By Jo Rittey


Dave Verheul has a way with food that makes you at once raise your eyes in delight at the cleverness, as well as sink down into the cosy deliciousness of it. Now dividing his time between The Town Mouse in Carlton and Embla in the city, Dave makes it all seem effortless.


First of all, congratulations on being awarded Best New Restaurant for 2017 in the Age Good Food Guide Awards. Do you get a thrill from that still?


When you start out, I think you pay a lot of attention to them, now they’re just kinda nice. Our nights are always pretty busy, we have a really good restaurant traffic trade because everyone knew us from the Town Mouse but coming to the city is a really new environment so what it’s done is it has made our lunches busy too. It’s good, it’s nice to be busy.


I was just reading a little bit about you and your food and people describe it as, “refined and fiddly, yet hearty and unfussy”, “casual yet mind-blowing,” and “tweezer driven.” How would you describe your style?


I don’t know. I get asked this by Uber drivers all the time, “What kind of restaurant is it?” It’s a really hard question. Maybe it is tweezer driven, my hands are maybe not as nimble as they used to be. Tweezers are pretty handy. I don’t think we’re that fiddly any more. When I first came over here, there was heaps of pressure to be good and I tried to get a lot of things on the plate. Now it’s not really like that in either place. I really like the contrast. I like fine dining and I love really simple rustic flavours as well.


Well I’ve eaten in both places and I think you totally nail that. There’s obviously that level of knowledge and technique but it just tastes really good.


I spent a long time working for Brent at The Bentley and one thing that I really got from that other than a massive love for vegetables is that he was able to present modern food and it was always delicious. I like modern food and I really like rustic stuff, but I like to do it in a way that’s approachable.


There’s a really good feeling in both places from the staff as well. They are really knowledgeable.


Well that’s Christian (McCabe) and the kind of person we attract. That whole old mentality of this is the restaurant and this is the sommelier and everyone else is a little bit scared and they push the sommelier over towards the table, that’s not what these places are about. We find great staff, people who have great personalities and are a bit of fun. We teach everyone, so everyone knows what’s going on. We are growing people as well as staff members, we don’t want robots.


What makes a good chef?


I think you’re looking for attitude. When you’re looking to employ a chef, you’re looking for someone who wants to roll up their sleeves and get it done, who can take direction. Every single kitchen you go into will do things completely differently down to how you peel potatoes or how you cook the meat. It’s always different. Finding a staff member who will say yes and it may not be what they were taught in the role before but if they are willing to take it on board, that’s how they learn. We look for attitude and teachability.


I went to a university lecture recently and it was about the senses and apparently a scent or flavour can only trigger a memory if you’ve smelled it previously. How do you come up with your flavour ideas?


I don’t know. I haven’t talked to other chefs about this before but I’ve been cooking for seventeen-odd years and you eat, you taste, you eat at other people’s restaurants. I think you just build up a flavour memory. You definitely need to taste things to be able to figure out what works. Sometimes they’re disgusting when you taste them. Some things work and some things you know, if it works with that, maybe it will work with this other thing. There are connections. Once you start coming up with dishes, they all just feed into each other.
122 Russell Street, Melbourne
9654 5923
Mon – Wed 8am – 12am
Thurs – Fri 8am – 1am
Sat 4pm – 1am
Sunday Closed



Jo is a French teaching writer with a PhD in Medieval French Literature and the optimistic belief she can cram as much as possible into every day. You can read more of her chef back-stories on

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