Watercress Josh Davies

February 2, 2015 frvbali


If you can agree with your partner about just one thing, this should be it. Watercress’ famous share plates are a great way to sample lots of flavours served on a big wooden board with crunchy hand-cut chips, delicious sauces, fresh salads and seasoned meats or seafood. If you think you can handle it, go it alone. I tried and loved it, now the interview.

Name and story?
I’m Josh Davies, thirty three, from the east coast of Australia, married with a baby on the way.

Garden Vege Salad Sundried Tomato Pesto

Garden Vege Salad Sundried Tomato Pesto

Working background?
I’ve been in hospitality for a little over eighteen years. I started out in the kitchen at about fourteen, got my first job as a kitchen hand, spent a year and half doing it and that really made me want to be a chef.
So you and your business partner, Pablo, have this passion kitchen thing?

Do you cook for each other?
No (Laughter), although we did do a lot of experimenting, testing recipes and styles of food before we opened. Actually, Pablo is a great cook.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Yeah, my momma knows her way around a kitchen too.

Smashed Avo

Smashed Avo

Were you working as a chef?
I did, seven years cooking before I decided it was not really meant for me. I didn’t want to be in the back, but in the front, so I went into night clubs in Byron Bay. That’s where I met Pablo. I progressed to fine dining cocktail bars, learning the art of cocktails. I did that for six years then worked my way to the fine dining restaurants in Australia. That was more suited to my style, I enjoy working with professionals and in hospitality. That’s where you tend to work with all the professionals, it makes the job a lot easier, better, more exciting working with a much more intense pace and dealing with high-end clientele and high-end food.

Seems to me you’ve found your niche here, your own place in the sun?
I went to New Zealand last year and spent six months running a barbeque restaurant and cocktail bar, which I really liked and that was my first take on general management, running the whole show. Everybody was happy and I smashed a few records, then I a get a call from Pablo and Jody from Watercress and they wanted somebody to come over and do their dinner concepts for them.

Dukkah Poached Eggs

Dukkah Poached Eggs

Different strokes for different folks, so what’s the difference between you and Pablo?
I’m more operationally driven and have a lot of background hospitality experience. As soon as I got here I looked at the restaurant and dinner was the weakest space in the place. A small courtyard, too hot or rainy etc, but definitely a secondary choice.

Do you think you will be expanding?
Nothing but possibilities, and not much more here, but popping up somewhere else. People come up to us and want it close to where they’re from, so we’re making sure we got it solid before we put it elsewhere. So many times places open up, they do well and then fail because their focus goes elsewhere.

Madu Pumpkin Salad and Toasted Nuts

Madu Pumpkin Salad and Toasted Nuts

That’s a standard here, you guys are into details and it shows. What’s your menu like?
Nothing fancy, nothing too minimalist. Honest. That’s what Watercress is famous for. When I came here I was blown away. Here we are; good food, good quality, done well, handled well with a bit of care. That’s what makes places like this work, and me complementing the daytime by bringing in the night took a little bit of effort. The menu’s about healthy clean flavours and the best sauces we can make. Really knowing where it’s coming from and how it’s taken care of is important and contributing to the menu. There’s something for everybody. A lot of people do that and their menus are massive. There’s no point in having fifteen good items and the other fifteen as fillers – house specialties and nothing else. So our basic concept is something from the sea, from the garden, from the grill and from the earth, meaning proteins, having four dishes of each, fused with ten starters and then we progressively build on top of that. Any specials that did really well and we loved, my team takes the ball and runs with it bringing in all the local flavours. We just added a section to the menu, called the Archipelago. So the menu has evolved as we have, and we take a lot of feedback from our customers and most of our clientele are local expatriates and we’re always interested in what they think, what they like and don’t like, if it’s justified we’ll change it. We’re not in this business to annoy people, we’re in it to please people, and as long as we can do it our way and in our style, I think everyone is happy.

That’s a winning concept for sure. Now there’s Milk and Madu which is under your influence and creation. What’s that about in you’re estimation?
What the boys are aiming for is walking before they run. What I mean by that is, they won’t be doing breakfast, lunch and dinner. In my experience, I have never really seen anyone do the whole lot very well. Lunch is busy, breakfast is bust, lunch is dead, and dinner is okay. It’s very difficult being open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and be busy all the time. Watercress started off with just breakfast and lunch, and that’s what they were aiming for and not trying to change anything because their doing so well the first time. So that’s even being perfected now. Five minutes north of here it’s a whole different crowd.

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.
Exactly, so when it comes down to getting a system in place, your staff are good before you push them. I’m not sure when they’ll be open for dinner. The space is beautiful and there’s a lot you can do with it. Speaking about a wine bar late at night, that depends on any other distractions that might come up first.

So you guys are just overseeing the Milk and Madu?
Yes, completely setting it up for a very close friend. A local friend who’s been in the business and has supported us a lot, so one hand washes another.

What are your specialties here at Watercress at night?
Fresh salads and good barbecue grill, handled as minimally as possible and seasoned with the best we can find.

What would you like to add?
I’ve been here in Bali just one year and I’m looking forward to raising a family here, so there’s going to be a lot more projects to be going on here in Bali. It’s the land of opportunity at the moment and plenty of room to move with fun people to work with. There’s plenty of other things we want to do, but no competition with ourselves, we’re too excited to see what’s going to come up.

Your philosophy?
Look clean, live clean.

Thanks for being so candid, an education for sure. [SB][FRV]


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