Adam and Lovaine Humphrey, the husband-and-wife team behind Sydney’s Arras, combine British heritage with European influence and wildly inventive ideas in their menus and famed petit fours platters.
"Cooking is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. One of my earliest memories is my father baking bread; I just have this visual of a bloomer loaf covered in poppy seeds. It might be why, to this day, we bake our bread fresh at Arras. It’s ridiculous, but I’m really happy to be baking at 5am because I just hate crap bread.
I grew up in the northern English countryside in Yorkshire where the paddock-to-plate ethos was part and parcel of cooking. Then we moved to Singapore for three years from when I was eight and it really opened my eyes. My brothers and I would explore the hawker markets, or wander into the Chinese quarter and watch them prepare fish and frogs. It made me willing to experiment and to try anything. When we returned to England, we’d visit Doncaster on holidays, which has a wonderful fish market (despite being nowhere near the sea), and we’d always pick a large crab and make Singapore chilli crab.
I started working in kitchens from when I was 15, and I have Neil Perry to thank for my move to Sydney. My parents visited Australia for a wedding anniversary and bought me the Rockpool cookbook. I remember reading it and thinking, 'This is good food: fresh, interesting and different. I’d like to go and have a look at that.’
It was always my dream to open my own restaurant. When I decided to open Arras in 2005, I phoned Lovaine, who I had worked with in England at The Castle Hotel, and asked her to help me. Without a shadow of a doubt, she’s one of the best chefs I’ve ever worked with. We married early last year, and we make a great team. When we first opened, we knew we wanted to make everything in-house (including the bread, sausages, bacon) but we wanted to build our style gradually. Two of the first dishes I created were the crab bread-and-butter pudding and 'rack on black’ (lamb with black pudding). We were instantly labelled 'modern British’, but we found it a bit stifling.
We’re not turning our back on British food, but since our move from Walsh Bay to Clarence Street, the food has become lighter, with some European influences. Our style will continue to change because I think I have culinary ADHD. I like to keep pushing and doing different things. We have a customer who comes in every few weeks for the degustation and he wants 10 new dishes each time. It’s great because it forces us to create, and pushes us to be better.
Ultimately, I also believe food should be fun. I think fine dining can be taken too seriously. Why can’t we have a bit of fun on the plate and make people laugh and think? Hushed tones shouldn’t be the norm. I want people to come into our restaurant and just have a ball."
Photography by Alan Benson