Pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished in a kitchen using exclusively the power of woodfire and smoke, Agnes in the Valley brings precision to this unwieldy and demanding medium. The restaurant comes courtesy of owners Tyron Simon, Bianca Marchi and Frank Li (Same Same and Honto), and former Gerard’s Bistro head chef Ben Williamson. With company like that, diners would expect an all-star experience, executed with elegance and care, and they would not be disappointed.
Entering Agnes, you’ll need a moment to let your eyes adjust to the matte black that veins through the soaring space, and following your waiter closely is recommended. Metal light pendants hang low and are dimmed in a way so extreme that much of the room fades into the blackened walls, blending soot from the woodfire into the very décor of the formerly industrial warehouse space. In fact, most of the restaurant’s illumination comes by way of the three enormous Argentinian-style gaucho grills, embers glowing as they make their mark on every dish that comes from the open kitchen, stations butting into the dining space and blurring the lines between kitchen and diners.
For starters, see the humble cucumber brought into the spotlight, served three ways: lightly pickled, charred and raw, served on a pillow of fresh ricotta and peanuts. It’s a clean and surprising start, illustrating the skills in a kitchen that has no gas and no electricity.
Smoked lamb ribs are rich and teeter on the precipice of just-a-bit-much until they are dunked into a pool of five-spice spiked Pedro Ximénez where pickled persimmon cuts shockingly through the slow-rendered fat of the meat.
Agnes’s brilliance lies in merging food with architecture, those hanging lights turning from necessary beacons into spotlights over the table, forcing you to focus on every flavour, every technique, every crumb. Char marks are turned artfully into beauty spots; nowhere is this more apparent than the half pig's face, boldly labelled as ‘starter.’ Roasted over coals for upward of 12 hours, the underrated and under-utilised cut’s intense and fatty meat is to be picked and foraged then eaten with woodfired potato bread and butter beans with aleppo pepper. Two carbs alongside incredibly rich meat is perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but the flavour and respect given to the animal, butchered and broken down on site, is undeniable.
You’ll want something to wash it all down with and fortunately, the team at Agnes has curated an impressive cellar of over 1,400 bottles from across Europe and Australia – some classics and many new-world biodynamic and organic drops. If wine isn’t your thing, have a crack at one of the slick cocktails in the bar, a tiny 20 seater immediately adjacent to the main room reserved for walk-ins in search of a late-night snack. Therein is the genius of Agnes: she’s a good-time gal for all occasions. Arrive early, and she’s there for aperitivo hour, get there late for date-night drinks and she’s got a bottle ready, and if you’re in for dinner, boy, you’d better come hungry.