Every major city has one restaurant that neatly captures its essence. In Sydney, that restaurant is bills. It's a sunny little café tucked away on a quiet street in the cosmopolitan neighborhood of Darlinghurst. No punctuation, no capital letters, andwhen Bill Granger, its then 22-year-old chef, first opened the place, in 1993no reservations, no credit cards and initially no dinner service. Yet soon after its opening, bills became a magnet for the fashion, media and music worlds. As its fame grew, so too did the stature of its regulars, and locals had to get used to sitting at the blond-oak communal table next to the likes of Nicole Kidman, Baz Luhrmann and Kylie Minogue.
With the American debut of bills open kitchenhis first cookbook to be published herethe U.S. is finally taking notice of Granger. He's already well-known: His three cookbooks have sold nearly half a million copies worldwide. He now owns a second Sydney restaurant (bills Surry Hills), has consulted on several restaurants in Britain and has filmed a hugely successful TV cooking show.
Tall, blond and white-jeaned in a casual, beach-house way, Granger creates fresh Pacific Rim- and Mediterranean-influenced food that is as light, bright and sunny as Sydney itself. This is not restaurant food requiring a roll call of precious ingredients and a full kitchen brigade at the ready. It can be as comforting as an eggy spaghetti carbonara with prosciutto or as indulgent as a warm chocolate pudding. Or it can incorporate modern Asian flavors, as in his coconut pancakes with bananas and passion fruit syrup.
"I learned to cook in a domestic kitchen," says Granger, "which keeps my food simple and instinctual." His most famous restaurant dish, for example, is scrambled eggs, but these are like none you've ever tasted. They're soft, curdy and, in spite of the addition of cream, remarkably light. The secret, Granger explains, is that you don't stir the eggs in the pan but merely fold them. As to where he gets his inspiration, he laughs and says that many of his ideas spring from cooking for his "girls"partner Natalie and daughters Edie (four years old), Inès (two) and Bunny (one)his toughest audience. "I have to cook at home every day," says Granger, "so I have to keep coming up with new things to keep us from getting bored."
Although his father was the last of five generations of butchers (all but one named William), Granger claims his family was not interested in food. His vegetarian mother, meat-and-potatoes father, and he and his brother would all eat at different times. As a child, Granger taught himself to cook from cookbooks in an effort, he realizes now, to draw his family together. This is the real secret of Granger's success: His food brings people together, whether in his restaurants, in the kitchen or at the table.
bills, 433 Liverpool St., Sydney; 011-61-29-36-09-631.
Terry Durack is the restaurant critic for the Independent on Sunday in London.