Picture perfect: Chefs design dishes for social media success

Michael Koziol
One Tea Lounge and Grill owner David Yip presents a "matcha lava bomb", a dessert dish.
One Tea Lounge and Grill owner David Yip presents a "matcha lava bomb", a dessert dish.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Forget parliament, it was a pimped out milkshake that really put the national capital on the map.

Overflowing with cream and oozing caramel, the voluptuous "freakshakes" produced by Canberra cafe Patissez have proved so popular that the concept has spread to Sydney, Melbourne and even Britain.

The driving force behind the craze? Social media.

An Instagram insta-hit: "Freakshakes" from Canberra cafe Patissez have inspired copycats in Sydney, Melbourne and Britain.
An Instagram insta-hit: "Freakshakes" from Canberra cafe Patissez have inspired copycats in Sydney, Melbourne and Britain. Photo: Graham Tidy

In the age of Instagram, chefs are increasingly attuned to the aesthetics of their food, designing dishes with the visual appeal to go viral.

"Today's social media is very, very powerful that way," David Yip, owner of One Tea Lounge & Grill in Sydney's CBD, says.

The seven-week-old restaurant will on Monday roll out a new "matcha lava bomb": a dome-shaped green tea cake plated with fruit, waffle flakes and a lit shot of Cointreau orange liqueur. It is designed to be seen and, of course, shared.

Yip knows the best dishes are an artform.

He's also offering dessert "baogers" – colourful blocks of ice-cream sandwiched between deep-fried buns – and serving cocktails in miniature Ferris wheels with dry ice.

He says today's adult diners want to relive some of their childhood memories of food and show their friends that they "tried that really cool thing".

"You've got to make your dish playful and fun," Yip says.

However, taste and service can't be discarded in the process.

"Social media is nice [but] you've got to get your basics right first."

Sydney-based catering service Kayter co specialises in outlandish coconuts adorned with sugary Nutella scrolls, tropical fruit, popcorn, lollies and ice-cream.

Launched five months ago, owner Samantha Khater says she has designed the concept with Instagram in mind, right down to the hashtag #Kayterco engraved on the coconuts.

"I thought to myself: it needs to be something that's going to be shareable," she says. "That's our only form of marketing."

A restaurant in Israel has taken the photography fetish even further, designing special plates with built-in phone stands and rotating platforms that allow diners to easily snap or film their meals from different angles.

Restaurant & Catering Industry Association chief executive John Hart says restaurants and cafes need to make social media a central part of their operations, and not just use it "because one of their waitresses is really good at it".

He believes the trend will expand to include video showing how food is prepared.

"It's tied into this whole 'provenance' thing; people wanting to know where things are coming from and how they're created," Hart says.

"Consumers are demanding more and more information, not just images and not just something that says the chef's having a good day."

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide awards are on September 7. The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016 will be available from participating newsagents, 7-Elevens and supermarkets for $10 with the newspaper on Saturday, September 12, while stocks last.