There was eager anticipation surrounding the January launch of the inaugural South West establishment from renowned hospitality figure John Parker and the Parker Group (The Royal Hotel, The Standard, and Dandelion). Just weeks after opening, we caught up with the team to check in on how things were going, and what it’s all about.

Boasting a capacity of 500 patrons, Busselton Pavilion presents a gastropub experience spotlighting regional seafood and produce. Spearheaded by group culinary maestro Brendan Pratt (known for the delectable offerings at neighbouring Vasse’s Coffee Heads and his previous work at Vasse Felix), the menu features delights like cured scallops with fenugreek and sesame, rôtisserie squid with XO and lemon, roast chicken rolls, and a pitch-perfect rib-eye steak.

Adjacent to the Pavilion stands the South West Wine Shop, a locally-focused retail spot and bar showcasing wines by the glass alongside a killer bar-snack menu. With the venue now in full flow, we caught up with the key players – John Parker, Brendan Pratt and wine director Cyndal Petty – to check in on the development, and how it’s been going since the doors flew open.

John, you’ve just come out of years of intense venue development with The Royal and Dandelion – huge undertakings to say the least – what drew you to this Busselton site just as you had a chance to take a breather?

John Parker: I wasn’t actively looking for another project, but this opportunity presented itself and it was too good to pass up for Parker Group. For commercial reasons (I see plenty of growth in Busselton right now and into the future), and for personal reasons (I loved the idea of splitting my time between Perth and the South West). It’s nice to be able to have some semblance of work-life balance, and this project has really had a hand in making that a reality for me. The expansion of Parker Group has been rapid, and Busselton just felt like the right fit to add to our portfolio.

What has it been like working in and with the Busselton community so far?

JP: I only have positive things to say about the local community, everyone has been extremely friendly and welcoming. The City of Busselton Council has been fantastic to work with, they have a very clear vision to expand the city in a considered way – they loved what the Pav was all about, so that’s made the process much smoother. The support we’ve received from Busselton residents has been amazing, the moment we opened the doors, we were greeted by so many excited locals, it was very heartening to see.

We’re seeing the town emerge as a must-stop culinary destination, have you met and bonded with your new hospo pals in town?

JP: Sure have! We love popping into Alberta’s, grabbing coffee and having a chat with Kirsty [Marchant] and Ben [Ing]; we have had many design meetings over a cold beer at Rocky Ridge and Shelter, and have really loved seeing what the team at Banksia Tavern have been doing. It’s great that in turn they have also come in to show their support during our opening week. It’s a great community vibe down here and everyone is really invested in lifting up the city together.

Tell us about the menu development with Brendan Pratt. It’s interesting as we look through it, we see a lot of inspiration from your other venues, but also see a lot of Brendan’s influence here – was it a meeting of minds of sorts?

JP: There were two main driving factors which helped define the menu. Firstly, Brendan is local, so the priority was working with local producers and suppliers. The produce that is available in the region and in the immediate area really informed the dishes that made the menu. Secondly, the menu needed to be approachable – it’s elevated pub fare that suits families, friends having a beer and even the most discerning foodies.

You and Brendan both have kids and this is a kid’s menu for the ages – did you consult your juniors on the choices?

JP: Yeah we absolutely did – but also from our years of experience we have a solid understanding of what kids want and what would keep them happy while parents enjoy a beer. My kids are 17, 14 and 10 and Brendan’s kids are five and three, so between us we have a solid range of food critics in our families, so we designed the kid’s menu to please them all.

How have you approached the development of the cocktail list?

JP: The cocktail list is full of fun, bright, well-balanced drinks inspired by the coast. Think cocktails you want to have on your beachside holiday, like a Salted Peach Daiquiri or the Poolside, our riff on a Piña Colada. With Parker Group’s cocktail guru, Elise Godwin (WAGFG Bartender of the Year 2023) behind the development and training of the bar team, you know you’re in good hands, and rest assured, you can order all the classic cocktails too. 

The South West Wine Shop is a very cool addition to the Pavilion – when we talked about this last year you mentioned the desire to create a cellar door, of sorts, for all WA wine regions. Have you achieved this off the bat?

