A Friend of Hublot since 2021, pioneering chef Clare Smyth has won accolades for her ability to transform the finest and most humble local ingredients into works of culinary art. Her Notting Hill restaurant, Core by Clare Smyth, holds three Michelin stars, and is the first restaurant to enter the Good Food Guide with a perfect 10 score. We sat down with Clare Smyth at her Sydney restaurant, Oncore by Clare Smyth, to talk about creativity, passion, and how timing is of the essence.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What brings you to Sydney?
I’m back at my restaurant, Oncore by Clare Smyth, in Crown Sydney at Barangaroo, visiting and being back working with the team. We’ll be developing the menu and working the seasons, and doing some events. I’m also visiting suppliers – it’s something I try to do every trip, discover new suppliers and find ways to work with new people.
We’re also evolving the restaurant, the dishes, the food, and preparing the menu for the next season. That’s something we’re working on. But really, it’s about building the team and spending a little more time with them. Being on the other side of the world, it is difficult, but we’re very well connected. We speak almost every day with the team, but it’s good to be here working with them, with the produce, and the suppliers, and creating new dishes. And also seeing our wonderful guests – some of them are really great regulars now, so it’s like having a new set of friends.
What have you been up to this trip, and what are the highlights so far?
I have been hunting for truffles and Manjimup in Western Australia, and with those truffles that we dug up, we did a special truffle dinner and really celebrating the Australian truffle season, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s phenomenal. It’s some of the best truffles in the world. It’s now just coming towards the end of the season, so we wanted to do a finale event where we could eat and enjoy those truffles. And I’ve also been visiting our beef supplier in Melbourne, David Blackmore beef, which is a very famous beef. One of the best I get outside of Japan. He’s one of the best Wagyu breeders in the world, and it’s really something quite phenomenal they’ve created here in Australia. They started that farm back in 1998 and it’s the beef that we use for our beef and oyster dish on the menu.
With one foot in London and basically another in Sydney, how do you ensure you know the quality of your restaurants are running to the standard that you want?
It’s all about team: having an incredible team with people that I know and trust, that I’ve worked with for so many years in both restaurants. As that team grows with new people are coming in, the team in the kitchen is getting stronger and stronger. Alan [Stuart], the head chef here [at Oncore], I’ve known him since he was 20 years old. He first came to my kitchen as a baby when he was in London, and I’ve known and worked with him on and off ever since. And obviously team in London have worked with him, most of them have known him for about 12 years, and they interact with each other all the time. And they all know each other, so they all work together. Michael [Stoddard], the restaurant manager here [at Oncore], spent some time in London with us as well. So we think [of ourselves as] one team – one team far apart, but we’re very connected.
I’d imagine timing is of the essence when you’re running your kitchens like this, especially across two time zones.
Yeah, I mean, time is everything. When you’re working in fine dining, it’s really about precision. And timing really is everything. Everything is done then counted down. We work in service down to 5 minutes, so I always think it’s like [being in] a Formula One pit lane. Everything has to be so precise: it comes down to seconds before something overcooked or undercooked. Or the fact that service is running so quickly, all of us in the kitchen must stay on time. It’s incredibly important to making it work properly.
That brings us to your relationship with Hublot. How did that start?
It really started in London. I’m a big fan of the brand, really love the brand, and then they contacted me to see if there’s a possibility of working together. I jumped at it, actually, because it was a brand I really admired. I love Hublot’s creativity and audacity and boldness. And I think that there’s a lot of similarities between my style of cooking and approach to fine dining and Hublot’s approach to fine watchmaking – it’s really quite bold, creative and innovative. [Hublot is always] pushing new ideas and pushing the envelope and not being scared of trying new things. I think that’s something that I’ve tried to do with fine dining – really push the boundaries.
So there’s art of fusion in your culinary creations?
Absolutely. I think that traditionally people would always think of fine dining being of certain ingredients, luxury ingredients. But I love to work with very humble ingredients, turning them into something very luxurious by using creativity. To create those dishes and being bold with it. And I also think that it’s about reaching a new market, a new generation of people into fine dining that that want to be entertained and find it more exciting. You still cook with the same skill in my level, but it’s [about being] much more bold and creative, and often using ingredients that people probably wouldn’t think that that you would use for fine dining.
What was your first Hublot watch?
My first Hublot is the Classic Fusion King Gold Blue. That’s still a watch I really love.
Do you wear it when you cook?
I do! That one is one of my favourites. I like it in the winter, but I like this one in the summer [Classic Fusion Orlinski white alternate pavé], so this is the one that I wear in the summertime. I have watches to wear in the kitchen, and I have my going out watches as well.
Nice. And which Hublot watch best reflects your personality?
You know, I think that they all do. And that’s the thing with watches. It’s about, what you’re wearing, where you’re going, the seasons, and it’s nice to have different watches to put on. Although I don’t actually have one yet, I do like the The Big Bang One Click watch as well. I think they’re fantastic for changing out the straps with your outfits and if there was one watch, I think that it’s a really good one for that.
Since becoming a Friend of Hublot, have you learned anything about fine watchmaking?
Yes I have! I haven’t learned how to do it, but I did a workshop with a watchmaker in London putting together a watch. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for [watchmaking], but I still can’t figure how it works. It’s incredible. It’s unbelievable how this little thing just keeps perfect time. How beautiful the movement is inside, and [the experience] gives you that real understanding and appreciation of fine watches. What goes into making them. It’s just fascinating.
Did you always have an interest in watches?
I think I have an appreciation for beautiful things. It kind of goes hand in hand, and watchmaking is a fine art. The beauty, the creativity of it. And Hublot is a brand that has a lovely, fresh approach to watchmaking. I really enjoy working with them because they think I have a very similar approach to fine dining. I think that appeals to a new generation, and [in doing so], it’s making sure that [the craft] continues to evolve and engage with new markets and new people.
Has anything surprised you about watchmaking?
The mechanisms and the way they work. The balance in the hearts of the watch – it’s insane. How that little balance in something to make the watch be and work in the way it works is just phenomenal. It is mindboggling.
What do you look for in a watch? Is it design first or mechanics first?
It’s design. To be honest, when people talk to me about the mechanisms and how things work… I’m the same with cars. I like the look of it, and yes it drives fast and everything. But for me, form, shape and colours, and the way things look is first and foremost. I really like it when you have a bold design – you know exactly what that is. It’s something unique. And you know a Hublot watch when you see one. It’s very recognisable.
Let’s finish this with a round of quick-fire questions. Sweet or savoury?
Vegemite or Marmite?
Marmite. Sorry, Australia.
Seafood or meat?
Jam or honey?
Bread, potato, rice, or pasta?
Butter or olive oil with bread?
Simple or complicated food?
Time and place. Sometimes the most simple thing is the most beautiful thing. It’s about the quality of product and when things are at their peak. So you could be eating the most beautiful peach in the world, and it’s just a peach. But when it’s at that point of ripeness, that is like the pinnacle. We always think it’s like a grand moment. And if you’re a gourmand, you’re eating and sitting in a restaurant, sometimes you take a bite of something, and you have that wine in your hand. You take a sip of that wine, and it’s just so incredible. It’s those moments that are the things, really, and what we live for. It’s what I live for.
Truffle or caviar?
You can’t ask that question!
Digital or analogue?
Analogue, of course.
Time only or complication?
Complication for sure.