The Three Blue Ducks has flown north to open its third venue at W Brisbane. Chef and co-owner, Darren Robertson, discusses everything from the group’s first Queensland venture to encouraging children to eat their veg and how to have a stress-free Christmas.
By Carla Grossetti
You divide your time between The Farm in Byron Bay and Three Blue Ducks in Sydney and now Brisbane. What can we expect from the Brisbane incarnation? The kitchen will feature a wood-fired oven, a rotisserie and charcoal pit and a cold seafood section showcasing Moreton Bay bugs, spanner crab and oysters. The menu will also feature well-known dishes such as the spanner crab scramble with green mango, bean shoot salad, house-made sriracha and cashews and the corn fritters with guacamole, fermented cabbage, jalapeno, herb salad, labneh and poached eggs. The philosophy behind Three Blue Ducks is the same across all our venues: the vibe is laidback and relaxed; the food is casual, tasty, unfussy.
How is the current season of summer celebrated on the menu? I love all the seasons but summer is especially great as it coincides with the festive period. I like to use whatever is good. Asparagus is on at the moment, which is great. Zucchinis and Dutch carrots are good, too. From a hospitality point of view, summer is great as people tend to eat out more in contrast to staying at home and rugging up in winter.
You’re from Kent, Southeast of London. Is there anything you miss about a Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere? I do get homesick around Christmastime but I also happen to really love it here having Christmas in the Australian sunshine. It’s incredible. I do a bit of the typical Aussie fare – loads of oysters and prawns and salads and pavlovas. But I also like to follow tradition: I’m a sucker for a Christmas roast and beautiful charred sprouts and Christmas pudding. Christmas is a whole week of cooking and eating. My partner [Magdalena Roze] has Polish heritage, so we also do a lot of pickles and krauts. Even though everyone is enjoying kombucha and pickles nowadays, they have been enjoyed in many countries around the world for centuries.
What Christmas dish from your childhood best evokes this special day? Christmas pud and Brandy sauce. My mum would make the pudding and the tradition in our house was she would hide a pound coin and you would get a scoop and some lucky kid would get the pound coin, which back then was a lot.
What’s your No. 1 hack on how to have a stress-free Christmas Day in the kitchen? I prepare a lot the day before. I make everything that won’t deteriorate – from vinaigrettes to gravy. I also get all my vegies peeled. The trick to a stress-free Christmas is to embrace the chaos: get everyone involved so you can share both the blame and the responsibility. My eldest son, Archie, is three and my youngest, Charlie, is five months, and the three-year-old will help on Christmas Day for sure. He eats everything except pepper or anything too spicy. He is not a fan of wasabi [laughs).
What’s your secret to encouraging young children to eat what’s on their plate? I try and make eating fun. Charlie is always in the kitchen and loves to help me cook. I don’t ever give Archie the impression he is doing me a favour by eating something. I love taking the kids shopping to the farmers’ market. Archie is always asking, ‘What’s that?’ I get him familiar with the food and give him a taste of it in its raw state. Archie also eats what Magdalena and I eat. He just gets a smaller portion. Archie helps me make pasta. He makes omelettes. We make cookies together. If I’m in the kitchen Archie stands on the step ladder and cooks beside me.
Which dish on Three Blue Ducks’ Brisbane menu are customers raving about the most? We have got a Moreton bay bug dish that we serve chargrilled and it’s so good. There are loads of bugs around this area, so we use them a lot: we chargrill them and serve them with an XO butter and charred greens. We put that on and that’s a hit and a best-seller. People rave about it.
Three Blue Ducks presents a buffet each morning at the W Brisbane. If you had to have a strategy to attack it, where do you start and finish?I would start with a lovely little shot of juice followed by something light such as a mango Bircher muesli. I’d then move on to a hot smoked salmon dish, with a little bit of toast and them move onto the meaty side of town for chorizo and fried eggs. I’d definitely have a coffee and a cheeky croissant to wash it down with.
What’s the most amazing meal you’ve eaten this year? The best meal I had this year was in Oaxaca in Mexico at a shed in a Mescal distillery. The guy who did the tour of the distillery, the head distiller, killed a goat and cooked it underground. He cooked up all the goat in a spicy sour soup and then made blood sausage and served it on plates with salsa and we ate goat tacos and drank the most incredible mescal.
Food tourism is on the rise. How would you describe the wining and dining scene in the Queensland capital? Brisbane is such a happening place. I’ve always said it’s the city with the most potential. Sydney and Melbourne are in the spotlight but there’s an air of excitement in Brisbane. It’s blossoming. You go out at night and people are out eating and drinking all year-round because the weather is great. Brisbane is going to keep changing drastically. There are a lot of restaurateurs and chefs and many new hotels opening over the next two or three years. It’s exciting. There is a lot going on.
If you were guiding a visitor around Bris Vegas, where would you take them? I really like the James Street precinct and I would take them to Edwards Specialty Coffee and Gerard’s Bistro, which has decent wines and little snacks. One of my favourite places to go is the farmers’ markets and I love Danny’s Hot Bread Shop in Teneriffe and, two streets across, Green Beacon, a craft beer producer.
Right. We’re coming to Three Blue Ducks in Brisbane. What can’t we leave without trying? Give us something to quack about. Oysters. Bread. Steaks. Porchetta. Our woodfired oven is pretty special. We are also about to do a seafood platter which will happen over summer and that will be pretty crazy. There is so much amazing seafood up here. Bugs, oysters, crabs, lobster, sashimi.
What comes next for the Three Blue Ducks group? Locura opened in November. Locura is Spanish for madness and we named it after the mescal producer we met in Mexico. And then that’s it. I’m done. No more restaurants.
You’ve chosen chicken skin parfait dish for MiNDFOOD to feature. What do you love about this dish? It’s a dish that is on the menu at the Brisbane venue. It’s one of my favourites. Chicken skin parfait sourdough and Davidson plums. It’s a little bit old school. We render down the fat and it becomes this crispy delicious cracker. Then we fry off the sourdough crumbs and have it with Davidson plum jam. It’s absolutely delicious.
Try Darren’s Chicken skins, sourdough & spent Davidson plums.