Having experienced a dysfunctional work ethic at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Melbourne, and an abusive kitchen culture within Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurant Maze, local chef David Kapay returns home to Albury/Wodonga to open a Miss Amelie, a restaurant that shines with exceedingly well-balanced fare.

Housed within a former railway building in Wodonga Victoria, Miss Amelie will see Junction Square grow up around around it. Having secured a long 9-year lease David explains that a host of food venues, retail shops and a high-rise hotel will be built adjacent his ‘platform’ deck and garden, and is sure to secure future business.

Seated inside Miss Amelie the space appears huge, yet feels so delightfully warm. It features varying spaces, including a relaxed ‘after 5’ bar connecting to an open kitchen/dining room that feels lightly formal yet energetic with hot pink decor accents and fine art prints by Canadian illustrator Jenny Liz Rome. The main restaurant space seats 70 with an additional 30-seat private dining room. The warmer months will see the former station’s platform area extend the seating with al fresco dining overlooking a lawn and garden area – also a neat spot for weddings and functions. Out the back David has hung what he calls a ‘small shrine’ – a collection of images showcasing his time with Jamie Oliver, in part announcing his close connection and respect to the UK TV chef. 

In 2005 David flew to the UK and accepted an invitation to train alongside Jamie Oliver at Fifteen, London. Later, David bravely extended his culinary education slogging it away at Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurant Maze; a time that was clearly not fondly remembered. Working high pressure, long hours, David says he was subjected to an abusive kitchen culture: ‘There were plates being smashed, people getting plastic bins thrown at them – we’d work for 16 hours straight without a staff meal – it’s wasn’t for me’, says David.

After an invitation from Jamie Oliver to join Tobie Puttock as head chef of Fifteen Melbourne, David returned to Australia, however he admits the restaurant was not profitable and the structure seemed to be a mess. Compared its UK counterpart, the Australian restaurant’s ‘young offender’ employment opportunity scheme was burdened with a lack of local healthcare services.

‘In London there were complete teams of phycologists and social workers, all helping to keep the young blokes on the straight and narrow’, says David. ‘In Melbourne it wasn’t like this, it was chaos. Guys would just run amok, or not turn up to work at all. It was a great concept, but it was just not profitable, or practical.’

Assuring us that he was never a young hoodlum or car-jacker [yes, there are honest ways to land work with Jamie Oliver!], David proudly explains that Miss Amelie is all about value-for-money and providing accessibility for locals. David says he’s here for the long run, and aims to build a business that welcomes the wider community and this might include catering to private functions, weddings, VIP dinners or simply relaxed after-work drinks.

David’s approach to plating up modern examples of European classics is impressive to say the least. His style dazzles with visual colour, pop and finesse; and he’s wise enough to underplay and limit flavour combinations, balancing palate weights like a chef high above his junior.

The seared scallops with butternut pumpkin, beurre noisette crumble and cured pig cheek is one such elegant re-design of  a classic. The pumpkin purée is silk-textured, and David’s beurre noisette crumble made simply from sautéing milk powder in butter is pure genius. The dish offers a luxurious dining experience, yet it has broad appeal with its simple approachable flavours. With this we begin to understand that David is not aiming to over complicate, he manages to strike a balance between texture, aroma and taste with a fine balance. This in my book outlines extreme talent.

The scallops are paired with a Cooper Burns 2014 Eden Valley riesling, a delicate wine displaying soft citrus notes, attractive oiliness and just a hint of barrel fermented oak. It’s great drinking at just $9 by the glass.

The go to dish has to be David’s awesome ‘dish of textures’: crisp skin duck breast, parsnip purée, poached rhubarb, roasted macadamia nut and baby onion. Rather than over-cook and soften, David has controlled every element of this dish, offering guests a range of natural and uncompromised textures and tastes to explore.

Sous-vide at 55 degrees for one hour, and later seared in the pan for flavour and crispy texture, the duck is a winner. This process allows for enhanced flavour and an even colour to the meat as you slice through it. While it’s succulent to eat, there remains a fibrous structure to the breast muscle – something nice to chew! Add to this the pleasant zing of rhubarb pieces, lightly poached in orange juice. These are gentle-to-eat yet add an acidic lift that marries intelligently with the slightly rich duck meat. Bright red and with added crunch, the retained firmness helps the rhubarb keep its form – perfect for David’s designer plating-up.

Within this dish I adore the simple round, warming-taste addition of roasted macadamias, however it is the parsnip purée that’s truly a knock-out sensation. Its beauty is difficult to explain. There’s a great sense of memory and emotion connected with it. And in consuming it, brings a feeling of utter safety, warmth and comfort. It’s this feeling of comfort and overall emotional well-being that makes David’s food so sensational. It’s something to return to again and again.

A good match to the duck is the Medhurst 2015 Yarra Valley Steel’s Hill pinot noir, a mid-weight wine that’s easy-going and no fuss. While it’s on-varietal in terms of flavour profile, it’s made ever more pleasing with some soft-charred cherry notes and hints of strawberry.

To finish, David paints atop an inky black ceramic plate with an electrifying colour punch of golden honeycomb married with a dark chocolate. Again we see David’s skill in food design. He calls this his Chocolate and hazelnut ‘cannelloni’ and it’s dressed to the nines in salted crushed honeycomb, accompanied with Valencia orange curd, poached orange segments and small strips of mint leaf.

The taste combination is as one might expect: classic Jaffas. Again here, there is texture at play; and while the cannelloni’s dark mousse interior is rich, the orange segments and touches of mint cleanse the palate well. This is again another surprising example of how David balances his offerings with care and sharp awareness. It’s also a dish that’s packed with fun, unleashing a childhood memory of crunching on cinema Jaffas, and therefore lightening the dining mood. Perhaps too the combined pleasurable task of cracking open the chocolate cannelloni is similar to that first break of a chocolate egg on Easter Sunday – you hate destroying it’s form – yet you really want to smash into it and get that chocolate in the mouth! And so the love-hate relationship continues. Miss Amelie is born, congratulations David Kapay, I’m a great fan, respect! 

Miss Amelie is also a print work by Canadian illustrator Jenny Liz Rome

Miss Amelie is also a print work by Canadian illustrator Jenny Liz Rome commissioned by David for the restaurant. The original print of work, and others by Jenny hang in the restaurant

Miss Amelie by David Kapay
Station Building, 46 Elgin Blvd, Wodonga, Victoria
Open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner 6-11pm, Friday for lunch from 12pm
Tel 02 6056 4170

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