It’s late October, the first properly sunny spring day Sydney has seen for weeks, and the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk is thick with activewear and tourists with cameras.
On most other days at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, this would be the quiet period between lunch and dinner, but the combination of fine weather and the final days of Sculptures By The Sea has people in the mood for eating and drinking. A few customers are lingering.
At 4.30pm a small squadron of chefs steps out onto the astroturfed, umbrella-covered Icebergs terrace with enamel plates piled with the day’s staff meal. The chefs take a far table and start eating in silence, stopping only long enough to acknowledge particularly satisfying mouthfuls with a nod. Around them couples – and a table of women dressed entirely in white – share spritzes, oysters and those Insta-perfect views over Bondi Beach.
“How was your birthday?” one chef asks another between mouthfuls. “Yeah, great! I went to Golden Century.” “How old did you turn?” “Thirty. It’s almost all over. What have I done with my life?”
More enamel plates appear on the terrace, this time in the hands of wait staff dressed in white tuxedo jackets and flowing orange dresses. Although they leave an empty table between themselves and the chefs, it only takes a few bites before blasts of conversation are crossing the demilitarised zone.
“Who made this? It’s amazing,” a waiter asks. “Everyone, sort of,” says one of the chefs.
Today’s staff meal is a regular on the roster: Panko-crumbed chicken topped with tonkatsu sauce, bonito flakes and fried eggs, a combination the team refers to as Mother and Child. There’s a giant tray of rice for those who have a good relationship with carbs (“I don’t want to be leaning on the bar and groaning all night,” says one waiter, turning it down), coleslaw, and a hot sauce that’s separating the heroes from the zeroes.
“We were supposed to be having chicken burgers one night,” head chef Alex Prichard tells a chef who asks about the origin of the meal, “but someone forgot to order the buns. So they improvised this.” “I thought it was a chicken Caesar they were making,” says someone else. “But where did the tonkatsu come from?” asks a third. “It was probably the day after one of our ramen events,” Prichard says.
As a second round of staff members collect their meals from buffet-style trays stashed behind the cramped terrace bar and take them outside, a wind picks up. Those who have finished eating rush to take down the large Heineken umbrellas while head sommelier Gabrielle Webster gathers water glasses left behind by some of the kitchen staff. “Look at those chefs! Every time! They just get up and leave everything for us to tidy up!” she says.
As the staff meal comes to an end, head chef Monty Koludrovic passes through the terrace on his way to a meeting. He offers his own, seemingly definitive, origin story for the staff meal: “I used to work with a Japanese chef at Becasse [a now-closed high-end CBD restaurant]. He made the most amazing staff meals. One night he made us this and when I asked him what it was called, he said ‘Mother and Child’. So that’s what we call it now too.”
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar 1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach
Icebergs contributed three recipes to our new book, The Broadsheet Italian Cookbook: crudo tuna, horseradish, caviar and nasturtiums; pan-roasted snapper and potatoes cooked in anchovy butter; and pea and farro salad. Available now at shop.broadsheet.com.au.
Mother and Child
3 tbsp salt
8 chicken thighs, skin off
1 cup plain flour
2 eggs, lightly whisked
2 cups panko crumbs
Neutral vegetable oil for deep-frying
½ head cabbage, finely sliced on a mandoline
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
1 bunch mint, finely chopped
1 bunch shiso or Thai basil, finely chopped
White soy sauce to taste
Rice-wine vinegar to taste
2 cups short-grain sushi rice (Icebergs uses organic koshihikari rice grown by the Randall family near Griffith)
3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp rice-wine vinegar
4 eggs, fried
4 spring onions, finely chopped
Bulldog or tonkatsu sauce
Store-bought fried shallots
Store-bought bonito flakes
Your favourite hot sauce (or see fermented chilli recipe below)
This recipe must be started 12 hours ahead of time.
Pour the water into a saucepan or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Add the salt and stir to dissolve. Add the chicken thighs. If required, add more water and salt (at a ratio of 3 tbsp salt/1L water) until the chicken is just covered. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. In a deep pot, pre-heat the oil to 160°C.
Rinse the rice in a colander or sieve until the water runs clear. Place in a pot with 4 cups water and a generous amount of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Remove from the heat, drizzle over the mirin and rice-wine vinegar, then set aside.
Meanwhile, set up three bowls, containing the flour, whisked eggs and panko crumbs. Remove the chicken from the salt-water brine and pat dry with paper towel. Dip each thigh in the flour, eggs and panko crumbs, in that order. Deep fry for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towel. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, herbs, white soy and rice-wine vinegar together.
Divide the salad, rice and chicken between four plates. Top each serve of rice with a fried egg, and finish with spring onions, Bulldog sauce, Kewpie, shallots, bonito flakes and hot sauce to taste.
Note: the Icebergs’s favourite hot sauce is a house-fermented chilli number. Combine a handful of birds eye chillies, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1½ tbsp of salt in a large jar. Add just enough water to cover everything, screw the lid on tightly and leave for six months. Transfer to a blender, puree and serve.