The food is fresh, with eggs and honey straight from the backyard. The trestle tables are long and customers are called friends. Before the meals are served, the waitstaff gather and toast the feast with a glass of champagne.
This is Francisco’s Table, a roaming restaurant serving seasonal, uncomplicated food at village halls in Bangalow, Federal, Coorabell and Corndale.
Myocum-based chef Francisco Smoje believes the ambience while you eat is as important as the food.
‘The atmosphere is about togetherness. It is like a big dinner party,’ Smoje says.
‘You don’t eat and leave. It takes at least three hours.’
Recoiling at the phrase ‘pop-up’ restaurant, Smoje feels roaming is a better way to describe what he does.
‘When we started (three years ago), hardly anyone was doing it. The pop-up is a thing now,’ he said. ‘The advantage of roaming is you make different friends at different places.’
The 41-year-old chef has a dream amid all the roaming.
‘We’re looking for a property, a dream place for a rustic, humble restaurant where we serve local food,’ he says.
His partner of 20 years, Emma Byrne, and their five-month-old son are part of the dream. Byrne manages the bookings and helps to create the friendly atmosphere by decorating the halls with native flowers in a quintessentially Francisco’s Table style.
On the morning we meet, Smoje has his hands full of quinces. He peels and cleans the plump, yellow fruit, a hundred of them, as we talk.
‘I like these in my hands,’ he says.
He is making quince relish. He makes nearly everything from scratch and only special spices and salt are sourced from interstate.
‘My food is hearty and comforting,’ he says. ‘The flavours are familiar yet people will discover new things and feel nourished.’
He makes fresh sourdough bread, chorizo and cheeses such as feta and ricotta. He has built a metal frame so he can slow cook ‘big chunks of animals’.
A good chef is always learning, Smoje says, and he makes sure he learns new skills by spending time at the local butcher and inviting a cheesemaker to his home.
‘I try to keep myself fresh with knowledge,’ he says, as if describing a menu item.
‘The day you stop learning, you stop growing.’
Growing up in Argentina with Italian parents, he has lived in Byron Shire for four years. With stints in kitchens in Argentina, London, Europe and Australia, he has learnt a lot along the way.
‘We try not to manipulate the food too much,’ he says.
Honest is the best way to describe the food at Francisco’s Table: full of flavour, and with the smell of fire and passion on every plate. This is food to share with friends.
• Francisco’s Table. 0416 057 705. francisco.f[email protected] At: Coorabell, Federal, Bangalow & Corndale Halls. Cost: $60/head, BYO. Next event: 13 June, traditional Argentinian food at Coorabell Hall.