Sydney’s epicurean scene has been through some tumultuous years, but ACME, a restaurant serving Italian Asian fusion dishes, has thrived. We spoke to Ed Loveday, drinks master and the ‘E’ in ACME about how the restaurant came to be and where it’s headed.
The ACME guys seem to go way back. Ed started out in the restaurant business as a bartender working for the Keystone Group, where he met Andy. "He was actually my boss at Cargo [Lounge and Bar] back in 2007. We started managing venues together and decided that we had to open up a bar of our own".
"Andy and I opened the Passage in 2010. Cam, the ‘C’ in ACME, was our bar supervisor at Fringe when we were managing there. The three of us had worked together for a long time so he came and worked with us at Passage. I met Mitch just from going to the restaurants he was cooking at. One day he sent us a message and was like ‘hey, if you’re ever thinking about opening another venue, let me know". Two years later, in 2014, ACME opened.
Andy, Cam, Mitch and Ed complete the ACME initials – a working title that became the final name of the restaurant. Ed’s got heaps of rejected names on an old computer somewhere but he’s "too embarrassed to dig them up now".
No matter, ‘ACME’ seems to capture the personality of the restaurant, deeply rooted in its owners’ styles. Take the music: "Mitch has always been a big hip hop head. It’s the sort of music that all four of us like, but it’s definitely driven by Mitch’s passion for that style of music". "We’re playing a lot of Future, a lot of Drake" if it’s late and the restaurant is busy, Ed says. For more chilled out times, the playlist is built around Anderson Paak, the breezy California rapper and singer. "Super vibey," says Ed.
The balance of atmosphere, food and drink is at the core of Ed’s take on Sydney nightlife. He won’t be drawn on whether things are getting better or worse – "I’m not really in the game of making predictions after 2016." Plus, as Ed points out, there’s been a lot of negative talk about Sydney and "if you fill it all with negativity, everyone is going to move to Melbourne… and there won’t be anyone left to serve." Fair enough, but Ed does concede that the days when "you could just open a boozer and people would come" are gone. "You really have to have a food component to a business, whether that’s interesting snacks and nibbles to go with your wine or a more substantial offering."
Aside from regulatory changes, Ed sees two reasons for the shift to earlier evening dining: the food culture created by pop media like Masterchef and "growing up a bit". Andy and Ed had been managing bars for a long time, after all.
ACME is in it for the long haul though. The menu is constantly shifting, and the team recently opened Bar Brosé in Darlinghurst with Analiese Gregory (‘dynamo chef’). Ed’s not wrong when he says that there’s no time to take his finger off the pulse. It’s a good thing that the team still had time to try on some our newest frames though.
Three Final Questions...What’s one drink you shouldn’t request?
I don’t want to tell people what to drink or what not to drink, but for the first twelve months at ACME, we didn’t do espresso martinis… I’d spend a week trying to come up with new drink ideas, products and produce. I’d think about flavour combinations and I’d put this menu together, but literally everyone who’d come in would be like "two espresso martinis thanks". I thought, "fuck, I should just have made coffee all week and watched a movie or something". So I reckon the one drink you shouldn’t order is an espresso martini.
Ed notes that he now serves espresso martinis now, but only as a bit of an inside joke.
One drink you should order?
We spend a lot of time looking for small natural wine producers who are making really great booze. So we pride ourselves on our wine list. In terms of the cocktails, we keep the list pretty small, but it’s always built on seasonal produce.
If you stumbled into Acme today, hot and muggy in Sydney, Ed’s pick is "a drink with tequila, mango and cardamom. We’d blend it with a bit of ice to make it a little like a mango margarita, but it’s got that cardamom edge to it." We’d stumble in pronto for that.
If there were just the four ACME guys stuck on a desert island, who would stay alive the longest and who’d win in a fight?
"That’s a very good question and it’s one that I might get in trouble with my other business partners by answering. I’d say that Andy would be able to catch the most seafood. Mitch would be able to cook it the tastiest. I’d be reasonably important because I’d be handling the rationing of the rum and Cam would keep us all entertained. It’d be an even match, I reckon."
A very diplomatic answer.
ACME is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday and for lunch on Saturdays. More at weareacme.com.au
Photography by Ben Murphy