These days it seems that fine dining has been swept aside, making way for communal eats and share plates. We all know that food is a universal language – it’s how we communicate love and generosity and in doing so we’re brought together with family and friends. We eat out, go for drinks, gather over a birthday cake and fight over the prime cuts of the Christmas ham.
In other words, we’re very social creatures and that’s what local chef Darren Perryman hopes to bring to the city with his fittingly-named newest venture, Social and Co.
The dining atmosphere is casual, friendly and family-orientated – not in the ‘kids eat free’ sense but what the head chef describes as, “big tables, families sitting around, laughing, bonding and sharing food as the hours go by”.
Having just flung its doors open on 4 August, Social and Co boasts a delectable menu offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with a Mediterranean twist, based on Darren’s time spent in south Europe with his wife.
“Not so much with the flavours of the Mediterranean but the way that I saw people come together to eat – what it would be like living there,” he explains.
“When it’s warm outside people are totally different, just like here in Canberra. In winter everyone hibernates and rugs up, it’s freezing and the wind is howling, but during summer people are out and about, playing outside much later, eating later, sitting around and getting together with friends and family. I saw that a lot over there and I fell in love with the whole concept.”
With Darren’s pastry background you can find a certain finesse as he incorporates a few special elements into each dish.
“We make our own brioche rolls and everything baked on the menu we do on site,” he says.
He has also searched far and wide to ensure only the best-quality produce passes through his kitchen and onto your plate.
“We use really good quality free-range eggs from Long Paddock Eggs in Bungendore, free-range bacon from Bronte in Sydney – those little things that just make breakfast more enjoyable,” Darren says.
“The bacon is tender, smokey and beautiful, the yolks in the eggs have this lovely gel consistency to them. It’s a pleasure to cook with great ingredients, they just speak for themselves and you can’t go wrong.”
Dinner, however, is Darren’s favourite meal of the day, and the dinner menu at Social and Co does not disappoint. Perhaps it is the quality of ingredients that he speaks of, but when we delve deeper into his inspirations, the real reason reveals itself.
“I love dinner time because that’s when I get to spend time with my family. During the day my son’s at school and my wife’s at work,” he says.
“When we have family dinners we get everyone together – my uncles, cousins and grandparents – to me that just feels so… good!
“We share everything, we make a big lamb roast and we slice it up and pass it around, no one plates it individually, it all gets put on the table with the veggies and salad. That’s my idea of having great family time and generating memories for my son, so I try to recreate that here – to a certain extend in a restaurant setting.
“Being social, that’s really important to me and that’s how I designed the menu.”
The meat section of the dinner menu is intended to share. The Roasted Whole Chicken is a standout, served with creamy potato, green beans and rosemary jus. It’s our top pick as an ideal plate to share – so hearty and substantial, and works out to be only $25 each for two, but could probably serve more!
“It’s all based on really good value for money and we use the best chicken, beef and lamb that we could find,” Darren says.
If you are after something a little bit more elaborate, Darren dry-ages all the rib eyes for three weeks. Once they are as tender as can be they’re cooked in the wood-fired oven, sliced and served medium-rare with house-made dipping sauces. It’s a 1kg massive steak that will make even the fussiest of meat-lovers drool. But be warned, this one is not for the faint-hearted.
“We also have a range of desserts. I get to bring my pasty chef training back into the dessert menu and be more creative,” Darren says.
“I went a little out on a limb with the Manchego Cheesecake. It’s a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese that’s really pungent but really nice to eat with crackers and olives. I’ve turned it into a sweet cheesecake with berry puree and raspberry gelati and it’s freaking everyone out a little bit, but it’s really good!”
“For me, food is very subjective, just like wine or art. You can’t please everyone but you’ve just got to be proud and put it out there, and when you get great feedback it makes it all worth while.
“It might sound cliché, but cooking is my life, it doesn’t matter if it’s making pastries, baking bread or cooking savoury, to see the finished product is what I crave, and that amazed look on people’s faces when they eat something that’s truly good.”
Fit-out: Social and Co builder, Linsey Newman, has done an amazing job on the fit-out, from the steel work and welding to the cascading greenery and copper fittings.