Woolloongabba’s new restaurant Clarence is a concept built by a duo that boasts an impressive pedigree. Franklin Heaney’s hospitality career has taken him from the storied bistros of New York City and the Michelin-starred powerhouses of London to the buzzing restaurant scenes of Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Ben McShane’s CV also boasts some globe-trotting credentials, with a stint in London (that included several cross-channel trips to Paris) helping shape and sharpen his culinary skills ahead of roles at the likes of Stokehouse Q, Kiyomi and Nineteen at The Star, where Ben and Franklin first met. Between Franklin and Ben, a front-of-house expert and up-and-coming chef, respectively, they’d worked in enough venues to realise what style of hospitality best aligned with their personal tastes and, perhaps just as important, they had the combined expertise to operate such a venue should the opportunity arise. After a string of conversations unearthed their shared inspirations and aspirations, the two decided to throw their lot in together and strike out with the purpose of opening an eatery where they were wholly in control of every element – one that eschewed the trappings and formality of fine dining in favour of something more neighbourly and fun. The old Vespa Pizza site on Stanley Street (sandwiched between Can You Keep A Secret? and C’est Bon) proved to be the ideal setting for their joint venture – a sturdy brick-encased space that boasts the sort of rustic bones that required minimal fiddling to transform into a character-filled neighbourhood bistro. Clarence’s interior is simple and warm, but far from spartan. A collection of tables, street-facing benches and bar stools seat roughly 35, with minimal adornment serving to spotlight the heritage interior and the plated fare emerging from Ben’s kitchen domain in the rear of the venue.
Central to Clarence’s operational ethos is the desire to explore and be creative within the free-flowing confines of a more casual setting. Ben takes influence from the humble neighbourhood bistros of Paris, where light and approachable fare draws in regulars for repeat visits every week. Ben’s menu is singular without being challenging, with the chef employing European and Japanese cooking techniques to shape his modern-Australian fare in creative ways. Clarence’s larder is filled with sustainably sourced produce procured from local suppliers, many of which employ circular food systems and ethically sound practices. The menu itself, which is loosely separated into categories including snacks, shareable starters, large dishes and dessert, features fish sourced from Rocky Point Aquaculture, wild-shot venison and cream from Tommerup’s Dairy Farm, which will soon also be supplying Clarence with veal. The bistro’s menu will be constantly evolving based on what is at its seasonal best and readily available, but its launch offering will include inventive eats such as crudités with buffalo curd and anchovy, pig-head terrine with peas, grapefruit and ginger, asparagus with clams, bourride and ginger, chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and sunflower-seed gravy, giant grouper with sweet corn, black olive and black butter, and rhubarb meringue pie with anise hyssop ice-cream. Franklin is overseeing the dining floor and Clarence’s selection of libations, which will boast the same ever-evolving versatility as the food. The wine list is tight, but features a surprisingly broad selection of all-Australian drops comprised of a fifty-fifty mix of established wineries (including Turkey Flat from Barossa Valley and Seville Estate from the Yarra Valley) and emerging makers from the percolating lo-fi scene (think Jauma Wines and Dormilona). As quantities are limited, the wine list will be a rolling affair from month to month – some drops might stick around, some might disappear after six bottles. Franklin is also whipping up two cocktails – a classic negroni made from Brisbane Distillery gin, Marionette orange curacao and sweet vermouth from South Austraia, as well as a spritz utilising artisanal bitter aperitivo from Bizarro.
Clarence is opening to the public on Thursday January 27 – head to the Stumble Guide for menu details and booking links.