What To Expect At Rishi Naleendra's New Restaurant, Cloudstreet
Having been treated to a preview of chef Rishi Naleendra’s new Cloudstreet, it is apparent that his erstwhile Cheek By Jowl was really a practice run. After four years of offering his brand of unique but, with the benefit of hindsight, safe modern-Australian fare at the latter—which, not to take away from its merits, earned him a Michelin star—Naleendra is baring his soul with this second act tucked away along Amoy Street.
The food is a synthesis of his experiences and heritage: modern European in foundation, filtered through Sri Lanka. This is evident from the moment the first amuse hits the table: A petite Coffin Bay oyster wrapped in wilted spinach, topped with pops of finger lime pulp, lightly draped in coconut milk and kissed with earthy betel leaf oil. It is a remarkably unique and unexpected combination—which is a strong statement given the countless inflections of fine cuisine available across the island.
(Related: 5 Reasons To Visit Cheek Bistro)
With this sense of his personal identity finally being written in his food, Naleendra has created a truly special brand of cuisine. There is turbot edged with the grassiness of curry and sweet-spicy fermented yellow pepper puree; a gleaming loaf of the most addictive bread that’s like the love child of a rye bun and banana bread, spiked with stout and glazed with sticky molasses; and ground pickled cashews snuck into a warmly flavoured New Zealand venison tartare.
“This is me,” said the soft-spoken Naleendra, who paced behind his open kitchen’s counter, belying his nervous energy. “When I started Cheek By Jowl, I didn’t want to put any Sri Lankan touches to my food; I went with modern Australian food because it was what I knew and what I felt people would accept. But now, I’m ready. I’m putting all of myself out there and, honestly, I’m nervous.”
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To see the 40-seater space, which when we visited last week was “60% complete”, is to understand why the 33-year-old chef shut Cheek By Jowl at the height of its popularity. Evidently, he has gained enough confidence to pour himself completely into the restaurant of his dreams.
The space mirrors the spirit of the food—warm and masculine in shades of slate and shamrock, yet lush and textured with dark wood, Persian carpets and a chandelier that once hung from the ceiling at Cheek By Jowl. A wide and long open kitchen fronted by a dining counter sits smack beneath the restored shophouse’s skylight, bathing it in the kind of beautifully diffused natural light ideal for Instagramming or softening the appearance of a tired and/or middle-aged visage.
Overseeing the dining room is Naleendra’s British business partner Gareth Burnett, formerly the restaurant manager at contemporary Australian establishment Amaru in Melbourne. Manuela Toniolo, Naleendra’s wife and partner at Cheek (which replaced Cheek By Jowl), continues to oversee operations there.
One thing that hasn’t escaped him is the importance of offering good value. When Cloudstreet opens to the public in mid-July, menus will be priced at $68 for a three-course lunch and $198 for a seven-course dinner.
- Photographycourtesy of Annette Tan and Rishi Naleendra