When Maxwell Mason talks about former Chesser Cellars owner Primo Caon he cries. The tears are a mark of respect for the man who ran Adelaide’s iconic Chesser Street long lunch spot for 48-years. When Primo announced his retirement in 2012 the site sat empty until British restauranteur Max took over in 2016 with help from Renew Adelaide. It was a big deal. Max’s bold restaurant plans included Australian yum cha, a bottle shop, bar, and takeaway. He called it The Henry Austin.
Tears of a different variety flow this week after the boisterous Brit announced the closure of his baby. It is a sad time for anyone who dined, drank, partied, or simply watched on in bemusement at the CBD haunt.
“I regret to say the money just isn’t there.”
“It has been a reasonably brave attempt to offer a restaurant with no menu in a time when more and more people are using Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and any other ‘home food’ services and watching Netflix at home,” Max says on his announcement video. “It is a time when restauranteurs are having to fight harder with ever-tightening profit margins to make their livelihoods and make ends meet. I regret to say the money just isn’t there.”
The transformation of the building involved blood, sweat, and (more) tears as staff swept the dust from the grand old boy’s interior and breathed new life (and lashings of Bollinger) through the three-storey space.
Max isn’t one to follow rules. He opened the doors to the public before the joint officially launched, ran the restaurant without a menu, and worked the room like a man possessed. Former Bistro Dom head chef Shane Wilson and his team made magic in the kitchen using native Australian ingredients. The critics dug it. Customers did, too.
“On the plate and in the glass it all made perfect sense.”
During Adelaide Fringe sister venue ‘Henrietta’s’ opened her doors to a motley crew of performers and Max recently added live gigs to the offering.
It was memorable in a way most establishments aren’t. It had charm. An edge. A touch of madness. But on the plate and in the glass it all made perfect sense.
It was a place where kangaroo tartar and braised camel neck blew minds. It is where Mariachi band The Skulls sang and sculled wine from the bottle while marching past tables, where international actor Dev Patel sipped tea, Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall sipped the good stuff, and the lord mayor, ministers and politicians talked shop. It is where renegade winemakers poured wine for the masses and where I fell to the floor at midnight beneath a sweaty pile of strangers and eighties disco beats. Glorious, memorable moments. Max has plenty of those, too.
“Any of Anya Anastasia‘s [musical] evenings, dinners in the secret room downstairs, wine tasting with world class winemakers, and great dinners with astonishing people who make up the fabric of Adelaide,” he says. “Even down to people enjoying the wine I’ve made. I’ve loved every minute.”
Max took a moment online to thank his “astonishing” staff for accepting his hair brained ideas and to show his gratitude to Adelaide “for being so incredibly welcoming to an often larger than life character who just enjoys serving great food to great people,” and South Australia for “being bloody amazing.”
“I’ve loved every minute.”
He doesn’t plan to jump the South Aussie ship just yet. “If there are people out there with jobs for any of my staff or any wacky ideas about how I might be entertained over these next couple of years I’d be delighted to hear of it.”
The Henry Austin closes its doors on 1 August. In the meantime, I implore you to experience it, toast the good times and the people in this state who have the bollocks to try something new. While you’re at it, make a vow to get off the sofa and dine in at the restaurants left standing. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Did you experience The Henry Austin? Tell us about it in the comments below.