Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade: Insights from this slice of Sydney heaven
Quisine’s Spotlight Series takes an inside look at the food and beverage industry by speaking with the folks who know it best – restaurant owners, chefs and managers. Join us regularly as we get the inside scoop on the best restaurants in your neck of the woods. From food trend predictions to death-row dinners, we tackle it all.
In our second Spotlight interview, we chat to Dom Bienke, the general manager behind the divine Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade. Set within a heritage-listed building in Millers Point, Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing bars in Sydney. Henry Deane is encased in glass with a soft colour palates, rattan chairs, an original by Paul Walker and opulent copper furnishings. However, the real star of the show is its unparalleled views of Sydney Harbour. Oh, and the exceptional menu. The drinks are designed around boutique spirits, and the food is designed to be shared. Truth be told, after our chat, we love Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade even more than before.
Our chat with Dom Bienke from Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade
1. Tell us about one of the funniest experiences you had in your restaurant.
One sunny afternoon we received a call from a nearby concierge asking for a VIP table reservation for a “very famous person” and a small entourage. We pressed for who it was as we like all staff to be prepared. We also find these types of bookings are very flaky and are often very late or completely change schedule which can affect other bookings and loyal guests. They insisted they couldn’t tell us but said “you will know who it is when you see them”. A couple of the staff had remembered Will Smith was in town and in fact was staying at this particular hotel. So some of us jumped to conclusions and expected to see Will Smith through our doors. I was sitting at my desk doing some work, and watching our front door security footage around the time of the booking to make sure they got upstairs ok. Then, I saw a luxury black car pull up and three people quickly jump out and walk quickly to the lift. So I zoomed in and found it wasn’t Will Smith. Of all people to walk into our humble abode unannounced, was Gordon Ramsay. Instantly I took the back stairs to the top floor to give our amazing, but soon to be shocked chefs, the heads up on who they were about to be cooking for. Gordon and his two friends sat down and tasted most of our menu, all the while posting every dish they ate on his Instagram story. He walked up to the pass and said a massive thanks to the chefs and praised all the food he ate. He graciously took some photos with some eager guests and left a very happy man. That night, even though we usually have busy Thursday nights, we got caught out completely with an inundation of more people wanting to try what Gordon had due to him posting where he was to his some 4 million followers. What a treat it was to be so confident in our venue and menu that we could feed a world renowned chef like Gordon Ramsay and have him absolutely love it.
2. What made you choose this line of work? What inspires you?
After dabbling in a couple of different industries when I was younger, I decided to channel what I had learnt over the years into an industry where I could further develop and use my already known strengths. My strengths were always helping people, building close relationships with our clients, customers, with our staff, my business acumen and my ability to learn quickly. I love to sink my teeth into the nitty gritty of running a business. So what better industry to work in than the hospitality industry. I’ve never been one to want to work in mediocre places. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the best or help create the best venues. I want to surround myself with like-minded people who have the same drive as me, not necessarily the same skills or area of expertise but people that complement my skills, and who I can learn from. What does the best mean for me? The best doesn’t mean you have to have the most expensive fit-out or the most high profile chefs in your team, or be in the top suburb. Being the best is creating a high performing team aligned to a group of set goals we have built together, aimed around building great experiences for our customers. It’s also about creating a menu with your chefs that wows people when they eat, that ensures they will tell their friends and come back for more and working with staff that love their job and serve with a smile on their face and try to make a guests days with every interaction. Sure, Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade had a great fit-out and is on Sydney Harbour, but it was a desolate building for 8 years and it is a location destination. People don’t walk past here in Millers Point. It’s a taxi in with purpose so building something to make sure people want to leave the comfort of the CBD, or the east or west and journey in and have a “wow” experience is what drives me.
3. What do you feel your restaurant adds to the Sydney dining scene?
Firstly our at Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade view is unparalleled. With 360 degree views in our all-glass, top floor cocktail lounge that has windows that drop all the way down, you get that rooftop bar feel and summer breeze without being exposed to all the elements. If you are looking to wow a partner, clients or friends, wait until you take the stairs from level 4 to level 5. Our dining experience is mostly set on lounges with share plates which can bring a more casual feel to your business lunch, family outing or date night, without compromising on quality and taste. Eat, drink or do both, it’s up to you. Being a cocktail lounge, you can pop up for one drink or sink into the lounge and work your way through our share plate menu.
