When the online review site, Tripadvisor, announced their 2021 Traveller’s Choice awards, there was some serious celebration at Pepper and Salt Restaurant in our State’s Great Southern.
Listing the top five winners in the fine dining category, TripAdvisor named Denmark’s Pepper and Salt Restaurant, fifth in Australia. With the awards being based on the quality and quantity of online reviews, owner and chef Silas Masih said the customer-driven award meant more to him than most typical restaurant awards.
“It’s great to get accolades from customers rather than simply people in the industry,” Silas says. “The fact that people took the time to write the reviews and give us a star rating means a lot to me and our hard working staff. It’s a big testament to our front of house staff that deliver the food as they are the ones who really create the dining experience.”
Silas, who has received many awards and accolades before, has also been nominated for national regional chef of the year by a leading gourmet magazine in recent years. And, while the quality and taste of the food is paramount, Silas adds that a good restaurant experience starts from the minute people call to make a booking or when they walk in the door.
“We put a lot of effort into making people feel comfortable. It’s the extra care we take and the attention to detail that can take a good meal to a whole new level. As a restaurant owner I work as a leader, not a manager, as I’m across everything. I’ll wash dishes and clean floors to help my business because this restaurant is centred around an ‘us’ philosophy not a ‘me’ mentality.
Silas adds that his Fijian heritage is a huge influence on how he runs his restaurant.
“I treat people like they are part of my family and treating people genuinely is the key. Nothing is too hard and we go above and beyond to make our guests happy.”
After 15 years running his restaurant Silas is well known as a ‘spice master’ and says spicy doesn’t necessarily mean hot.
“I’ve created my own Seven Spice blend and we use this a lot. But my all time favourite spice is cardamom as this is the spice of love. It can be used in sweet and savoury dishes and gives a distinct depth and flavour to a dish while being aromatically entrancing at the same time.”
Another secret to the restaurant’s success has been its easy access to quality, fresh local produce.
“We’re blessed to have some beautiful produce down here. Denmark has a real culture in quality food that has been grown sustainably. For people down here, it’s not a fad, it’s a way of life. We also have our own extensive kitchen garden so many of the fresh ingredients have been still in the ground or on the plant until just minutes before they’re put on the plate.”
With visitor numbers booming since the start of the pandemic, Silas has been preparing for a busy summer season. Additional equipment and staple supplies have been purchased in readiness, but Silas admits staffing is the biggest concern.
“We expect we’ll have to limit bookings so that we can retain the high level of customer experience people have come to expect from us. We want happy customers not loads of customers so bookings are essential.”