Interview with the Wild Bunch… of Wild Bunch Food & Wine Seaforth

Wild Bunch Food and WineFrom where I’m sitting, with the panoramic view of Middle Harbour as backdrop, I am holding the attention of five men – the Wild Bunch of the Northern Beaches.

And I’m struggling with which way to look.

Wild Bunch Food & Wine is an exciting café-wine bar concept about to launch in Seaforth, a joint venture between Chris Cranswick-Smith of Emmilou Tapas Bar, Dinesh Wicks, recent APRA award winner and renowned music composer whose productions include the Masterchef series, Al Matthews, Cadell Bradnock and Marc Lawler.

In this engaging, entertaining and at times playful interview, we talk about the inspiration and behind the Wild Bunch Food & Wine, the evolution of the concept, the Northern Beaches food scene and nudity.

I start by asking them to introduce themselves…

Corinne: Tell me your name, a little bit about yourself, your background, what you do…

Chris: Chris Cranswick-Smith and you have lots of information on me already. [laughs]
Dinesh: [falsetto voice] Hi I’m Dinesh.[laughs] Dinesh Wicks. Was it information on me that you wanted? I’m from Sydney. I’m a music composer and newly-found restaurateur. I do love to get nude. I like to have as much fun while causing as many problems as I can.
Chris: Beat that Al!
Al: I’m Al Mathews…
Dinesh: And he’s huge.
Al: [whispers] You haven’t seen me nude! [laughs] I’m married with two children. I’m a Kiwi but live here in Sydney. I’m in property and now I’m a restaurateur.
Cadell: I’m Cadell Bradnock. I’m a Kiwi as well and live here. I am a DJ and run nightclubs and events which we cannot discuss. [laughs] I’m as shifty as those two. I like nude as well. [pause] But I haven’t been nude with them.
Al: Yet…
Chris: Having said that, I should give you a back story on Marc Lawler. He found the Emmilou site for me. We opened on a Thursday night. He came in on the Friday night, and after we closed, he subsequently got nude right away so he could be the first one who’s nude in the venue. And he beat me to it.

C: How do you all know one another?

Dinesh: I first met Chris at Emmilou. A PR company took me to check out his restaurant and we became…
Chris: Partners in crime!
Dinesh: Chris was the one of the few people who was at my bucks party, wedding AND honeymoon!
Chris: And I was nude at all three.
Dinesh: Cadell is an old friend of mine for many years. He introduced us to the lovely Al,
Al: Cadell and I have known each other for about 10 years through the nightclub industry. I was hosting at several venues he worked at. We’ve stayed close throughout my single years and now my married years. And he introduced me to Dinesh.
Chris: Marc and I went to school together, Narrabeen Sports High.
Dinesh: Then we all got together and thought it would be good to cause as much havoc as we possibly could.

Wild Bunch Food and Wine
L to R: Marc Lawler, Al Matthews, Cadell Bradnock, Chris Cranswick-Smith, Dinesh Wicks

C: Tell me how the idea for Wild Bunch came about.

Chris: We’ve been looking to do something together for a while now, but it had to be the right location, venue and product. And those three factors also had to work together in a cohesive way.

C: What made you choose a Northern Beaches location?

Dinesh: This whole area, Clontarf, Seaforth, Balgowlah, Balgowlah Heights, Fairlight, has nowhere really for people to drink. This came from first hand knowledge because I had nowhere to drink! Nowhere have a great cocktail or good meal near my house. This is a place I used to have breakfast at. When it became available, I got a tap on the shoulder from the owners and our concept evolved through the venue.

Chris: It moved rapidly. We’d more or less done the deal in less than three days. The owner called me up here and I think we paid a deposit after about 72 hours. Almost a little too quick.

Dinesh: There’s no such thing as too quick unless you’re in the bedroom.

C: Are you all originally from the Northern Beaches?