4. What has been the biggest business challenge for your restaurant?
There have been many challenges throughout our almost 3 years of operating. From the logistics of being in a 100-year-old building; working within the guidelines of a heritage-listed building, to finding an identity in this market. Our vision was very different from when we started, to what we are now. We have had to adapt and adjust to the market and the physical constraints of the building. If you put our style of service and offering side-by-side to what we have today, you would think they were two different places. So I would say that was the biggest challenge – being able to adjust our offering on the fly. When you realise something doesn’t work or doesn’t fit but it’s also the most rewarding challenge watching it succeed rather than be stuck in the mud and being too arrogant or ignorant to adjust.
5. Where do you see the future of dining out or the restaurant scene in general?
I see it going up and up and not stopping any time soon. As long as you stay relevant and provide a great offering, you will succeed. The rate of the Sydney nightlife falling means people here are shifting to eateries for their social activities. The more food and beverage venues opening up, giving people options forces some healthy competition to be the best. I’ve always enjoyed a share plate menu style and I see this social way of eating in restaurants to remain strong. If venues continue to rise to challenges set from competitors, I see the dining scene not only here in Sydney, but Australia soar even further onto the world foodie radar. A perfect example of rising to a challenge and adapting to stay relevant in the industry by being fresh and at the forefront of people’s minds is Merivale’s Manly restaurant Papi Chulo. A huge addition to the dining scene over in Manly and a much needed one, this very successful restaurant has been going for probably 4 years now, and instead of running that into the ground, they have now announced they will be closing and re-opening as Queen Chows restaurant serving yum cha. A completely different style but now changing it up and moving with the market and what it wants or needs. If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.
6. Is there a dish on your menu that you’re most proud of and is there a story behind it?
Our brussel sprouts dish will blow your mind. Nothing I love more than dropping a bowl of sprouts on a table with a stoic man almost refusing to eat them because of the stigma they have from being force fed boiled sprouts from mum and dad as a kid, and watching him take the first bite and mouth the words “H@ly S#!t, they’re good”. Again, we like to wow and shock. Put something in your mouth and let the flavours do the talking. Something that you might not necessarily enjoy, like a sprout, or perhaps our smoky eel croquette may not the most appealing thing to read, but when you bite into it, you will change your mind.
7. What are your food trend predictions for the coming years?
Like I mentioned above, I feel the trend of share plate dining will continue to grow. It’s a really social and inclusive way to eat and a way that you can try so many things in one sitting. I feel that a majority of diners are looking to menus where they can order a bunch of things and graze, rather than order mains or entrees. I also think that staying on top of eating trends like veganism is important as they will continue to be on the rise and it is a must for restaurants to have creative options.
8. If you could sit down for a meal at your restaurant with any two people in the world, who would you choose and why?
One would be recently retired 3 x world champion surfer Mick Fanning. Because not only is he my childhood and adult hero but he has done so much and overcome so much adversity and hard times, and come out on top and retired at the top of his game. I also would love to find out all the secret surf spots he now will be getting paid to explore and surf in his free time. The second person would be comedian Ricky Gervais because who doesn’t love to laugh and this guy is hilarious. I feel a meal with these two could turn into a few after-dinner espresso martinis, some late-night whisky’s and one hell of a hangover the next day.
9. You’re on death row and your time has nearly come. What’s your last meal going to be and why?
This is the toughest question of all and one that I’ve deliberated over most. I love too many foods. I always say to my girlfriend that if we ever get put on one of those games, “guess your partner’s answers” segments, that if a favourite food question came up, she should say doughnuts for me. However, I feel in the context of this question I should give you my real food answer. The food that would make me feel warm, remind me of home, family and love (as I’m on death row) would have to be – a succulent roast slow-cooked to perfection with a beautiful selection of fresh veggies from our home garden.
35 Bettington Street, Millers Point, Sydney 2000
Mon – Sat: 12pm – Midnight
Sun: 12pm – 10pm
Lunch: Mon – Thurs: 12 – 3pm; Fri – Sun: 12 – 4pm
Dinner: Mon – Thurs: 5 – 10pm; Fri – Sat: 5:30 – 10pm; Sun: 5:30 – 9pm