For Australians, neighborhood cafés are the heart and soul of their laid-back lifestyles. “You wake up, go down to the ocean, have a swim, then go have some coffee and poached eggs and toast,” explains Henry Roberts, one of the two Aussies behind Two Hands restaurant in NYC. When Henry and his best friend-turned-business partner, Giles Russell, traded in sunny Bondi Beach for NYC skyscrapers in 2012, they noticed a lack of these community-centric cafes that focus on delivering great coffee and healthy, simple food.
“We felt NYC was missing a coffee shop that was full of life; full of people meeting and conversing and creating. It’s a very Australian thing for the local cafe to be the real congregation point where people come together over a few coffees.
While that exists in New York, it’s mellower. In Australia cafes are bustling, loud, and full of life – we wanted to bring that culture to NYC.”
Flash forward a year later and Two Hands is taking names for hour-plus long brunch lines at all three of their charming, light-filled locations. Fielding inspiration from Australia’s forward-thinking culinary scene and relaxed beachside lifestyle, Henry and Giles have succeeded in creating a place for the community near and far to come unwind and enjoy well-rounded, colorful, tasty food and drinks that feel a world away from the day-to-day pavement grind of NYC.
When we sat down with Henry and Giles to hear about their own approach to gatherings, we were transported from bustling Tribeca to all the feels of a boathouse nestled along the Sydney harbor.
With shaggy hair, sun-kissed smiling faces, and flip flops, they both looked as if they had just come in from catching waves somewhere off the Westside Highway for all we knew. “I surfed every day of my life until I came to New York,” Giles said. “You don’t have surfing here. But you have a lot of other opportunities that make up for it.” And make up for it they did. Scroll on to see how Henry Roberts of Two Hands brings outdoor Aussie lifestyle indoors to downtown Manhattan. Cheers, mates!
Editor’s Note: This interview started out with both Henry and Giles until Giles got a text 20 minutes into our salmon crudo bowls that his wife was in labor and on her way to the hospital to bring their first baby boy into the world. The pure excitement that immediately poured out via Aussie-accented screams and hands in the air, followed by the biggest ‘good luck, mate!’ hug out the door was enough to bring you to (happy) tears. This is what it’s all about, my friends: bringing people together to eat delicious, nourishing food, take a load off, laugh, and create lasting memories. The Aussies know how to do it well.
Your must-have cooking tool:
Must always have a sharp knife. A blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp one.
What’s the entertaining/cooking rule you rarely break?
I never run out of booze.
What scares you about entertaining?
I hope the food tastes good… It’s difficult when you are entertaining several guests and trying to plate everything and get it onto the table before it gets cold! That’s why ‘family style’ is such a go to for me.
What’s your signature dish?
Filet of Beef (grass-fed) over a pea pure with a fresh chimichurri sauce and slow roasted confetti tomatoes. At Two Hands, I love the smashed avocado toast (it’s not your average avocado toast, I’m telling you!), and the banana walnut bread with espresso mascarpone is amazing paired with some strong java.
How did you get started in the restaurant business?
My first hospitality job was back in Sydney Australia. I was a glassy at the local pub. A glassy is essentially someone who goes around and pics up glasses and puts them through the dishwasher. It wasn’t until I got to NYC that I fell in love with it and wanted to open my own business.
What’s on the menu if you’re having friends over for a casual dinner at home?
I love cooking steak. Or a rack of lamb. Meat, Veg and a salad, all family style!
The taste you’re always craving?
Salt, Vinegar and burnt butter. I also can’t get ever enough of our Grain Bowl. All the fresh veggie flavors combined with farro and tossed with our homemade cashew pesto… Ayy!
What items are always in your refrigerator?
Worcestershire sauce, butter, eggs (from our farm!), garlic, for some reason, we always seem to have every varietal of cheese, and of course plenty of beer.
The perfect dinner party playlist includes:
Sam Cooke and Jose Feliciano.
What’s the one restaurant meal you’ll never forget?
Ah! So many…. I’ll have to go with one that is top of mind. My wife and I had our first date night after having our son Buckley recently at Frenchette in TriBeca NYC. I had a rotisserie lobster with curry beurre fondue. It was amazing!
Your standard hostess (or cooking) outfit?
Chinos and a polo shirt. Nothing crazy.
Your dream dinner guests. Go!
Ooh, we play this game with our family every Christmas!
- My Wife
- My Mum
- Jack Nicholson
- Neil Young
- Nina Simone
- Bing Crosby
- Loui Armstrong
- Ralph Lauren
- My son Buck in a high chair, taking it all in.
Your entertaining style in 5 words or less:
Casual, fun, family style.