HomeArticles > Five minutes with Chef Ben Willis on his new culinary triumph, Louis

Five minutes with Chef Ben Willis on his new culinary triumph, Louis

Updated 18 Mar 2024

Five minutes with Chef Ben Willis on his new culinary adventure – Louis – in the heart of the National Triangle.

If you’ve enjoyed a fine dining experience in Canberra, it’s highly likely it was at one of Chef Ben Willis’ culinary triumphs. From Aubergine to Temporada, the well-versed local chef has never failed to impress audiences with his diversity, consistency, and creativity in the kitchen.

With a career spanning almost 30 years which took him from Canberra to Sydney Opera House’s Bennelong Restaurant, on to London’s restaurant scene, before returning to Australia and leading the acclaimed Aubergine for 14 years, local chef Ben Willis is no stranger to challenges-turned-successes.

Now that he’s opened his newest restaurant,  Louis, in the heart of Hotel Realm, he has yet another platform to prove his prowess. We sat down with Ben to pick his brain on everything from his favourite dish at Louis to where he’s keen to dine on his night off.

The bar in Louis

What does Louis bring to the table?

Louis is a large space broken up into some unique little spaces. It has a large, elegant bar area, dining room, outdoor terrace and private dining rooms. The design has a touch of classic nostalgia to it, so we decided to get things back to a quintessential hotel dining room-style menu. A few bar appetisers and a menu based around 3 courses of classic French cuisine.

Oysters Louis

Your favourite dish on Louis’ inaugural menu, and why?

I honestly don’t have any favourites. They all have their place on the menu. But if you pushed me for a favourite, I would say the Oysters Louis. We trialled a few different toppings for a grilled oyster before the opening but as soon as I tasted this, I knew it was the one going on the menu. With something like the delicate flavour of an oyster you are looking for a way to enhance the oyster and not drown it or smother it, and this manages to do this very well. It has a decent list of ingredients like cream, lemon and nutmeg amongst other things and on the menu, it didn’t read very well nor did it fit into any classic name like Rockefeller or Kilpatrick so we decided to just name our own grilled oyster. So far people are ordering them out of curiosity, and they are getting plenty of compliments.

Public Bar in the Manuka shopping precinct, Image: Kara Rosenlund

Your go-to places to eat, stay, and play that you'd recommend to visitors of Canberra?

I’d have to say the Hotel Realm precinct. Not just because of my affiliation but it also has so much on offer that you don’t need to go far once you arrive. There is the obvious dining on offer as well as the beautiful rooms but also the spas, pool, and gym. If you do need to get out to have a look around the boutique shopping areas of Manuka and Kingston are very close by. 

ONA Coffee House in Fyshwick, Image: Nathan Harradine-Hale

What's your go-to coffee spot on your days off?

Redbrick in Curtin as it’s close to my house but I have several go-tos like ONA and Intra. If you are really into your pour-overs and filter coffees, then check out Bedst in the city.  

Mountain biking in Stromlo Forest Park, Image: Martin Ollman

Off the clock, how do you like to relax in Canberra?

I’m not sure if it’s relaxing my body but for my brain to be relaxed, I need to get out and be active. In the summer it’s mountain biking and in the winter, I’ll try and get to the snow as often as I can. 

Miss Van's, Image: Ashley St George

Where are you going to dine next in Canberra?

Miss Van’s in the city. Really fun, slightly modernised South East Asian food, bold flavours and there are always interesting things regularly changing on the menu to keep me going back.

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