It was an act of kindness that inspired the burger that Sydneysiders are raving about.
In 2015, Grant Lawn returned from a holiday in the US and found himself rattled by the amount of homeless people he saw. So he set out to help people who needed it right on our doorstep.
"The purpose was essentially to do a positive act, challenge myself through cooking under some pressure and to feed some people – hopefully making them happy," he says. He started flipping burgers and handing them out on Forbes Street in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo.
"The purpose was essentially to do a positive act, challenge myself through cooking under some pressure and to feed some people."
He says he wanted to give out burgers because "it was something that most [people] wouldn't turn down and I really thought about how I could make it the best I possibly could".
Four years later, creating the greatest burger possible is a mission Lawn still takes seriously (he continues to support good causes, too – like a recent fundraiser for the Dreams2Live4 cancer-support charity).
He's kept improving his burger recipe over the many pop-ups he's launched under the Bush name since 2015 – tending to sizzling patties and layering them with cheese and special sauce at various locations such as The Australian Meat Emporium, Young Henrys and even on the Hawkesbury River. The old sandstone church setting at Balmain Market was a particularly memorable pop-up site, "especially with the pastor Allen, his wife and his entire family welcoming me in and being so encouraging", says Lawn.
So how does Lawn feel about the growing number of people who are name-checking his burger as one of the city's best?
"It's a massive compliment considering how prevalent burgers are in this town," he says. "It's been quite a few years now of making burgers: the ingredients haven't changed, but the processes have tightened up considerably. I'm still in the process of perfecting it."
And now Lawn has a permanent place to do so. Last month, he opened Bush's Redfern location, and has decorated the all-day canteen in the most on-theme way possible. The name 'Bush' is spelt out in branches – a nice case of interior-decorating luck, as he'd been looking for this specific set of naturally occurring characters in the wild for years. "One day, they materialised in Bouddi National Park," he says.
His restaurant channels the green landscape in many other ways: there are native plants throughout, stools resembling tree stumps and table-tops that look like they'd still grow if replanted in the bush.
Alex the kangaroo, Billy the wombat and the other stuffed marsupials stationed throughout the space playfully reinforce the Australian outdoors, too. "Weirdly, I find no embarrassment in buying soft toys for myself as a 27-year-old," says Lawn. "Billy is the mumma, she came from Cradle Mountain in Tassie and Alex the hermaphrodite kangaroo came from Costco."
Lawn has described himself as an outdoorsy person who’d lift a rock to see the cool bugs under it, so it’s apt that he called his business “Bush”. But is there more to the name?
"I've always loved the Australian bush and have spent plenty of time in it," he says. "It's a forever growing, incredibly unique force that gives us so much. So if I can reinforce people's affinity and appreciation of it through my business and our space in Redfern, then I'm happy."
People are certainly happy that there's a permanent drop-off point for his burgers now. And while the Bush menu features his much-heralded cheeseburger, he humbly downplays its star appeal. "The cheeseburger I'm currently serving is very simple, with focus on generating as much flavour with as few ingredients as possible," he says.
"I've always loved the Australian bush and have spent plenty of time in it."
There's also an excellent mushroom burger that parallels it in size, pared-back approach and mega-flavoured impact. Putting your hands around the squishy, but crisp-from-the-grill buns – and seeing the cheese ooze out from the patty – is a true delight.
Not to mention the leftfield salad (with cauliflower, smoked almonds, capers, potatoes and green tahini), crinkle-cut chips seasoned with white pepper and a "curry roo party pie" that's designed to ease attitudes towards eating kangaroo.
"I chose the form of a pie, because there is no more familiar food to the Australian public, so anyone on the fence about roo meat can have an easy introduction," he says. "Kangaroo tail on beer bread with a green sauce and kangaroo loin, tail croquette, mash, mushy peas and a roo jus are more adventurous kangaroo dishes which will feature [in the future]."
Bush also serves a fairy bread and butter pudding that's meant to be a childhood birthday party flashback. "It's been fun seeing fully grown adults, smiling and laughing receiving that dish," Lawn says. The only other dessert (so far) consists of raw, bracing grapefruit pieces, tempered with a syrupy drizzle of his grandmother's honey. It's somehow the perfect appetite-lightening dish after a burger and pile of crinkle-cut chips – and it's also an example of how Lawn's relatives are so inter-connected to the Bush story.
"It's all about family," he says. "My grandma is always up to date, sharing her wisdom and keeping watch on the bees, sweetening many of our offerings. Dad had his English class brainstorming ideal restaurant scenarios, my twin had his high school economic class modelling my business plan. My cousin is in the kitchen, working away diligently."
And while Lawn started Bush as a solo mission to feed homeless people in Woolloomooloo ("I really need to get back to Forbes Street," he says about his hopes to do another pop-up there), the current Redfern incarnation could only exist because of his family.
"I couldn't do it without them, that is for sure!"
55 George Street, Redfern NSW
Tues–Sat 11 am–10 pm