Fingers & Bones: The Best of the British

We’ve been avid followers of Chef Dennis Duncanson’s cuisine since he arrived on the Gold Coast in 2013, moving from London to his wife Leigh’s home town to settle down, work and start a family.

We followed Dennis around from restaurant to restaurant, enjoying many meals from the couple’s catering company Fingers and Bones, their stalls at Miami Marketta and Carrara Markets, as well as at popup dinners as the couple built credibility and became more widely known to the dining public.

Late in 2016, Dennis and Leigh opened Fingers and Bones eatery in a permanent venue in Mermaid Beach, a tribute to the classics he’s cooked as a member of Jamie Oliver’s team.

We ask Dennis to tell us about his food journey:

“I’ve always been interested in food. Dad was a chef in the merchant navy and he brought up my younger brother and me. We were always pottering around in the kitchen,” Dennis tells us. “After leaving school at 14, I worked in a bakery for a couple of years.”

It’s the food of his youth that Dennis brings us in ‘Best of the British: a Londoner’s food tour of classics’, one of the 5-course Supper Clubs that he and Leigh have been running every month on weekend nights.

“Scotch eggs with piccalilli pickle brings back memories of going to the pub with Dad,” he tells diners in the intimacy of his restaurant. It’s also a dish he learned to make as an apprentice at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen.

“I saw an article about Jamie Oliver recruiting for Fifteen [his training restaurant which gave disadvantaged and marginalised young people with tough backgrounds an opportunity to train to be chefs]. They ran an ‘X Factor’ process where hundreds of people tried out for 50 places. I got into the first 50. Then there were team building exercises, leading up to fifteen being chosen. I was 16 when I was chosen in the final fifteen,” he says.

“It was a priceless experience. From the beginning, we’d cook hands on with whole sides of salmon, and food we’d never seen before. Jamie took us around Europe and England. We went to Cornwall where the bass and crabs came straight off the boats and talked to the fishermen who caught them. Amazing!

…long hard days with boiling water, really sharp knives, but it just all just clicked because we knew that we were onto something special.”

We’re drawn into the kitchen of Fifteen as Dennis speaks, imagining the restless energy of so many troubled teens contained in one space!

Dennis is full of praise for Jamie, who was there all the time in those first couple of years along with Gennaro [Jamie’s mentor Gennaro Contaldo], encouraging them, working past midnight alongside them until they went home. There was no bullshit. Jamie’s just like the person you see on tele, Dennis says, in real life.

The second course in Best of the British takes Jamie’s principles and what Dennis learned working with Rick Stein, applied to seafood.

“There were pebbles on the beaches, not like here, but there’s nothing like fresh fish and chips,” he tells us. In his Gold Coast interpretation of the dish, he’s used fresh barra, chunky chips with a modern fine take on mushy peas and tartare alongside.

It’s followed by ‘Cock and cider’ pie – a delicious chicken pie served with cider, just like Dennis used to have before he went to the football. But was it really this good? It’s one of the best pies we’ve tasted, the pastry perfectly short, the chunks of chicken luscious in their sauce.

It was at Fifteen that Dennis fell in love with one of the trainers, Leigh. Together now for 15 years and married for eight, they’re expecting their second child. Their complementary personalities are obvious as they work together at the supper club event, Leigh covering front of house, Dennis coming out of the kitchen to explain each course and chat to guests.

“It was a big move to come to Australia,” Dennis says, “to see what Leigh’s life was like here and to be close to her family.”

Like Jamie, who as a teenager confided in Gennaro that ‘one of these days I’m gonna open a restaurant’, a place of their own has also been a dream that Dennis and Leigh shared.

The commitment is there to family and passion, for doing things simply but properly to maximise flavour and build authenticity into the dining experience.

“Jamie’s philosophy of food is no frills, no foam, no squiggles. Great meat, herbs, lemon and salt, ‘fresh produce in season’, sourced from smaller local suppliers,” he tells us.

These are the principles Dennis uses in Fingers and Bones. Herbs are grown in the extensive kitchen garden adjoining the outdoor dining space, the menu changing regularly, driven by available ingredients.

Brunch includes baked goods, egg-based dishes, house granola with poached peaches, posh mushrooms on toast, pancakes, brisket and bacon, even salads, all under $20. With great service and Paradox coffee, all bases are covered.

Every weekend there are share plate dinners and themed ‘Supper Club’ events, advertised through social media. It’s casual food, and with Dennis wandering through the restaurant and Leigh serving, there’s an intimacy that leads us to feel that we’re having a meal in the Duncansons’ own dining room.

After our last savoury course of Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding served with horseradish cream and gravy, we tuck into a retro classic dessert from the 60s: Arctic roll, a light sponge filled with strawberry ice cream. ‘…sweet and sour, crunch and softness, all in one mouthful. Heaven!’ is Jamie Oliver’s own description of the dish.

It’s been a long journey from Dennis’ family in North London to Mermaid Beach. It’s a taste journey we’ve been honoured to travel, as he and Leigh gave us a glimpse of The Best of the British, adapted to Gold Coast ingredients.

2364 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach Ph: 07 5572 3224

Open: Wed – Sun 7am – 2pm, Fri – Sat dinner 6pm – 9pm

NOTE: Best of the British: a Londoner’s food tour of classics 5-course ‘Supper Club’ cost $60pp. BYO. Good Food Gold Coast dined as guests of Fingers and Bones on this occasion.

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Atmosphere Breakfast British BYO Catering Coffee & Tea Cuisine Dessert Dinner Dinner Club International Lunch Main course $15 to $25 Mermaid Beach Modern Australian Restaurants Set price Share plates Wheelchair friendly , , , , , , , , ,

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