What happens when a global, five-star hotel brand brings on board James Viles, one of Australia’s most creative and sustainably-minded chefs?
With Sydney Harbour lapping at its edges, Park Hyatt Sydney has one of the most enviable positions in the city. Its Dining Room and Living Room public spaces overlook the Sydney Opera House and guests have long been drawn to its understated and elegant atmosphere.
Recently, the hotel has secured somewhat of a culinary coup – securing highly respected chef and author James Viles as their new culinary director.
James, who grew up in the NSW Southern Highlands, has significant global experience in the world of fine dining. He began his career with Aman Resorts and Orient Express hotels working in the Middle East before returning to his childhood home town of Bowral where he opened his own restaurant, Biota, in 2011.
With a reputation for working with local farmers and applying a lens of sustainability, seasonality and native ingredients to his cooking, Biota was one of the finest restaurants in NSW up until 2020, when James was forced to close following the challenging effects of a torrid bushfire season and then the pandemic.
He had no desire to open another restaurant and when the opportunity with Park Hyatt eventually presented itself, it felt like just the right challenge for the ever-creative chef to modernise and redefine what five-star Sydney hotel dining could be.
Authenticity and sustainability
At a recent media lunch to present a glimpse of the new-style Dining Room menu, James shared his excitement at being able to transform the hotel’s culinary experience and localise the culinary journey. The focus is on Australia’s abundant plants and animals in prime season.
“I’m passionate about how we eat and how we cook. It’s important to take a step back and think about why we’re here and having a less is more approach,” said James.
The menu he prepared, a sample of what’s to come for visitors to The Dining Room, is focused on under-utilised species in our ecosystem that are seasonal now.
“The basis of my career has been going out there into the Australian bush. My cooking can’t be a gimmick – it’s got to be authentic and very seasonal,” he said.
According to James, a sustainable approach means using wild species and reducing the impact intensive farming has on our environment.
Our first course was a soup of spent vegetables and under-utilised fish species.
“We have a huge focus on seafood at Park Hyatt Sydney,” said James.
Other dishes included Fraser Island spinner crab with Northern Rivers macadamia; roo ragu jaffle cooked over coals; line caught wild Jewfish from the Northern Territory with myrtle garlic butter; and leftover beef fat and wattle seed fudge.
His journey of transforming the culinary offering at Park Hyatt Sydney, he says, is more than an action – it’s a thought process.
“It’s like joining dots and one thing leads to another and another. Everything is starting to come together and I’m very proud of it,” said James.