Why a former 3-hat chef is now opening a roast chicken restaurant in a pub

Ben Greeno. Photo: Merivale

Ben Greeno has climbed the Everest of cooking, having worked at Noma in Copenhagen, the world’s best restaurant, and more recently as head chef of Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney.

Greeno’s talent garnered critical acclaim for American chef David Chang’s Australian outpost and its $185 tasting menu, from the moment it opened in 2011. It earned three hats and was named one of Australia’s top 10 restaurants.

But it was a shock in foodie circles in February this year when Greeno announced he was leaving to join Justin Hemmes’ Sydney dining and drinking behemoth, the Merivale Group, to run a pub restaurant.

Hemmes acquired The Paddington (the former Paddington Arms) in 2014 and while the relaunch is five months behind schedule, the Oxford Street institution is back from next Tuesday, November 24, with Greeno cooking roast chickens for the upstairs dining room.

The British-born chef also has plans to open a takeaway chicken shop next door.

A young family is partly the reason for the change of pace from the pressures of fine dining, Greeno told Business Insider, but he has no doubt the popularity that comes with running a restaurant in a Merivale pub will bring its own challenges

“It’s a different stage in my career and I needed a new professional challenge,” Greeno said. “After fine dining in 20 seat restaurants, a 200 seat venue is definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to a really cool venue and I think it’s going to be electric in there.”

Part of the challenges will be mastering the custom-made French rotisseries that will be the centrepiece of the restaurant. It’s a whole new cooking style for Greeno.

“It’s not going to be your traditional pub food. It’s going to be a bit more exciting than that,” he said.

The menu includes lamb rump with red pepper and almonds; wagyu beef with artichokes, pickled mustard seeds and watercress; whole fish stuffed with olives, lemon and thyme; roast chicken with fries.

Greeno says he wants to push how a rotisserie is normally used.

Deciding on the right chicken was a tough ask. Along the way he’s eaten €270 ($A400) Bresse chicken at the Michelin 3-star Le Bristol hotel in Paris – “It was a nice meal,” he says – before settling on free-range chooks from Bannockburn in Victoria for The Paddington.

“I wanted to make it accessible,” Green says, talking about the price.

He admits that his favourite way to cook a chook is to marinate it then throw it on the barbecue.

“I’ve eaten so much chicken in the last six months, my wife has banned us from chicken, pretty much,” he said.

One of the main reasons Greeno says he wanted to run a pub restaurant is to have fun, something that went missing in the high stakes world of fine dining.

“When we opened Momofuku, we had a lot of fun,” he says, before the pressure to maintain the critical acclaim saw they joy ebb away.

“I had all this added pressure.”

He took the job with Merivale because he wanted to bring back the fun.

“I thought let’s do a pub, so we don’t have to worry about hats.”

The Paddington is at 384 Oxford Street, Paddington.

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