JP: The concept of the South West Wine Shop is not a cellar door itself, but an expertly curated retail space that represents the smaller wineries that don’t have cellar doors of their own. We will be hosting regular collaborations with regional winemakers and producers to activate the space and help open the door for those producers that are lesser known, or don’t have the space or capacity to open their doors up on their own. I’m thrilled with the initial list by local sommelier (and our group’s wine director) Cyndal Petty. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how the offering continuously evolves over time.

Let’s talk about music and entertainment – what can people expect from the venue on any given weeknight or weekend?

JP: Still a work in progress – we are planning to schedule weekly local music entertainment in our beer garden as well as hosting pool competitions and wine tastings in the wine shop. Come March, we would like to host a late-opening party for the community and look to incorporate an end-of-season grape harvest celebration with the South West Wine Shop. We will also be collaborating with local community events and food festivals. Watch this space!

Brendan, you’ve teamed up with head chef Josh de Caen in the kitchen; his creative wood-fired vegetable dishes at Wild Hop in yesteryear still linger in the memory. How’s it been working in the kitchen with a friend? And tell us about the kitchen culture you’re trying to build together.

Brendan Pratt: It’s been great getting stuck into a new venue with a mate. Working together has and will continue to be an incredibly rewarding experience. We’ve focused on building a solid team and have been super lucky to assemble this right off the bat. Our first and biggest goal is to create a kitchen culture that prioritises teamwork, effective communication, and a passion for creating our style of food. We really want to foster an environment where creativity is encouraged, and everyone’s input is valued. I truly believe the food in a venue is at its best when the whole team is having input. It means more.

There are some great snacks on the menu in the wine shop. Anchovy doughnuts, for one: please discuss…

BP: The vision for the Wine Shop is somewhere people can come to relax and taste exciting and delicious wines and complement the experience with tasty snacks. You can choose from the entire menu available in the eatery, however you have access to a few “wine shop exclusive” snacks, designed specifically to pair with wines that are pouring or available by the glass. Anchovy doughnuts were born out of discussions between Cyndal and I about tasty, bready, anchovy things to eat with bubbles… so naturally I thought of a savoury doughnut – a touch of that toasted bread quality, slightly yeasty, a little bit sweet and nice bites of salty anchovy popping through.

There are some extremely talented cheesemakers in the South West – are you sourcing from local suppliers?

BP: There certainly is, and we’ve gone straight to Tom at Cambray Cheese. I love his cheese! We’re selling soft, blue, washed rind and hard cheese in retail portions from the wine shop, and we also have the cheese on at the eatery. We’re serving it with a small bunch of grapes roasted on the rôtisserie until just blistered and juicy plus lavosh – perfect with a glass of wine in the arvo.

Cyndal – on the wine front is it just the Great Southern, Southern Forests and Margaret River, or are you also drawing from the Swan Valley?

Cyndal Petty: While we lean heavily into our local surrounds, we have developed a compelling list of over 150 bottles in the South West Wine Shop, including a few of my key selects from the Swan Valley region – I’m loving the Vino Volta grenache at the moment, and the Corymbia Rocket’s vineyard red blend is pretty special. The aim is for the space to be a revolving door of the most exciting, interesting, and sought-after bottles – there should always be something new and fresh in here when visitors come in.

It’s great seeing products like Non and other non-alcoholic drinks, like kombucha, on the menu – is this something you’ve expanded on because of the location (more people driving, more families)?

CP: No-alcohol and low-alcohol markets are going through a time of great growth and innovation, where more thought is going into alcohol alternatives. It’s great to see the industry is no longer pigeonholing no and low drinks as an afterthought – as a group, we are proud to showcase our options and give them as much priority as the rest of our selection, plus they are incredibly good! Alongside companies that are already creating options in this field, our cocktail specialist Elise Godwin has spent considerable time crafting a mocktail selection showcasing balanced and layered flavours, without the need for alcohol.

Busselton Pavilion; 30 Kent Street, Busselton;

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