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Mat Lindsay celebrates Ester's tenth birthday with new cookbook

Mat Lindsay celebrates Ester's 10th birthday

Chef and Founder, Mat Lindsay on Ester's tenth birthday and Ester, the book that celebrates it.

Mat Lindsay is a man few words, according to Pat Nourse. Nourse, former managing editor of Gourmet Traveller and accomplished food critic, is speaking of the publication of Ester, an intimate yet sweeping encapsulation of the craft and care that has made the eponymous restaurant a landmark Sydney venue, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. “He’s someone who’s happy to let his work do the talking,” says Nourse.

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Chef Mat Lindsay cooking in the Ester Sydney restaurant

Chef and Founder Mat Lindsay cooking up a storm in the Ester restaurant.

Mat Lindsay's potato scallops - recipe available in the Ester cookbook

Mat Lindsay's potato scallops (recipe available in the Ester cookbook).

Indeed, in conversation with Mat, he’s quiet, unassuming – thoughtful. Of the genesis of Ester, the book, the idea of which emerged over a lunch with Nourse, he says “I didn’t think anyone would be interested. Pat got the ball rolling, really.” Nourse had a hunch, though, that people certainly would be interested: after all, a decade in the Sydney restaurant scene is a lifetime, and the kind of longevity very few manage to achieve.

“I’ve been a fan of Mat’s work since day one at Ester, just about,” says Nourse. “I’d lived in the inner west of Sydney on and off for years when Ester opened… I’d always loved Chippendale, and found its evolution really interesting, so the appearance of this singular, quietly ambitious restaurant was a watershed moment.”

A watershed moment indeed. Chippendale, after all, was a very different place in the early-2010s, far grimier than its gentrified present. Even before opening in 2013, as Lindsay was putting the final pieces of Ester into place, he recalls a local sticking their head in and offering some advice. “I tried to explain it to him what we were doing and he said ‘nah, you’re doing it in the wrong area mate.’” As it turned out, it happened to be the right place at the right time.

The notion of cooking with woodfire, so prevalent in the industry today, had yet to truly take root. Long before Lennox Hastie, Lindsay made it Ester’s forte. Locals embraced it with open arms. “We never really had grand plans for the place, it was really only meant to be a neighbourhood restaurant,” says Lindsay. “Vulcans up in the Blue Mountains was an inspiration – it’s changed into something else, now – just this cool little restaurant, everything was cooked in an old baker’s woodfired oven, super simple, just a real good place to be. That’s all I ever really wanted from Ester, a little neighbourhood restaurant. It took on its own path.”

Mat Lindsay's toast four ways - recipe available in the Ester cookbook

Mat Lindsay's Toast Four Ways using his own Malted Sourdough (recipes available in the Ester cookbook).

Prepping pasta for Ester restaurant's dinner menu

Prepping pasta for Ester restaurant's menu.



Lindsay’s cooking is difficult to describe simply, but easy to enjoy. It’s generous and respectful, artful yet unaffected. His food is kissed by the woodfire oven that is the heart
of the restaurant, full-flavoured and open-hearted. Time spent in at Rockpool alongside Neil Perry furnished him with insights into produce and technique; likewise, working at Kylie Kwong’s beloved Potts Point venue Billy Kwong helped him understand the foundations for taste, how best to build balance and flavour.

Any wonder that, with such mentors, Ester quickly generated a buzz that simply did not die down. It became a haunt not just for locals, but visiting chefs. In no time at all, it garnered two hats in the 2015 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, recognised as “the most exciting addition to our dining landscape over the past 12 months”. Nigella Lawson was similarly enraptured, citing Ester as her favourite Australian restaurant. “Never question anything Mat Lindsay does,” Lawson’s recorded as saying. “Ever. He’s a true genius.”

“I was shocked by it all,” recounts Lindsay of the whirlwind early days of the restaurant.

“There were other restaurants I would have chosen many times over instead of Ester. It brought a little bit of pressure: we were put in a category of restaurants that are pretty good, right?” he says.

“When we first started, it wasn’t fancy, that’s for sure. Then all of a sudden we had people rolling in on Friday and Saturday nights with, like, ballgowns on and pearl necklaces, and you’d see them walk in the door and up those little steps and they’d look around and be like ‘are we in the right place here?’”

Mat Lindsay prepping pasta for his Sydney restaurant Ester

Ten years at the top for Mat Lindsay with Sydney restaruant Ester.

Mat Lindsay's prawns with fermented shrimp-paste butter - recipe available in the Ester cookbook.

Mat Lindsay's prawns with fermented shrimp-paste butter (recipe available in the Ester cookbook).



For Ester, the book, Nourse and Lindsay knew the one thing they didn’t want to write was a restaurant cookbook. “I’m not much of a fan of restaurant books,” says Nourse.

“Most of the really great cookbooks of the last 100 years, for my money, were written by home cooks,” Nourse continues. “The exceptions – and they’re significant – are restaurant books written by chefs who have taken the repetition central to commercial cooking and pulled out observations and ideas that are useful in good cooking in general, and not just those particular dishes in that moment.”

“I’d never planned on doing a cookbook, but then my partner did one and I got a little jealous and I decided I should do one too,” jokes Lindsay about his partner, O Tama Carey, founder of Darlinghurst’s popular Lankan Filling Station, and her book Lanka Food. “We’re not really talking about the restaurant,” he continues, “but how we cook the food in the restaurant. It’s a book from the restaurant, not about the restaurant.”

Mat Lindsay's roasted mango - recipe available in the Ester cookbook

Mat Lindsay's roasted mango (recipe available in the Ester cookbook).

Mat Lindsay and his team prepping the dinner menu for Ester restaruant

Mat Lindsay and his team prepping the dinner menu for Ester restaruant.

The process proved educational for Lindsay. “I discovered a lot more detail in what we actually do,” he shares. “How our processes and techniques have been refined over the years – Pat had great insights into how to convey all that.” Says Nourse, “The book is a snapshot of the restaurant and a moment in time, sure, but it’s really about a way of thinking and cooking and doing things that’s considered, a little bit irreverent, and entirely focused on deliciousness.”

Lindsay was also sure to make accommodations for those cooking at home. “Not many people have a massive woodfire oven or an open grill like we do at Ester. We had to go back and simplify the processes and make sure they made sense for the home. It was good to go back and go through all the steps of the cooking – it probably made me cook better as well.”

Reflecting on the anniversary of Ester’s opening, Lindsay is typically understated. “Ten years is a pretty good stretch for a restaurant,” he says. When asked how he’ll be celebrating the festive season of what has been a landmark year, he lets us in on a little trick he’s recently learned.

“Pre-batched martinis. You can pre-batch them with just the right amount of dilution and sit them in the freezer. No shaking. It’s the best.”

Ester by Mat Lindsay and Pat Nourse ($55 RRP, 344 pages) is available now through Murdoch Books and at all good bookstores.

Words by
Brendan McCallum
Photography by
Patricia Niven
Published on
30 Nov 2023


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