Ainslie eatery Pilot is flying high with two nominations for the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year awards to be announced on Wednesday night (21 August).
Dash Rumble and Ross Mcquinn’s first solo effort, Pilot is in the running for New Restaurant of the Year, along with chef Malcolm Hanslow in the Best New Talent category.
Since opening last spring in the old Pulp Kitchen site at Ainslie shops, Pilot has won over the locals and impressed the blow-ins with a changing menu based on fresh local and seasonal ingredients and fun takes on old favourites in a relaxed setting.
The common denominator for the trio is another Canberra favourite, Braddon’s eightysix, where they all worked before heading to some of Australia’s most celebrated restaurants.
The new venture also meant continuity for the Ainslie site where Ross helped eightsix’s Gus Armstrong launch the new Pulp Kitchen in 2017, only to end up buying the business.
Ross says the Gourmet Traveller nominations have blown away the trio, as has Pilot’s listing among The Australian‘s top 50 restaurants.
But they did want to make a splash. “We definitely wanted to be noticed not just in Canberra. It’s good for Australia to bring some attention to Canberra, not that others haven’t, but we wanted to be a part of that,” he says.
They saw the opportunity in Canberra for a high-quality sharing menu and refined service in a relaxed setting and atmosphere, with a strong emphasis on seasonal availability.
More about good produce and the simple treatment of it, the menu changes according to what is available.
“We work with a lot of small growers and rather than asking them for specific things, Mal calls them and asks what’s good this week and develops the menu based on what he can get,” Ross says.
He says Mal also takes familiar concepts and ideas, nostalgic things, and does them in a new fun way.
A signature dish is the organic free-range chicken cold smoked and stuffed with a mushroom duxelle and served with steamed white bread.
“The idea is we love chicken sandwiches and you can make yourself a little chicken sandwich,” Ross says.
Gourmet Traveller fell for the non-traditional potato salad and the locals are lapping up the reinvented Viennetta dessert.
The magazine says it’s dining that’s fun, relaxed, clear-cut and precise all at once.
“The vision is bolstered by the presence of owners Dash Rumble and Ross McQuinn on the floor, pouring fresh, trend-driven wines and bringing considerable experience to bear on their own project,” it says.
“Malcolm Hanslow, meanwhile, oversees a menu that consistently understates and over-delivers. Small-town feel, big-town ambition, and right on the pulse. In short: Canberra’s new darling.”
The drinks list is all-Australian with a tendency towards local and environmentally kind, including biodynamic and organic labels.
With seating for 35, Pilot is on the smaller side but roll on summer and Ross says the outdoor setting will come into play.
The trio walks the talk when it comes to championing Canberra. Dishes are served on ceramics made by local maker Chris Harford and Linburn Handmade, wine decanters have been co-designed with glassblower Scott Chaseling at Canberra Glassworks and the walls are laden with artwork supplied by nearby artist-run gallery, Tributary Projects.
They will all be flying the flag for Canberra on Wednesday night, with phones at the ready to check how their baby is going without them.
“We love it here,” Ross says. “It’s such a great place to live, and criminally overlooked.”