A freewheeling newcomer combines global dining pedigree with love for its hometown
May 08, 2023 2:00am
Let’s get it out of the way: Kirsty Marchant and Ben Ing, the life and business partners behind Alberta’s, both worked at Noma. When reports surfaced that the former head gardener (Marchant) and head chef (Ing) of one of the world’s most watched restaurants were floating around WA, locals – unsurprisingly – had questions. Where were they living? What were they doing? Could they get me a table at you-know-where? With the opening of this breezy 50-seater in the coastal hub of Busselton last June, the couple answered many of those questions while prompting some new ones, not least “why Busselton?”
Beyond being familiar to Marchant – she grew up in Perth and holidayed “down south” as a kid – Busselton was somewhere that two 30-somethings could open their first hospitality venture without needing a Scrooge McDuck-type backer. Crucially, calling Busso home means they were close to local produce and producers: the stars of Alberta’s focused blackboard menus. When Alberta’s opened, it was all about brunch and coffee. Triticale wheat was baked into morning buns that were warmed on the hearth and served with a hard ewe’s cheese from Cambray Cheese. Warming broths coaxed maximum flavour out of local chicken, kelp and yuzu. Tasty stuff, but perhaps not representative of what Ing could do. Now that Alberta’s has shifted to lunch and dinner, we’re getting a better sense of his range. The signs are very promising.
Beyond a zealous commitment to regional ingredients, the menu’s constant jolts of acidity speak loudest to Ing’s Copenhagen era. An electrifying mustard-seed mayo offers a cool contrast against rare-grilled flank steak. Dense tiles of raw tuna loin are presented on a vivid salsa verde, thick with herbs and preserved Tahitian limes from nearby Gunyulgup Farm. Minced eggplant folded through clouds of fresh cheese suggests baba ghanoush and ricotta should hang more often.
And so it goes, right through to an assured send-off starring pristine cut nectarines, served room temp and finished with lemon oil. It’s a package that feels very wine bar-y in its immediacy, just minus the wine (imagine if there were more BYO restaurants like Alberta’s!). Chummy, engaged service led by Marchant is another draw, while the space’s stripped back aesthetic, fast-moving open kitchen and approachable prices also help guests feel at home.
Marchant and Ing certainly aren’t the first couple to open a small place on their own. But at a time where flashy restaurant “concepts” are all the rage, their earthy DIY approach is a likeable flashback to an era not so trend-driven. While pedigree will no doubt get many guests through the door, it’s Alberta’s understated cooking and charming hospitality that’s going to keep them there. A welcome addition to the dining scene out west.