David Pugh: 15 Years of Restaurant Two

From the archive: This article was from our original site -MyCityLife posted on 15 July 2014.

Since Restaurant Two first hit the corner of Edward and Alice streets, Brisbane culture has observed many changes. 1999 saw a very different Brisbane, one that was on the verge of intense cultural development and enlightenment. Peter Beattie was Premier, John Howard was Prime Minister, the GST bill was passed through the Senate and fears of the Y2K bug were running rampant as we eagerly anticipated moving into the new millennium. From our Walkmans and radios, Madison Avenue rocked the airwaves with Don’t Call Me Baby, while Savage Garden had skyrocketed into fame with I Knew I Loved You and The Animal Song. Lou Bega and Britney Spears relentlessly wore us down with Mambo No 5 and Baby One More Time. On our TV sets, Hey Hey It’s Saturday saw an end of an era while we cheered Australia beating France 35-12 in the Rugby World Cup as we anticipated the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Film screens were blown away with The Matrix and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace; and the twists in American Beauty and The Sixth Sense kept us talking for months. 

From Brisbane, Restaurant Two would subtly alter the landscape of Australian eating with a focus on classic dishes and techniques based upon fresh seasonal ingredients specifically crafted for very special events – even if the special event itself would be dining out. And it is this modern approach reworking the classics that sees renowned chef and owner David Pugh‘s fine dining progeny bloom into one of Australia’s leading restaurants, specialising in contemporary Australian cuisine. 

Since the days serving his mum Sunday breakfast, NZ-born Brisbane-cultivated David Pugh has stropped his kitchen knives all around the world. First training in Auckland, he would come across to the Melbourne Hilton for a final polish from London’s Hotel Connaught where his work under chefs Russell Armstrong and Michel Bourdain would hone his expertise in food and restauranting to a fine edge. Some 40 years down the track since first tying his apron strings, fresh ingredients continue to inspire his passion for food.

“I still get just as excited about beautiful fresh produce as ever,” David maintains. “In fact, I’m probably more passionate than I’ve ever been, because as you get older you appreciate the nourishment that it provides as well.” His move to Brisbane saw him working in the kitchen of Baguette, where a later move to Two Small Rooms would forever carve his name into Brisbane’s foodie scene. And in 1999, Two Small Rooms would get the same rework and treatment, morphing into Restaurant Two from the heart of Brisbane.

“It was always my dream to have a fine dining venue,” David asserts, “where quality of food and service was the goal, and no shortcuts taken.” Taking his style mixing class techniques with modern produce, Restaurant Two has since pioneered the Modern Australian movement, setting the current scene where Australian Chefs the world over are dominating what was once a French-heavy arena. David points out that “Restaurant Two was the first fine-dining modern Australian” in Brisbane, noting that Restaurant Two’s mark on the scene starts with his staff. He certainly remains proud of the crew who has worked their way through his kitchens.

“Our head chef Mat Fury is one of my former apprentices,” David remarks, “and I’ve had many great apprentices over the years who are now making their mark on the industry.” The influence of globalisation, where a focus on low-salt, low-fat healthy cookery incorporating lean meat and lightly cooked, colourful, steamed or stir-fried vegetables saw Australian Fusion take advantage of its multicultural background. Asian, Mediterranean and European methods has been integrated into a sublime three-way marriage, with wonderful foundations based upon our fresh produce.

Restaurant Two particularly focuses on Queensland goods, where, David points out, the “North coast seafood Hervey Bay Scallops are never off the menu.” And while many Restaurant Two dishes have remained distinguished on the menu across the years, David alleges he has a new favourite all the time, though “this month’s pumpkin and scallops are mind-blowing.” The focus certainly remains on the dishes and fresh ingredients, but attention rarely sways far from its clientele. “We are so lucky to have many wonderful customers who have been here since day one,” David discloses. “And they are coming on Tuesday to celebrate with us.”

“We are thrilled to be celebrating our birthday,” David renders. “Turning 15 is the equivalent to turning 105 in restaurant years. We’re celebrating by taking a trip down memory lane where the menu will reflect the culinary journey the restaurant has taken, including some old classics from Two Small Rooms – such as the signature vanilla-bean crème brûlée. Being around for 15 years has shown us that it’s great to innovate, but classics will always be in style. We have always stayed true to what we do best, which is fine dining and beautiful service in a modern venue.”

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