Friday, 3 June 2011

The Wright Stuff

 Its twenty years ago today that Diane and I first opened Sunnybrae. A  week out from our scheduled opening in June 1991 I realised that while most of the staffing, construction and functional  details had finally been finished: I had not yet worked out a final format for the menu. We had a full house booked - the heat was on. We started preparing food on the Friday but how it was to be presented was still yet to be decided.  I thought that we would pop the antipasto on a beautiful primitive Australian Cedar table in the middle of the dining roon that we had picked up at a clearing sale in Camperdown and serve the hot food from the kitchen. The idea was to create a menu that gave the diner an experience as close as possible to eating in a private home but with professional service.
   We went to a lot of clearing sales in those days-- strong tea from the ladies auxiliary , good sangers lots of time between lots... At one of these sales I met John Sutton a bright eyed collector/dealer seriously addicted to one off quirky items ... we soon realised that we were after the same stuff.  Over that long afternoon we talked about mutual mates, the bargains that got away, tall tales from sales past and we have remained friends ever since that day . So when John rang last week to say that he had accidentally bid A$330,000 on Ebay for Beatice’ s hat I thought that he might have finally lost it. After he explained how he only meant to bid 23,000 euros and mistakenly added a zero I still thought he was in la la land.
 I rang him the next day to find out what happened and he said that he was outbid by another nutter and as an embarrassed aside to hide a bit of “What were you thinking thinking” that I was giving him, he mentioned he had picked up some interesting chairs at a clearing sale Japan that had a bit of food history and might interest me. This instantly restored my faith in his ability to turn up real treasures.
Over the last twenty years while I have been here developing Sunnybrae Restaurant I have put my collectors habit into hibernation. John on the other hand has developed one of the most interesting second hand businesses in the country. From local clearing sales his interest turned first to Japan where he goes many times each year to bring back very unusual items as well as furniture, architectural fittings  and bric-a-brac . But now John also scours the sales and warehouses of Morocco, Mexico, India, China, South America and his warehouse/shop KYO in Ocean Grove is a veritable Aladdin’s cave for the curious collector. Where else could you buy a Bakelite 1960’s telephone in the shape of a penguin?
  From the clearing sale 30 years ago fast forward to this year when one of John’s scouts unearthed three remarkable chairs at another clearing sale, this time in Japan

When I think of restaurant or hotel projects few could be compared to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo for inspiration or scale.  Wright had always been interested in the Japanese aesthetic  [ as well as his architecture he was a serious collector and dealer in Japanese woodblock prints}  and when he was given the opportunity to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo it was a chance to express his love of the Japanese style with the coming of western modernity to Japan. The project ran from 1915 to 1923.
The “Peacock” chairs in the top pohto, now in Ocean Grove were constructed by an unknown Japanese craftsman, but were specifically designed  by Wright to be used in  the Imperial Hotel’s Peacock room.
I hope a gallery in Oz is able to secure at least one of them.

Now flash back to the opening in June 1991--- its now Saturday and about an hour before the first table is due to arrive I was still uneasy about the format . At the last moment I decided to serve the antipasto in three stages from the kitchen rather than on the cedar table that brought John and I together. It would be less messy and give the opportunity to take a break at any time during the service to go for a walk, have a private tete- a-tete stretch the legs.   The format has not changed very much since that day.  
 I am very grateful to all of you for allowing Diane and I to continue to let you enjoy our little patch. Thanks.


Ed said...

Happy anniversary. So now i know why somebody bid that much for the hat.

looking forward to returning.

Thermomixer said...

Thanks for being there and so welcoming for all that time.

We'll be back soon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you and Diane we first dated there then proposed there with you now our children come with their partners so many good long lunches. It has just improved with time

All the best

G D A F and S

I think you know who we are.

See you in July hope the truffles are good this year.

super torontoman said...
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Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

FYI last post was spam

Eric O said...

Wonderful post! Do you know what happened to those funky chairs?