Pipit at Pottsville
Nothing prepares you for Pipit. Locals nonchalantly told us it was 'very good', so of course we made a booking.
Our reservation was for a long lunch. We had plenty of wonderful distractions in Pottsville: a very much anticipated reunion with dearest friends and family after a long lockdown separation, stunning beaches surrounding the little town vying for attention, and a precious baby boy and his parents to visit.
As we sat down at a generous table, the six of us were immediately drawn to the matters at hand: sparkling, well appointed interiors reflecting the colours of the earth, sea and sky, a brisk and attentive waitstaff, and importantly, the owner/chef Ben, positioned with his team in the open kitchen at centre stage.
The simple format menus before us promised interesting blends of tastes and flavours using locally sourced ingredients, sustainably farmed seafood and no hoofed animals, but it was only upon talking with Ben himself and later with his business and life partner Yen, that I discovered the true extent of the ethos behind the food presented here, in this unassuming, dazzling, beachside town.
As Ben puts it quite empathically, he is driven by logic. He doesn't think he's particularly creative, or artistic, but he pursues flavours which to him make sense together. He uses all parts of his produce because it is logical to reduce waste in a concerted attempt to care for the environment. He is bold about methods and culinary practices because the science indicates that (for instance:) if a fat is a fat, whether it is butter or the excess fat removed from a fish, that ingredient should be able to be used as an interchangeable building block to form a cake!
The results are surprising, playful and ever so delicious. Lightness is key: always showcased on each plate as a genuine expression of striving for a smaller footprint, a quiet homage to mother nature, and a celebration of an entire product: the skin, the bones, the fat, the peel, the stems and stalks making up the foundation or supporting ingredients of every dish, in sauces, flavourings, ferments, oils, and syrups.
The produce harvested from the close surrounds reflects a wide and also exotic bounty: baby grouper and yellow fin tuna, fresh bamboo shoots, red striped peanuts, finger lime, kelp, jackfruit, bay lobster, potato noodles and duck.
Even at the very start of our long lunch, a delicious unusual taste (how often do we come across a new taste anymore?) makes me sit up straight in excitement: Tasty Waste Paste
(made as the name suggests, from fermented veggie peels and leftovers), a pale green, creamy smooth dip which starts the meal accompanied by the most delectable baby crudités. Bookend that experience with our after dessert petit fours which are light and airy kelp madeleines served with grouper fat caramel presented in oyster shells.......... and you get my drift.
The whole meal is a succession of one peak experience to the next. In warmly hued plates and dishes made by local potters, each is a sight to behold and even more amazing to taste. The experiences on the tongue are not big bang fireworks and fanfare. They are thought provoking, deeply satisfying and leave you wondering about the hows and whats that have caused such delightfully unusual pleasures.
For all the unusual taste experiences that come your way, Ben Devlin is not out to bedazzle or befuddle, and the dining experience is far from that. One only needs to glance across the room at the chef in action to confirm he is quietly serious, focussed and devoted to his craft. What shines steadily on the plate is his mastery of culinary skills, a gentle execution, and a respect for the produce coming from nearby farms and waters.
Pipit is serious in intent, but informal as an experience, nicely in keeping with the lovely relaxed beach vibe of its surrounds.....guests range from smart casual to just off the beach in shorts and Ts.
Ben Devlin grew up in Byron, and worked in noted beachside restaurants, winning awards for Paper Daisy at Cabarita, and Esquire restaurant in Brisbane (now closed). For two years, he was chef-de-partie for René Redzepi at Noma. In 2019 his own, newly opened Pipit earned its first Chef Hat from the Good Food Guide, and was consecutively awarded Regional Restaurant of the Year.
He is a shy man, and yet ask him about food, and Ben is immediately happy to share his thoughts.
Why Pottsville? Yen says that having worked all over the region, the search was primarily for the right space; the region was familiar territory anyway.
As young parents and also nurturing a new business, it helps that home is not far away.
She further explains: ' Our region can be described as a network of small towns, but uniquely it feels like each town has a great foodie thing happening (e.g. Harvest in Newrybar, Tyalgum Gelato Shop, Doma in Federal) so I think locals and visitors don't mind taking a scenic drive for food...'
Pipit might be all the earnest and admirable things the modest owners describe it as, but it is most definitely a destination restaurant. I would travel to Pottsville to eat here at any opportunity. And so should you. Incredibly, a lovely collection of apartments right above the restaurant are on Airbnb. Basically, you could eat and drink very well, then not travel very far at all...... to bed.
Note: Restaurant interior image provided by Pipit Restaurant.