Ben Williamson is co-owner and chef at Agnes, a restaurant in Brisbane, Australia, where everything is cooked over fire using local woods in an open kitchen. “We work with the seasons,” says Ben. “We look at local farms, what products are coming up, how we can use those core ingredients.” Flavour always comes first. “As long as it’s delicious, the rest can follow suit,” he says. “I’d rather something that was ugly and was completely tasty than dishes that are pretty for the sake of it.”
On Menu Progression
“We want a clear, clean start, then the meal needs to progress pretty sharply,” says Ben. “Texture is really important, not just contrasting flavours. Your palate needs to be led on a journey through the meal so it all makes sense. When you get that overall structure right, the diner can feel they’ve checked all the boxes but they don’t have palate fatigue. Balance is everything.”
On Westholme Wagyu
“It’s the consistency, the clean flavour that I love,” he says. But that’s not all. “It's the balance, the fattiness, the sweetness from the grain finishing but that nice, clean flavour off the grass. Westholme is the perfect balance of those things.”
He uses Wagyu throughout the year, tweaking the accompaniments along the way. “You have to start with the flavour profile of the Wagyu and think about how we are going to marry with it,” says the chef. “In autumn, it might be nuts - chestnuts are great to carry smoke - then we may pickle some nuts so we have that texture but it’s also briny and fresh.” Another season, another approach. “When it’s warmer, we lighten it up, have more uplift,” he says. “In summer, we might use river mint oil and pine nut cream.”
He works his way around the animal. “We use T-bone - you get the eye fillet and sirloin - those perennially classic tender cuts,” he says. “Flap is thicker grained and loves a slower cooking process which means more smoke flavour. Intercostals are great too: we marinate them overnight, cook them in a hot smoker, then cut them into small pieces to thread onto skewers. They’re full-flavoured and delicious but still have a bite.” Tongue is another favourite. “We brine it for a week, smoke it with pastrami spices and serve it with piccalilli,” he says.
Flap with Sourdough Miso Hollandaise
Flap steak is dry aged, cooked slowly over embers, then flamed hard to finish. Onions are lightly pickled with pine needles to get a “foresty flavour” and blackened over the fire.
The rested steak is drizzled with a hollandaise made using the restaurant’s own sourdough miso. “We were a week away from opening Agnes in March 2020 when lockdown started,” remembers Ben. “We had been testing sourdough. We flipped into a retail bakery and it went bananas. People were lining up for hours.”
Shortloin with Corn Mustard
“We age the shortloin for two or three months,” says Ben. “It’s that premium thing. If you want to come in with a table and have a super high-end piece of meat, we can do that for you. We have a secondary dry-age cabinet in the dining room. We’ll cut off a piece to order, cook it over fire and serve it with housemade mustards.”