That’s Malcolm Hanslow’s response to news he and his colleagues have just earned national fame on the hospitality scene.
Australia’s handbook for foodies, Gourmet Traveller, has unveiled the winners of its 2023 Restaurant Awards and Ainslie’s Pilot has taken out Canberra’s top spot for the second time in a row.
Pilot was previously named 2022 ACT Restaurant of the Year and finalist for New Restaurant of the Year 2020.
“We’re really pleased to be recognised again, and I just want to thank the whole team,” head chef Malcolm said.
The country’s leading chefs and restaurant personalities came together at a gala evening on 27 September to celebrate Australia’s longest-running restaurant awards.
Gourmet Traveller said Pilot had faced challenges over the past 18 months, as COVID caused chaos in the whole hospitality industry.
“But where others find themselves navigating the new landscape unsteadily, Pilot is soaring – confident, playful and polished,” Gourmet Traveller said.
“The kitchen and floor staff work in harmony to deliver a perfectly paced experience that never feels rushed. The balance is always playful and precise, much like the service and natty wine list. In short? Top Gun.”
Malcolm and owners Dash Rumble and Ross McQuinn come from very different backgrounds but all saw things they liked in restaurants in other cities, and decided to join forces in bringing it to Canberra.
“Pilot is an accumulation of things,” Malcolm said.
“We felt like there was nothing in Canberra at the time that was quite like what we saw elsewhere.”
Pilot opened in September 2019, pitched as “a small 30-seat restaurant in Ainslie with a strong focus on Australian produce, local wines and NoLo drinks”.
Six months later, the ACT went into lockdown. The team took the chance to change from a la carte style to a seven-course degustation menu that also provided more room for experimentation, something that remains the case today.
“But we never post any of our menus online as they can change quite regularly and we like surprises,” Malcolm said.
Typically, however, it will start with a cup of tea, followed by various flavours of Asia – from kimchi to massaman curry – and European classics, such as taramasalata and beurre blanc.
As for the “secret sauce” that has captured the magazine judges for two years, Malcolm said it was hard to put a finger on it.
“I don’t really know, but I’m a bit of a tinkerer and am never really happy to leave things the way they are,” he said. “We all work really hard to continually refine.”
Two other local restaurants came close in the awards too. Onzieme in Kingston was runner up in Best New Restaurant to Neil Perry’s new Double Bay diner Margaret, which was also named NSW Restaurant of the Year. Burleigh Heads’ bar Paloma edged out Bar Rochford for best wine bar.
The top honour goes to South Australia’s Restaurant Botanic, named Australian Restaurant of the Year.
Pilot at 1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, is open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. Cost is $138 per person. Make a reservation online.