TJ Peabody had a problem. After long hours at his establishments – among other ventures, he owns Nickel Kitchen + Bar, Nativo Kitchen + Bar, NKB Express and Nantucket Catering – the restaurateur and his staff had few choices for late night (or very early morning) bites.

Need necessitated innovation, and Burnt Ends, NKB Group’s newest venture, was born in August 2017. The Barracks restaurant began with the idea of offering coal-fuelled street food catering to diners at all stages of their evening. Burnt Ends’ bar, a seductive, welcoming space, provides Asian-inspired skewers and bao cooked over charcoal, along with an exotic cocktail menu.

But Burnt Ends is not a one-trick pony: TJ and the team decided to bring the coals from the bar into the kitchen for a full-service restaurant, serving all crowds at nearly all times. For a unique dining experience, they installed a custom-made stove and rotisserie – the only one of its kind in Australia – to introduce tantalising chargrilled meals.

TJ ventured around Australia and the US, studying the different ways charcoal was used then designed a formula and menu that would suit charcoal-style cooking. “When it comes to cooking protein and veges, there’s no use of gas,” said TJ. “You get flavours transferred throughout the whole experience.”

A flavourful experience, indeed. We shared the market fish of the day – in our case, barramundi, with seafood delivered fresh daily – and the rib fillet, which came with a side of swoon-worthy wood fired vegetables and a range of mustards and homemade sauces. The coal-roasted fish was rich and succulent, dressed with a tangy blood orange vinaigrette. Tender and just the right amount of rare, the meat was infused with a smokiness that makes you wonder why more people have not done this. The secret, according to executive chef Gordon MacGregor, is trusting the flames.

“We have different kinds of coals and woods depending on what we’re cooking. We source some great products and let the fire do the talking,” said MacGregor.

“We created a place where you could feel warm and welcome. There’s the smell of fire, you can feel that warmth.”

The mood throughout harks back to the Jazz Age: exposed brick walls, the faint scent of smoke, forest green booths, and bow tie clad waiters. Wooden beams race over the ceiling, part of TJ’s determination to preserve the character of the old stable building, formerly The Underground nightclub. On Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, a musician can be found crooning in a glass-panelled space. “It doesn’t matter where I am in the world. If I hear live music, I’m drawn towards it,” said Gordon. “We’re accessible to all walks of life; we are the place to come.”

And then there’s the restaurant’s heart: the open kitchen with its one-of-a-kind stove, flames bursting from coals, chefs chopping and flipping and seasoning, the whiffs of smoke that invite you in, no matter your story, no matter the hour. “We don’t want it to be fine dining, just good dining. Good wholesome food that’s cooked in a different way,” said TJ. “I think it’s got longevity. It’s beyond just a trend.”

 

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