At 8 a.m. on a Monday in January, executive chef Brian Malarkey is rushing to catch a flight to Park City, Utah, where he will prepare a four-course meal at ChefDance, a private dining event held in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival. The Top Chef 3 Miami alum is coming off the high of a successful grand opening weekend for Herringbone restaurant at the Mondrian Los Angeles. More than 900 guests showed up on Jan. 16 to sample the ocean-to-table cuisine, socialize over cocktails, and explore the 7,500-square-foot indoor-outdoor space designed by Thomas Schoos.
“Then we cleaned up the restaurant, put it all back together, and opened up to 200 reservations Friday night,” says Malarkey, co-founder of the San Diego-based restaurant and nightlife development company Enlightened Hospitality Group. “We wound up doing about 250 each, Friday and Saturday night. That was a really exciting start for us.”
Herringbone L.A. is Malarkey’s seventh restaurant to open since 2010, but it’s his first in a hotel. Breakfast, room service, and banquets are all new to the Oregon native. “I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work when we first went into it,” Malarkey admits. Fortunately, he can rely on the guidance of chef de cuisine Anthony Sinsay, whose hotel F&B experience includes SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, and Platinum Hotel and Spa in Las Vegas.
When Malarkey got amped up about putting fried chicken and waffles on the room service menu, Sinsay broke the news that the dish wouldn’t travel well. Malarkey hadn’t even considered that possibility. “So he made me fried chicken and waffles, put it underneath the dome, and opened it up 15 minutes later. It was kinda gross, sorry,” Malarkey says. “Good in theory, bad in execution.”
Herringbone, which replaced the longtime Asia de Cuba restaurant, took over the kitchen at the Mondrian in September. Malarkey retained many of the Asia de Cuba cooks and service staff. For three months, the team cooked out of a temporary kitchen in the basement until renovations were complete. The upgraded kitchen now features a wood-burning oven that churns out flatbreads with toppings like bone marrow and clam, prosciutto and burrata, or roasted beet and bergamot orange.
Once dinner is completely dialed in, the culinary team will fine-tune room service, then lunch, and then breakfast. “It will take a few months to really touch every single aspect of service we want,” Malarkey says. “We’re still working on banquets and catering menus. Now we have a nice kitchen where we can really push stuff out.”
Malarkey is excited to serve riskier menu items, such as chicken liver mousse with caviar and lamb or smoked salmon tartare, that are too aggressive for Herringbone’s original location in La Jolla, Calif., which opened in 2012. “We’re going to be bigger and broader in the L.A. location,” Marlarkey says. “The kitchen is bigger and the clientele is more diverse. There are a lot of different European markets coming together at the Mondrian, a really fun and classy crowd.”
Designer Schoos also added a jeweled sheen to the rustic atmosphere of the original Herringbone to give the L.A. location a more elegant, Hollywood look. “We’re in the Mondrian, you can’t be putting a barn into a castle,” Malarkey says. The breezy, fresh California vibe is augmented with striking art pieces such as an acacia root table dipped in gold, two gold-leafed skeletons of fantasy creatures, lobster traps filled with puffer fish, and original paintings turned into dining tables.
Malarkey’s culinary career has been in full gear since competing on Bravo’s Top Chef in 2007. “It gave me humility and a lot of confidence,” Malarkey says. “It really let me step my game up from that cowboy kid from small-town Oregon.” He had the chance to meet and get to know major players in the restaurant industry, including renowned French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, French chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin fame, and outspoken American chef Anthony Bourdain, former host of Travel Channel’s No Reservations.
After guest judge Ripert kicked Malarkey off in part one of the season finale, he returned to his post as executive chef and operating partner of San Diego’s Oceanaire restaurant. About two years later, he began to build his food empire. Malarkey partnered up with hospitality innovator James Brennan and the duo launched Enlightened Hospitality Group in 2010. That July, Malarkey opened his first restaurant, Searsucker, in the heart of the Gaslamp District. “We got this amazing location and success was right out of the gate,” he says.
In addition to Herringbone, Enlightened Hospitality’s restaurant portfolio has grown to include Gabardine, a seafood bar in San Diego’s seaside community of Point Loma; and three more Searsuckers, in Scottsdale, Ariz., Austin, Texas, and Del Mar, Calif. The company plans to add more Searsucker and Herringbone locations in the next few years. But for now, Malarkey is focused on learning the ins and outs of running a hotel restaurant. “We get smart fast. I’m not going to allow myself that long of a learning curve,” Malarkey says. “I think once I figure it out, it will all become much easier. I’ll have a huge package of how to implement it next time.”