The new owners of the Welcome Hotel in Rozelle have appointed Daniel Mulligan as Executive Chef as part of an overhaul of the pub’s food and beverage offering. Daniel is an eight-year veteran of Sydney’s two-hatted Pilu restaurant. Also joining from the Pilu team is sous chef Shige Tamura.
While the Welcome Hotel has a long history of pub dining excellence it is fair to say that standards dropped recently while the hotel went through receivership.
Expectations run high for the revitalized hotel in an area not shy of great pub dining destinations Three Weeds and Riverview Hotels spring to mind.
What does Daniel have in store? BISTRO finds out
BISTRO: What are the main take aways you learnt from working with Giovanni Pilu.
DM:I learnt many things from Gio, but the main things that stand out are his understanding of the sometimes overlooked little points of Italian cooking, e.g. how cooking the soffritto, just the first stage of making a sauce, can make a huge difference to the finished product and flavour you get out of it. Pasta also, making sure the sauces are the right consistency, not to thin or thick and gluggy, just nicely coating the pasta.
His professionalism with people and handling situations within the restaurant environment, he has a way about him and can talk to anyone, and when he talks everybody listens, he can walk around the dining room and have a chat with all the customers, they love that, and its not as easy as it looks.
BISTRO: Pilu is a well established restaurant with two hats from Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide. Moving to a hotel is a bit of a contrast. What motivated you?
DM: The fact that it was just a totally different environment, I felt like I needed a change and a different challenge, and this is a pretty big one. Its nice that the Welcome does have a little dining room, so we can still do the finer stuff there, and it has a history of doing good food, so I just wanted to try and bring it back up a bit, and its great that the new owners and I are on the same level with what we want to achieve.
BISTRO: What do you think will be the biggest challenges moving from a hatted restaurant to a hotel environment?
DM: Probably staff service training and food knowledge. Bringing Italian and specifically with a Sardinian leaning, there’s quite a few food items that the staff had never heard of, seen or tasted, but they’ve been very receptive and are enjoying learning and tasting the new things.
BISTRO: Pilu was strongly influenced by the flavours of Sardinia, Italy. Can we expect influences from Italy and specifically Sardinia on the Welcome menu?
DM: Definitely. We’re doing an Italian menu for the dining room, and bar menu. There will always be some regular Sardinian flavours and products popping up.
BISTRO: How Italian is the menu.
DM: The menu will be completely Italian influenced and we’ll be using all the knowledge Shige and I have learnt over the past 10 years or so of cooking Italian food. Shige also worked with Alessandro Pavoni, so he’s got a good background of Italian other than Sardinian.
BISTRO: Pilu had some great pork dishes. Can we expect to see a focus on pork at the new Welcome Hotel?
DM: Probably not a focus, but there are so many good Italian pork dishes and products. We have at least 7 dishes with pork at the moment, between the bar and restaurant menus.
BISTRO: The Welcome has a ‘pub’ menu as well as an ala carte restaurant menu. Will there be similarities between the two menus?
DM: Similar in that they are both Italian influenced, and both using fresh, quality ingredients. But of course the restaurant is a little more fine dining focused.
BISTRO: Does everything come out of the one kitchen?
DM: Yes, and its a pretty small kitchen too, We have plans under way to renovate the kitchen and dining room early next year, so that will help a lot, doing bar food and the restaurant at the same time can be difficult.
BISTRO: Lara Caraturo, a winner of Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine’s national Wine List of the Year award will be designing the wine list. Can we assume the list will be heavily centred around Italian wines? Can you give us a rundown on the type of wines we can expect to see?
DM: Yeah, I’m so happy Lara could design the restaurant wine list for us! She said the wine list will consist of about 150 wines and will be Italian focused. It will be an eclectic selection from all over Italy, with a southern focus to complement the food. The local component will cover a broad spectrum of wines from across Australia, with a focus on local wines from NSW, and featuring boutique wineries that specialize in Italian varieties. There will be plenty of organic and biodynamic wines, plus a few natural options. Most wines will be under a $100, and we will offer a large selection of wine by the glass and carafe as well as a couple of easy drinking house wines. The aim is to keep the list fun, interesting and affordable.
BISTRO: The pub scene in Balmain, Glebe and Rozelle is possibly the most competitive pub food market in Sydney. Being in the middle of stiff competition is a good thing or bad thing? Why?
DM: Yes, I think it’s a good thing. I’m quite a competitive person, so it makes me want to do the best we can to make us the best in the area. We’re not there yet, but we’re trying. If we do sub par food or service, customers will go somewhere else, simple as that.
BISTRO: What’s next for Daniel Mulligan?
DM: I’m just getting used to the whole pub food scene, so making our food and service better and the experience better will be my main focus, and with the refurbishment of the kitchen and restaurant early next year, refining and working hard towards hopefully getting a hat next year.