Samesyn a true seaside gem
If you look closely at Samesyn’s autumn menu, you will spy a snack called “cuttlefish cracker with mussel dip dip and finger lime”.
The “dip dip” reference is borrowed from owner and executive chef Graham Jefferies’ young nephew and is, perhaps, not the terminology you might expect to find on a menu of its calibre.
But Graham insists it fits with the philosophy behind his Torquay restaurant which serves top quality fare without taking itself too seriously.
“I really don’t like that term ‘fine dining’, I think it’s a non-inclusive term,” he says.
“I just think we are a restaurant trying to make good food and have a bit of fun.”
Samesyn (pronounced sah-me-san) is an Afrikaans word meaning togetherness, and nods to both the share-style dining experience and Graham’s formative years spent in Cape Town, Johannesburg.
After stints living and working in Europe, including at Michelin-star restaurants, the lure of the Surf Coast proved too strong for the keen surfer, who has called Jan Juc home for the past 15 years and now lives there with partner Nicole Dickmann and their two-year-old daughter Ayla.
Graham already co-owned hatted restaurant Tulip in Geelong West (with friend and fellow chef Matt Dempsey) when he opened Samesyn in late 2019.
It debuted as a gem of the coastal dining scene but Graham admits it’s a little more “hidden gem” than he’d like.
“To be honest we still are very much unknown,” he says of the Bell Street venue with an unassuming facade.
“We literally opened just before COVID and we don’t have big signage so I still get a lot of people that don’t know we’re here.”
Still, Graham sees positives from the lockdowns, which forced a pivot to takeaway-only.
“It wasn’t altogether bad and helped us reach a lot of people who might not normally come out for dinner because they have young families,” he says.
“We were really embraced and supported through COVID and I’m thankful to the people of the Surf Coast because we hadn’t really been around long enough to have them get behind us like they did.”
Samesyn’s menu reflects a produce-driven approach to cooking with a modern Australian menu embracing old and new techniques.
For a snack you can try the fried sardines with fermented garlic and lemon, followed by a starter of Jerusalem artichoke, grilled radicchio, goats curd and spring onion.
Your main might be a slow cooked lamb shoulder, smoked yoghurt, bay and broccoli with a side of fried potatoes or cos salad. Desserts such as the Malva pudding are equally tempting.
Graham nominates vegetables as his favourite ingredient to work with, particularly asparagus.
Using responsibly foraged local ingredients is also central to his recipes and ocean parsley, sea celery, salt bush, sea blight, sea lettuce and wild nasturtium take their turns on the menu.
“It depends on the season as to what’s out there,” Graham says.
“Every time I surf at a spot I’ll look at what’s on the rocks and what’s in that area.
“For me each dish has got to have something a little bit special, either it’s a technique that may be unique or a less familiar ingredient.
“I use modern cooking techniques but still using things like a wood fire and a lot of fermentation.
“And it’s important for our suppliers to be free range and have good, ethical protocols.”
Graham inherited his passion for produce from his mum.
“Mum was super interested in food and every time we went somewhere on holiday we would go straight to the local markets and be stuffing noodles in our faces and always trying new things,” he recalls.
But it was his experience of Michelin-starred restaurants that made him consider cooking as a career following stints at the Crown of Whitebrook in Wales, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in the UK and New York three-star restaurant Daniel.
“The first time I went into a kitchen with a Michelin star I was hooked and just loved it,” Graham says.
“Although it can be kind of fancy and pretentious, the great thing about those environments is that everyone is trying to do the ingredients the
most justice so that drew me in.”
Graham is also excited by how the Australian dining scene has transformed in recent years.
“That provenance and concern for what we are eating has become so prevalent,” he says.
“When I first started cooking it was just lobster and caviar, whereas now we can have a fermented cabbage stalk and it’s interesting. It’s a privilege to be part of that.”
Samesyn caters to all dietary requirements and the menu is mostly gluten free.
It offers an upbeat vibe complemented by exceptional customer service and a welcoming interior featuring recycled messmate timbers.
“It’s for locals, it’s not fancy and you don’t have to feel nervous about coming in… it’s just a fun restaurant trying to do food justice,” Graham says.
“If you want to have a tasting menu and a really long experience with wines, you can do that or, if you want to bring the kids in early and share a lamb shoulder, some potatoes and a salad, you can also do that.
“Or come in and have some oysters and a glass of wine – you are welcome to do that too.”
Samesyn opens for dinner from 6pm Tuesday to Saturday, and lunch from midday to 2pm on Friday and Saturday. Bookings: 5291 9917 or samesyn.com.au. Instagram @samesynrestaurant.