Yellow Billy restaurant

Fire in their souls

Sam Alexander and Pat Hester have joined forces to create one of the hottest venues in the Hunter, Yellow Billy Restaurant.

When an up-and-coming chef started working with an ambitious young sommelier at a popular wine bar in Newcastle five years ago, they not only became great mates, but they also forged a working relationship that would lead to bigger and brighter things. It was here that they had the initial spark of inspiration for Yellow Billy, a restaurant that specialises in ‘food over fire’.

Co-owner and executive chef Sam Alexander grew up on a hobby farm near Broke, not far from where Yellow Billy is located at Piggs Peake Winery. “We had cows, goats, chickens, and we grew our own vegetables,” Alexander recalls. “My dad was from a mixed Egyptian, Greek and Italian background, so our family meals were often infused with Mediterranean flavours, and cooked on barbecues, grills or open fires. It’s no wonder that this style of cooking and eating became a passion of mine. It’s in my blood!”

Gaining invaluable experience as a sous-chef in iconic restaurants such as Bistro Molines in the Hunter, Fins in Byron Bay and Bistrode in Sydney, Alexander learned from some of Australia’s best chefs. “Those culinary luminaries were incredibly influential in the shaping of who I am today as a chef and restaurant owner,” says Alexander.

Alexander’s business partner and co-owner Pat Hester, who is also the restaurant’s manager and sommelier, worked in hospitality in London for four years before moving to Tasmania, which is where he discovered his love of wine. After completing his sommelier studies in Newcastle and teaming up with Alexander, Hester knew he had found his calling.

“We worked so well together, we started kicking around some ideas for our own restaurant,” Hester says. “Sam was always keen on doing something with firepits, and we started looking around the Hunter region for possible locations.”

We wanted a name with historical significance, but also a name that’s relevant to our ethos

yellow billy restaurant garden

“When Piggs Peake Winery offered us a spot, we grabbed it and the dream started to become a reality,” Alexander adds. “I started sketching the giant firepit and found someone who could help me build it. The overall concept took shape. Our vision was to provide casual, honest, tasty, locally sourced food, cooked over an open fire or grill, served to share, and complemented by a cool, funky wine list.”

The story behind the naming of the restaurant is an interesting one. Yellow Billy was a gentleman bushranger by the name of William White who roamed the Hunter Valley areas of Broke and Pokolbin during the 1860s. He was an early forager who lived off the land and slept in caves under the Brokenback Ranges, cooking on fire to survive. “We wanted a name with historical significance, but also a name that’s relevant to our ethos,” Alexander says. “When we came upon the legend of Yellow Billy, it immediately captured our imagination.”

Yellow Billy
Image: Gez Xavier Mansfield

Echoing his childhood experience of living on a farm, Alexander has also made it his mission to cook as much as possible using fresh produce from the restaurant’s sustainable on-site garden. “We’ve got vegetables, microgreens, perennial herbs and lots of garnishes. We’re getting between 35 and 45 per cent of our produce from our own garden,” Alexander says.

When asked about the wine list, Hester has a very methodical approach. “There has to be a place for each wine to exist in relation to the menu,” he says. “It’s like this giant jigsaw puzzle of food and wine and each food piece needs to fit with a wine piece, so I end up with a complete picture in my head, where every wine has its purpose.”

yellow billy food

After recently winning a coveted Chef Hat from the Good Food Guide, Alexander’s and Hester’s venture is proof that following your burning passion can lead to great success.

WORDS | Colin Sevitt