Head chef of one of Melbourne’s newest Spanish restaurants, Bohemian, has 30 swinging sausages, he tells me proudly .. all hanging behind the lavish floor to ceiling curtain in his restaurant.
Josep Espunga Solans has only been in Australia 18 months – moving here to open Eddie Muto’s new restaurant in South Wharf from New York, and he has that sparkle when he talks about the sausage he creates from scratch, and that cheeky smile only a Spanish chef can possess.
Having never visited Australian shores before moving here, he’s now well settled into life here, riding his bike to and from work and enjoying the diverse culinary experiences Melbourne offers.
He is impressed with the Spanish cuisine already in the city and it inspires him he tells me, but he wants to do things a bit differently – and he loves to make things on site too – the sausages of course and then there’s goat’s cheese and ice-cream, all made from scratch.
It’s this approach which has Spanish visitors and those wanting an authentic Spanish experience coming back – oh and maybe the pop-up bar and flamingo dancers too.
The area has a laneway feel to it, despite being along the Yarra River – and with multiple restaurants it’s definitely catching the eye of local foodies.
Whether it’s a three-hatted restaurant or the best of cheap eats – you’ll find it all here along with every kind of cuisine you could imagine, reflecting the city’s diverse cultural influence from Japanese to street Thai food.
Josep’s own cultural influence growing up in a small town north of Catalonia at the base of the Pyrenees, where his parents owned their own restaurant, plays a part in his food too and his mother is still his harshest critic.
“She kept checking the kitchen to see if the pots were clean” he tells me of her last visit.
She’s a tough critic when it comes to his dishes, but his signature Paella is a winner.
It’s all in the stock, he says.
“If a Paella is yellow, it’s because they use food colourings. I only use stock from real fresh food – whether it’s from fresh local seafood from the markets or chicken bones. So the paella is the colour of the food you use to create the stock.”
His mother was less impressed with his suckling pig served with fresh carrot ice-cream – again made from freshly squeezed carrot juice on site.
“She likes traditional dishes, roast goes with roast vegetables for her.”
But for Josep, just like the entertainment he brings it to the restaurant, it’s all about the overall experience.
“I want people to be able to try something they couldn’t or wouldn’t make at home, to give them a real dining experience.”
It’s certainly hitting a nerve with his repeat customers who he plans to continue to surprise – maybe next time it’ll be a dish using one of his swinging sausages.