Al: I used to live in Manly, now I live in the East.
Dinesh: The first house I lived in was in Mosman. I went all the way north then…
Chris: Dinesh has been slowly working his way up there. I’m originally from Narrabeen and I’d love to get back up to the beaches if I can find something that is sustainable.
Cadell: I’ve lived all over Sydney.
Marc: I grew up on the beaches.

Wild Bunch Food and Wine

C: What is the inspiration behind the name?

Dinesh: It’s a funny concept. Originally when we were discussing points of difference, Chris said… I love the fresh herb thing. Not as in a display pot of herbs where the cooks use something else, but actually cutting fresh herbs at the table. Then it popped into my head… Wild Bunch. When I googled it, I got the picture from the movie The Wild Bunch of four cowboys walking down the desert with shotguns. And I thought, can it be any more right? [laughs] We’re food, we’re wine, we’re herbs but it also has a solid connection to our personalities.

Chris: It’s definitely tongue in cheek but also reflective of what the product is. The original image popped into my head when we did the Calle to Cavern evenings. The focus was to do organic, rustic, home-style food with a focus on fresh, local, organic (where possible) produce, and really supporting local community and industry. That was the trigger for me for the concept of Wild Bunch.

Dinesh: If you’re thinking parsley and thyme, or cowboys and shotguns, it all fits in. I like to think of it as “A Fistful of Fennel”.

Wild Bunch Food and Wine

C: Tell me a little about the food. What do we expect to see on the menu?

Dinesh: See him [Chris] on the menu… [laughs]

Chris: There is definitely an influence from Emmilou and my greater European days but I’ve also spent 24 years here in Australia. The idea of focussing on fresh, seasonal, local produce is paramount. We’ve gone through a user-friendly accessible menu. .

Chris: We want to make sure we always exceed people’s expectations. Whilst we say it won’t be cheap, we will be offering good value for money for a high end product.

Dinesh: We’re looking to give people a place that is great for a drink after work, a relaxed dinner, a special occasion, or a big night with friends.

Chris: We’ve focussed the menu on being able to service what the people here want, which is what Dinesh meant when he said we’ve evolved the product for the location.

C: Can you give me examples of the dishes from the menu?

Chris: Breakfast: two poached eggs with sourdough and mojama, spinach, caper and beetroot and chutney. Steak and egg (another breakfast dish), 180g of Black Angus fillet, parsley and fried egg with potatoes and spinach. Lunch and dinner menu will be the same. There will be burgers from 12-7pm only, a Breads and Dips sections with shared plates. And a main section as well.

Dinesh: We’re encouraging people to do share plates. We’re big on the ideology of sharing food. But there is also the option of mains to yourself.

C: Chris, are you the main person behind the menu?

Chris:  Yes.
Dinesh: You don’t argue with the experience that Chris has! [laughs]
Al: No…

Dinesh: The funny thing is, as a team it’s been really great. Chris’ experience hasn’t made him unapproachable or not interested in new points of view. He says…”OK, this is my thought process. Let’s get some perspective. What do you guys think… ?” which I think is absolutely fantastic.

Al: Then we added value onto that as per our 5 cents… He had 80 cents of it, we got the rest [laughs] Put GST on there, and there’s a $1.10‘s worth!

C: Tell me about the range of wines you’ll be carrying.

Chris: Definitely a local focus but with a worldly spark to interest the locals. We’ll have about 80 bottles, pouring 20 of that, so definitely a wine bar focus. Bubbles from Australia and New Zealand, and a handful from France, Spain, Portugal, South America.

Boutique craft beer selection but a couple of local  favourites as well. Dessert wines and sherry. Boutique booze selection, vodka, gin, rum etc. But with the market up here, we’ve had the opportunity to focus on some vintage Cognacs, Armagnacs and some exciting options.

C: Will you be serving cocktails as well?

