David Swain had just started as chef at the Star of
Greece, then run by Zanny Twopenny and John Garcia who, in turn, had managed to
capture Sharon Romeo from the Oxford Hotel dining room. Together they flicked
the switch on something that became totally electric.
was an incredible summer, some of the best food I’ve ever cooked,” Swain
recalls: “It was so basic but so magnificent,”says Romeo, recalling the squid
and whiting caught in front of the restaurant, the mullet and mulloway from not
so far away. “We had the worst kitchen ever,” Swain adds, “with a clapped – out
four – burner domestic stove.” It was basic but beautiful.
left at the same time, after just two summers.
Swain remembers thinking, “Oh my god, how come we had never met before?” And as
they parted, he told Romeo : “One day we’ll do a restaurant together”.
they did, but it took about six years. They called it Fino and it was in Willunga.
It became famous and won them both all sorts of awards. But that doesn’t tell
you anything about the long road that took them there, and the unfinished
business that they’re about to sort out.
both started as dishies, the very bottom of the kitchen hierarchy.
asked how he got into food, Swain says two words: “Ann Oliver.” His wife-to-be
Sarah was running front of house for Oliver’s steaming hot Mistress Augustine’s
restaurant in North Adelaide. The regular dishwasher hadn’t turned up so Sarah
asked Swain, then studying industrial design, to step in.
one of the chefs didn’t turn up, and Swain was by then able to take over cold
larder and desserts. He describes the period, at the height of what’s been called
the golden era of Adelaide restaurants, as “loose, experimental – I found it so
exciting and I knew then that I wanted to be a chef. We were creating beauty on
a plate … beautiful to eat and to look at, so sensual.
“We had to create everything from ground zero. If you wanted goat’s cheese you had to make it, if you wanted fresh basil you had to grow it.”
stayed with Oliver for four years then left with Sarah for Europe, where he
found traditional French-style cooking boring, the brigade system archaic. All
he knew was Oliver’s style of anarchy in the kitchen. But in Barcelona he
discovered Spanish provincial food and Spanish style, and he brought some of
that home with him.
worked briefly at Jolleys Boathouse before heading for a longish spell in
Melbourne where he worked for five years with the late Jeremy Strode at the
Melbourne Wine Room: “He was an incredibly pivotal chef in my career. He taught
me the real simplicity of Mediterranean food.”
four years passed at Veludo – “the coolest restaurant in town” – where he ended
up in charge of four pubs and two restaurants, and burnt out. With two children
under five, he and Sarah sought refuge on the more serenely paced Fleurieu
Peninsula, where he walked past the tumbledown Star of Greece and wondered if
he could buy it. That’s when he met its new owners, Twopenny and Garcia, who
were lucky enough to hire him on the spot. And then is when he met Romeo.