Opening Soon: Bills Sydney in Waikiki
From left: The upstairs space, with full-service breakfast, lunch and dinner; the downstairs cafe and bakery; Bill Granger (Granger photo by Mikkel Vang)
Two years ago, Australian chef Bill Granger tasted kimchee fried rice for the first time at Diamond Head Grill; he loved it so much that he reinvented it for his restaurants across the world.
His first Hawaii restaurant, Bills Sydney, opens tomorrow in Waikiki, and that kimchee fried rice is on the menu. While it may feel like Nobu bringing misoyaki butterfish to a town that offers it in under-$10 bentos everywhere, this one’s different. Bills’ version uses brown rice and mixes it with crab and chorizo.
It’s that sort of mixing of influences from avid traveling and distilling it into a homey, healthy-ish form that characterizes Granger’s food. The menu at his Waikiki restaurant includes zucchini fries and tahini; a brown rice miso porridge topped with coconut yogurt; and special-to-Honolulu dishes such as a poke bowl and pizzas with guanciale or fennel and ricotta.
Granger opened his first restaurant in Sydney when he was just 22; he has since opened seven more locations, four of them in Japan. His cookbooks include Simple Honest Food, Bill’s Everyday Asian, and Bill’s Italian Food. Everything across his brand has a studied casualness, including Granger himself—you won't catch this self-taught, home cook in chefs' whites. (And by the way, technically the restaurants are named "bills"—oh those Aussies, so laidback that they can't be bothered with capitalization and punctuation.)
His restaurants are famous for breakfast treats such as ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter and scrambled eggs that Food and Wine says “are like none you’ve ever tasted.” (The secret? Cream, butter and technique.) Granger wants you to come for more than breakfast, though—he hopes his restaurant will be one where locals drop by for a casual lunch or dinner, evening cocktails, or just to pop into the ground-floor cafe for baked goods and coffee.
It’s certainly a space that I’d love to spend a lot of time in—friendly, bright and airy, mid-century modern meets rustic beachhouse with lots of unfinished wood, plushy sofas on hairpin legs and—how often have you heard of this—stylish wicker chairs.
“We’re in Waikiki, which is a bit mad, and I know locals try to avoid it,” Granger says. “But I tried to give [the restaurant] a relaxed feel, like a living room, and I wanted to be somewhere which was accessible for tourists and locals as well. That’s really how it's going to have its personality and life, otherwise it's boring—a mindless restaurant where no one cares.”
The Japanese investor who helped open Granger’s Japan restaurants decided to bring Bills to Hawaii two years ago. Since then, Granger has been coming to Honolulu for research, eating at restaurants and farmers markets, which may be how he got the idea for his fried green tomatoes dish (Southern food by way of Honolulu!), unique to his Waikiki menu.
Some of his other stops: “Places in Chinatown, lunch at Diamond Head Grill. We went to Town, which is really great. Pig and the Lady, which I'm really excited about. Lucky Belly. And of course Roy’s and Alan Wong’s. Oh, and I love the coffee at Morning Glass. I get a $25 cab-ride just to go there.”
Bills opens on Saturday with a full breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktail menu. Breakfast and lunch prices range from $8 to $18. Dinner ranges from $10 share plates to $32 entrée-sized portions.
Bills Sydney, 280 Beachwalk, 922-1500