Jason Loucas

Most Sydneysiders have experienced Jacksons on George at some stage of their life, whether it was part of a late-night crawl on a Friday or a post-work beer – it’s a name and a venue that’s synonymous with the city. But what we once knew as Jacksons has been rewritten by Creative Director Maurice Terzini and DTL Entertainment Group, who have been redeveloping the site since it was demolished more than a year ago.

Simply put, the new Jacksons is an all-encompassing dining and drinking destination: it’s three levels of bistro dining, rooftop cocktails, and casual bites. Hospitality speaks to Head Chef Steven Sinclair about taking on his biggest challenge yet, developing menus for the mega venue, and carving out a new chapter for one of the most-hyped openings of the year.

Steven Sinclair knew he wanted to be a chef as soon as he stepped foot in a commercial kitchen. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to become a commis chef at a Euro/French bistro in Belfast, Ireland – a stint that would go on to become an ever-present influence in his culinary career.

“I began training as a chef when I was 20 years old and I fell in love with it,” he says. “I’ve worked in many different venues, but being a commis chef at that bistro is something I hold close to me – the simplicity of it, the flavours, and letting dishes speak for themselves.”

The chef has spent the past five years at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and worked at restaurants including The Old Schoolhouse Inn and the Potted Hen in Northern Ireland before arriving in Bondi. While Sinclair never had the chance to down a beer at the original Jacksons, he was well aware of the venue and its stories before he was approached with the opportunity to head up the kitchen.

“A lot of people spoke about it, and I knew how everyone felt about it,” he says. “I was a bit taken aback when I was approached about taking on a venue of this size and it took me a while to think about it. But sometimes you only get one chance in life, and a moment like this is something I had to go for. Now, it’s been reimagined and rebuilt as a beautiful venue.”

There’s no question Jacksons has the scale, with the venue able to accommodate 500 patrons across its three Richards Stanisich’s-designed spaces. The ground floor is home to the Public Bar which features indoor and outdoor seating and an interior custom 6.4-metre bar crafted from stone offcuts.

Bistro George sits on the second level and encompasses a dining room, private dining room, and the Late Night Bar (open Friday and Saturday evenings) which sees house jazz trio The Jacksons All Stars on the tunes. The rooftop bar is located on level three and has been fitted out with one of the city’s most unique bars that’s as good as gold.

The culinary brief for Jacksons was largely anchored by bistro cuisine – but one with a local focus and a honed-in approach to elevating classics. “First and foremost, we want people to know it’s Australian,” says Sinclair. “You walk into an Australian pub, and you expect those dishes, and that’s what I’m doing but with a little twist here and there.”

The chef began working on the menus for Jacksons while he was still at Icebergs, spending one to two days a week developing dishes before going full-time. A lot has changed from the initial drafts penned in February – especially the volume. “I had a large menu at first, but I took some things off and trimmed it back,” says Sinclair. “I feel like it has a good balance and we’re finally there.”

The head chef has designed a joint menu for the Public Bar and the Rooftop, which lists dishes including a Moreton Bay bug roll with curry mayo, Maremma duck sausage roll, LP’s sausage on white bread, and a spatchcock cotoletta. “You see dishes that you recognise, but I’ve tried to lift the flavours rather than just keep things classic,” says Sinclair. “All in all, we want to be Australian but have hints and influences from Europe.”

The Bistro’s menu is more refined and shares the same produce-first ethos guests can find both up- and downstairs. “I work with producers quite a lot, so there’s been some changes here and there to make sure we have a consistent amount of produce, especially with things like seafood which can be impacted by the weather,” says Sinclair.

Beef tartare is one of the most prominent dishes on menus in the city, but Sinclair’s is a little different. “You see it quite a lot, but I have done it in a way which I feel is my own. “I dress it in a hot English mustard emulsion which gives it a level of heat and we serve it with thinly sliced hand-cut chips.”

The gravlax is another iconic bistro dish, which was a team effort between Sinclair and Terzini, who tried a version at France-Soir in Melbourne. “I worked with Maurice on it for many months and it’s something very close to us,” says Sinclair.

“We use Ora King salmon dressed in dill, cucumber, and apple pickle. Another dish we worked on a lot is the Chris Bolton coral trout which we get fresh every day. We dry it out, cook it over charcoal, and serve it with seasonal greens and a limoncello beurre blanc.”

Such a big venue requires a suitable kitchen, and the team has been filled out with Icebergs alumni as well as new additions. “I started working on recruitment about three months ago and my sous team is made up of people who were all once at Icebergs,” says Sinclair.

“I met my senior sous chef Chris Isaacson five years ago and Sam Lee and Adam Savvy both worked there too as well as some younger chefs. 10-12 have come across with me from Icebergs and everyone else has been hired through word of mouth. The team is quite large and the buzz in the kitchen has been amazing.”

While Sinclair has been “non-stop busy” setting up the restaurant for its launch just a few weeks ago, the hustle and bustle has been worth it. “The feelings and emotions have been through the roof as well as the excitement and stress levels that come with such a big project,” he says. “I can’t wait to showcase what I can do. I’ve been a chef for 13 years now, and it’s the moment for me to step up and meet the challenge.