Having been awarded their thirteenth chef’s hat in a row and evolving under new management, Wollongong’s treasured Caveau is enjoying an eventful 2017. The award-winning fine dining institution is now being managed by chefs Simon Evans and Tom Chiumento, both whom have been running the kitchen since late 2015 and have a strong sense of Caveau’s place in the local food scene, as well as how to ensure the acclaim is consistently met while the menu is changed every 6-8 weeks according to local Illawara and South Coast produce.
“Having our produce locally grown, at it’s best, and in season is our priority”, explained Evans, a Welsh-born chef who has worked in the Caveau kitchen for the past five years. “We work really closely with our suppliers, especially Harry at Dapto Community farm [who] is always planting new things, or letting us know what’s coming in season and when”.
“Tom and I are really excited to be taking Caveau into its next phase, building on the amazing legacy crafted by Peter and Nicola Sheppard over many years”, continued Evans. “The Illawarra is full of amazing suppliers, and our relationships with local growers, brewers and more plays a big part in what we put on the menu. We are increasing the local influence on all our menus without compromising quality in any way”.
The biggest change the new ownership has made this year is a push towards an all-Australian made cocktail list behind the bar, as well as upping the focus on local New South Wales wines as well as quality drops from across the country. It’s a change which falls more in-line with the strong and endearing locality found all throughout the food menu, mirroring that dedication and faith in Australian produce which Evans describes as less of a “decision” and more of a “realisation”.
“We wanted to shift the focus of the drinks list to more local, and more Australian. From just researching we saw how many world class spirits and other beverages were being produced here in Australia,” he said. “When you look at the native botanicals and flora in Australia, they really lend themselves to Gin, Vermouth, and bitter spirits which make up a lot of cocktails…we managed to put together a pretty classic cocktail list – there’s an all-Aussie Negroni, using Distillery Botanica Gin, Adelaide Hills Bitter Orange and Regal Rogue Vermouth, which is delicious, as well an Old Fashioned using Starward Whisky”.
Then you’ve got small changes that have also come this year, which include the introduction of local art in the dining rooms, a conscious decision to further Caveau’s roots in Wollongong of which the owners are immensely proud. And why wouldn’t they be? Wollongong has changed so much as a real foodie destination over the past five years, with not just fine dining but also the cafe, coffee and bar scenes pushing the standard higher.
“I think people would be surprised by how the city looks if they haven’t been here for awhile”, said Simon. “There’s real quality at all levels of dining now. I think this collective increase in the standard of food and drink has definitely helped push us and everyone else to be better”.
That sense of dynamism that is sweeping Wollongong can also be mirrored in Caveau’s careful balance of change and consistency. Retaining a chef’s hat for thirteen years straight is no easy feat for any restaurant in Australia, and Simon is confident that a steady evolution has been a big reason for the success.
And It seems Caveau are set to grow even more in 2018, with a series of special native and wild dinners on the horizon as well as closer work with local Aboriginal communities.
“I think the one thing Caveau has always done well, which has to be the first step when trying to produce great food, is the get the best produce available. You can’t just create good food if the building blocks are not of a sufficient quality. As well as that we have had a steady evolution. Five years ago we were still quite traditionally French, and that slowly evolved into more European, and then into modern Australia. We took that another step further this year – we believe you need to steadily evolve without losing your core values”.
Address: 122/124 Keira St, Wollongong NSW 2500
Contact: (02) 4226 4855
Hours: Tues-Sat from 6pm