Photography by Elizabeth Denning.
“Malcolm and I both lost our jobs in the hospitality industry at the start of COVID,” Jack Tonkin tells us.
Despite the unfortunate news, he’s brimming with excitement as he launches into the story of how his fine-dining-at-home venture came to be.
Pair Dining is a project by chef Jack Tonkin and Scottish sommelier, Malcolm Diack.
Having both worked at East End Cellars prior to COVID-19 related closures, Jack says that it only took a few knock off beers to work out the two shared the same philosophy.
“Seasonality, sustainability, and everything local,” Jack says.
The duo wanted to find something that brought together their passion for food, wine, and dining in general.
Jack, who has years of catering experience, says that Pair Dining is the natural elevation of his business.
“As opposed to catering, we bring the restaurant to you,” he says.
Indeed, their service goes past just food and wine. The duo bring their own linen and crockery, as well as their shared knowledge on what you’re consuming.
The experience is entirely fine dining and while the venture is still small scale, Jack says that they wanted to put their money and resources in the right places and right people.
“Our produce and producers are sustainable, ethical, and local as possible,” Jack says.
“Everything is in season, which means that there’s not one set menu that everyone gets, depending on the season, or the wines picked, we write the menu to that.”
Those requesting a Pair Dining dinner have a lot of flexibility, as the menu is largely reliant on the wine picked.
Malcolm, whose hospitality notches span from Michelin Starred restaurant, The Kitchin in Edinburgh, to East End Cellars, and now CRFT Wines in the Adelaide Hills, is more than familiar with wine and wine pairings.
Jack has also worked as a chef at veritable Adelaide institution, Peel Street Restaurant, but it was at East End Cellars where he was in charge of food and wine pairings.
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, Pair Dining’s recent dinners have been capped at eight to ten people, but there is potential for up to 30 if venue (and restrictions) permit.
The process appears to be fluid, with the duo cooking up a menu from provided pointers, whether these be wine choices, dietaries, produce or any other preferences.
“They approach us, we pitch them what’s in season, and we go from there,” Jack says.
“We’ll also get in touch with clients with the best ingredients that are currently in season and the wines that we think are banging right now.
“It’s basically whatever they want.”
A normal dinner is generally five courses, with three snacks, and five matching wines. The first snack is generally paired with a native inspired gin and tonic, so overall, eight courses, and six drink pairings.
Jack runs me through an upcoming event, set to feature a pretty dazzling menu, beginning with an oyster. No ordinary oyster, this one will be paired with apple, mountain pepper, and pickled Kohlrabi.
Other dishes include salt and vinegar artichoke and salt bush, and squid ink biscuit with whipped cod roe.
Forrest mushroom consomme, mushroom ravioli, Murray cod and smoked leeks, kangaroo with smoked artichoke, and a honey parfait with macadamia, parsnip and black sesame round off the menu.
On the drinks side, the food is paired with a levy of interesting varietals, both local and international.
It’s clear that seasonal and native ingredients are at the forefront of what Pair Dining stands for.
“We’re expanding, and we’re always on the lookout on who to work with, what to include, it’s all very organic,” Jack says.
“We’re letting it happen.”