certainly can make profits on our lunch menu. There’s no loss leader; I don’t believe in them whatsoever.”