Donovan Cooke
est est est

1997

Donovan Cooke Chef & Owner of est est est

A brand new, bigger and better stove is every cook's dream.

Donovan Cooke's 29th birthday present to himself is being installed today in the kitchen of est est est the restaurant which he and his wife Philippa Sibley-Cooke and partner Frank Heaney opened in February.

In just six months est est est has become the culinary hot-spot of Melbourne. Weekends are booked out long in advance and during the week it's still hard to get a table.

But their achievement is no flash in the pan. They are serious stayers and are backing their vision with more investment.

On Saturday night, after the New Zealand rugby fans (over for the Bledisloe Cup) finished their dinner, the kitchen was stripped out.

Donovan

With the birthday present installed its back to business tomorrow for the Cookes and assistant cooks, Karen White, Joshua Eiett, Karen Gay and Ben Russell. Tomorrow's booked out, but keep trying because from now on it will be even more exciting to dine at est est est.

When I spoke to Donovan last week he was planning more dishes in the menu.

"And," Philippa says, "I can use my own bloody oven (in the pastry kitchen). My oven is used to cook all the meat, heat up all the plates, because there is no plate warmer."

The warmth of his own new stove and his own restaurant has come quickly for Donovan Cooke. Originally from Hull, he started cooking at the Savoy and then worked with some of the finest cooks in England, Michel Roux at The Waterside and Marco Pierre White as his head chef at Harvey's.

In London he met and married Philippa Sibley, a young and ambitious Melbourne chef who had worked in London at Quaglino's and The Canteen (as had Karen White, a Londoner who has been with the Cookes since the opening of est est est).

Donovan

Mietta O'Donnell, Philippa Sibley-Cooke, Donovan Cooke, Stephen Herrin

The Cookes arrived in Melbourne after working at Cote St Jacques in France and chance led them to Mietta's, where they ran the kitchen for our last year.

I was impressed with their passion for food, their technical skills and the strength and finesse of Donovan's palate.

There are many good cooks, but only a few have total artistry, the marriage of skills and taste which lifts art and food to another realm.

Combine this with a fierce and still youthful (not yet 30) energy and that's why Melbourne is flocking to est est est.

Of current dishes the Tuna 'a la Ficelle' is a masterpiece, a genuine "Cooke's creation", seared on the top and then finished off in a ham and star anise stock with horseradish cream on the side, served with cabbage hearts, shallots, garlic chives and cracked pepper.

But food is not all in a restaurant (read further about this). Atmosphere, service and the wine list make all the difference. This is Frank Heaney's domain and he's been working at it a long time.

Starting as a dishwasher in Hobart at the age of 16 (he's now 38) to bar work at Wrest Point Casino, to some of Hobart's best restaurants before arriving in Melbourne in 1983. Stints at Stephanie's, Two Faces (with Hermann Schneider - now at Aurthurs), Mietta's, Jacques Reymond and then The George.

"I am very happy with what we have done, I think the quality of our work and the price asked, is just what Melbourne wants."

Frank is assisted out front by Josephine Sibley, Philippa's sister (their father, was responsible for the handsome pepper mills on the tables). For all the team the proof of est est est is not so much in the many wonderful reviews but in the customers who book again on their way out.

Already there are many loyal regulars. In six months, people who've been back eight times. That's a pretty good attendance rate.

Donovan

For the Cookes, the new stove with its two target tops, four ovens and eight burners is a dream come true and they feel it's "a real achievement".

"When we started we had the bare minimum of everything. But that's also been good. Because you've got to have goals. Now we can really feel that we're becoming successful," Donovan says.

I eat there as often as I can.

est est est is at 440 Clarendon St, South Melbourne. Phone 9682 5688.

A 1999 interview (and recipes) with Donovan Cooke


Mietta O'Donnell
Published in the Herald Sun Food & Drink Section
©Mietta's 1997