Urban’s Head Chef Jay Clement is a local Nelsonian, who apprenticed with Urban’s owner, Matt Bouterey, before Urban was a twinkle in Matt’s eye. After some time at Logan Brown in Wellington, Jay returned to Nelson and has been with Urban since its beginning, almost six years ago. He’s been the Head Chef for two of these years, and welcomes a chat with customers at the countertop seating with a view into the kitchen.
The Wine List chatted with Jay over a meal of his selections on Urban’s first night back in business under New Zealand’s Level 2 guidelines.
Q: It must be good to be back in business after several weeks off?
Jay: Definitely! I think we all needed a bit of a re-set. The time off was well used. I slept for the first week, and we did a lot of work maintaining the restaurant, doing those jobs there isn’t usually time for. And we rethought the menu. We do that from time-to-time anyway, to keep things interesting, but we had a few weeks off here where we could think about new things we could offer.
Q: So, what’s different about this new menu?
Jay: Everything really, except the Japanese-style fresh fish escabeche, which is a popular dish among our loyal customers. We’re relying solely on local business at the moment, and probably until next year, so we want to keep the locals happy!
Q: What is your favourite dish on the menu?
Jay: That escabeche, for sure, served with crispy sushi rice and togarashi seasoning. It distils the flavours of Japan. Another favourite is the Sichuan venison, served with roasted broccoli, sweet and sour egg, and peanuts.
Q: You’ve clearly a very popular spot here on Hardy Street, in central Nelson. What else is special about Urban?
Jay: About 80% of our produce is selected by Matt, the owner, and about 60% is grown by us, in collaboration with farms in Hope, just outside Nelson city. We like to support local farming, and sourcing our produce this way keeps our ingredients interesting. Like recently, we grew a whole load of chillies, the sort that aren’t that easy to find elsewhere around here. We change our menu frequently to keep up with the seasons, and scrap things when we need to. Like when there’s a cold snap such as we’ve been having this week. That’s all the beans gone? OK, we’ll need to change things up!
Q: Aside from using the closure period to refresh your menu and spruce up the restaurant, what else have you done to handle the Covid-19 restrictions at Urban?
Jay: We have the sign-in station at the door, where diners can use the app or a sign in sheet. We have hand sanitiser. We’ve spread the tables out a bit more, to create some distance. And we have these scannable app barcodes on the menus, too. We’re maintaining our hours, 11am until 11pm, and end the night with drinks and cocktails. We’re a sit-down place anyway, so haven’t really been affected by the prohibitions against people standing.