Chris: We’ll have the classics but often with our own little twist on them. Like Mojitos with the option of adding passionfruit, pear or pomegranate, fresh of course. Margaritas with options of different tequilas. Pisco Sour, the apple and almond one from EmmilouWild Bunch Tequila Punch with muddled orange, lime and cucumber topped with Calle 23 Tequila, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur and topped with ginger beer.

There are also 3 brunch cocktails: Wild Bunch Bloody Mary, Mimosa and a Lychee Bellini. When I was in the States, I was impressed to see how early they hit the booze!

C: What roles will you all be undertaking in the business?

Dinesh: Chris is obviously the gun as far as the food goes, and the staff. Chris and I work closely together on the concept, overall branding, and making sure everything is cohesive. Cadell and Al are in operational roles. As far as making the restaurant work, that’s Chris’ banner.

Chris: We have a full-time restaurant manager as well Simon Drysdale, who’s just brilliant. Marc has been instrumental in getting this project underway, as he’s done all the building work… Smart to have a builder/owner. Haha.

C: Chris, will you be splitting your time between Emmilou and Wild Bunch?

Chris: Yeah. For the first three months, I’ll be there quite a bit. I’ll be dividing my time between kitchen and floor as I’ve done over the years at Emmilou to make sure the product is cohesive, the floor and the kitchen get on very well. Then I’ll be dealing directly with the restaurant manager and he’ll be dealing directly with staff.

Wild Bunch Food and Wine
Wild Bunch Food & Wine in construction stage

C: What is your opinion of the dining scene in the Northern Beaches at the moment?

Dinesh: I moved to Seaforth about a year and a half ago and I found a distinct lack of good dining and drinking options between here and Manly. There is some good stuff in Manly, but getting there and back is an issue. Try finding a taxi at 1am. Manly is its own microcosm and I find it moves very quickly. It jumps from one place to another. This area has strong local loyalty. If we give them something to cheer about, they’ll want to support their own.

C: How would you like to see it change in the next 12 months?

Dinesh: We’re hoping this is the tipping point… [laughs] I know it’s arrogant to think this way but I’ve had this conversation with people and maybe this will be the point that tips it over. We’d love it if there are great operators that will start up here and transform this place into what it deserves to be.

Chris: The more good operators, the more it will bring interested foodie people who want to hang out…

Dinesh: And it will make the foodie people here not feel they have to go somewhere else if they want something to eat.

Wild Bunch Food and Wine

C: What can we expect from the Wild Bunch?

Chris: You can expect to have your expectations exceeded.
Al: That’s exactly right.

C: How wild is Wild Bunch going to be?

Dinesh: We refuse to answer without our lawyer present.
Chris:  Haha… Just like at Emmilou, we’ll all be having fun with what we do.

C: Are there any future plans for the Wild Bunch?

Chris: We plan to put more Wild Bunch Food & Wine in places not dissimilar to this, that have little else going on, for people who want and need a good, accessible, funky, sexy product that would exceed their expectation and still deliver good value for money…

C: If you were to sum up Wild Bunch in one word, what would it be?

Dinesh: Can we please have three?

C: Sure… If you were to sum up Wild Bunch in three words, what would they be?

Dinesh: Earthy. Beautiful. Stylish.
Chris: Fresh. Edgy. Unexpected.
Al: Fun. Playful. Fulfilling.
Chris: Have we used sexy yet?
Cadell: Sexy. Bustling. Friendly.

Wild Bunch Food & Wine opens to the public on 22 December 2011.

Wild Bunch Food and Wine
L to R: Marc Lawler, Al Matthews, Cadell Bradnock, Chris Cranswick-Smith, Dinesh Wicks

Wild Bunch Food & Wine
565 Sydney Rd, Seaforth
Monday to Saturday – 7am to 11pm
Sunday – 7am to 10pm

Chris Cranswick-Smith

Dinesh Wicks

Marc Lawler – MSL Constructions

With many thanks to Chris Cranswick-Smith, Dinesh Wicks, Cadell Bradnock, Al Matthews and Marc Lawler for all the fun I had with this interview and for their generous time.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.