Walter Café’s Tuna Salad Niçoise

T Australia sat down with Walter Café’s Head Chef Matthew Ouwerkerk to learn about reinvigorating a Canberra institution.

Article by Phoebe Tully

Matthew Ouwerkerk's Tuna Niçoise Salad. Photography by Ash St George.Matthew Ouwerkerk's Tuna Niçoise Salad. Photography by Ash St George.

Walter Café, the first interstate venue by the esteemed Grand Pacific Group, has opened on Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin walk. Sitting within the precinct of The Marion, one of Canberra’s newest and most exciting event venues, Walter Café has a menu showcasing local produce, with light and fresh breakfast and lunch options available daily.

Head chef Matthew Ouwerkerk, who brings close to 15 years’ experience cooking in well-established restaurants across Sydney, Melbourne and London, has built a lunch menu of small and large plates, burgers, sandwiches and sides – including this salad niçoise he’s shared the recipe for. Other highlights include a prawn linguine with crushed chilli, garlic and parsley and a 180g Wagyu cheeseburger with maple bacon, lettuce, tomato, burger sauce and pickles.

The stylish and alluring interior has been executed by Chris Grinham, co-director of the award-winning H&E Architects. Cues were taken from various elements of the building’s original mid-century architecture, and early sketches by Walter Griffin’s wife Marion.

Walter Café is now open daily for breakfast and lunch from 7.00am-4.00pm. We sat down with Ouwerkerk to find out what’s inspiring him at the moment, who does the cooking at home, and how he unwinds after service.

On becoming a chef…

In high school we had to do home economics, which I enjoyed and probably lit a fire in me. It led me to doing hospitality as an elective, and after doing some work experience, I was offered a job at my local pub doing dishes and basic prep. Next thing, I was hooked! Working 30+ hours a week, working a section and completing school. It was a blast and I still can’t get enough of the action!

On life before Walter Café…

I was the Head/Executive Chef at The Duxton O’Connor. This venue has been an institution in Canberra for many years where locals are able to relax and enjoy a great selection of local beers and wines alongside refined yet approachable food from the vast menu.

On what drives him each day…

To me, food isn’t just a necessity. Food is an experience, not just for the consumer but for our team, front and back of house. Food is also so fun and creative and can be used in so many ways. But my favourite thing is having customers leave with an amazing memory of the food, when they speak to their friends or colleagues “I had this great dish at The Walter”. Everyday and every service is also so different, which keeps me on my toes and engaged with what I am doing.

On unwinding after service…


The interiors of Walter Café. Photography by Ash St George.
The interiors of Walter Café. Photography by Ash St George.

On what he’s enjoying experimenting with…

I’m loving pastry at the moment. I do have a sweet tooth; that might have something to do with it. And how can you pass up a fresh pastry? The smell is just intoxicating.

On cooking at home…

I’ll be honest, my wife does the cooking at home most of the time! But when I do cook, it is all about heading out to the farmer’s markets and seeing what is available. Home cooking is where I get to experiment with unusual ingredients and combinations. Or a mystery box from the fridge and pantry to use anything and everything up.

On what he’s excited for at Walter Café…

I’m excited about reactivating a landmark space in Canberra, a space that so many have known and visited and finally being a part of making it fresh again. I am loving creating menus and food to match the level of sophistication that such an experienced company like [hospitality group and Walter Café owners] Grand Pacific Group is bringing to Canberra. Also being part of their first venture outside of New South Wales is super exciting!

On the chefs who inspire him…

Gerald and Ester at Sourdog Provisions are a power couple in the kitchen, pushing what a bakery is into a different direction, but providing great staples for the locals. Also the food, the wine, the service and the team at Pilot Restaurant + Bar. It’s just the whole package.

Walter Café head chef, Matthew Ouwerkerk
Walter Café head chef, Matthew Ouwerkerk. Photography courtesy Walter Café.
The interiors of Walter Café. Photography by Ash St George.
The interiors of Walter Café. Photography by Ash St George.

Tuna Salad Niçoise

Serves 10


2kg tuna loin
250g rock salt
250g brown sugar

Semi-Dried Tomatoes

1 punnet cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced

Tahini Dressing

100g tahini
50g yoghurt
25g lemon juice
7g pink salt
1/2 bunch coriander
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint
75g water


500g kipfler potatoes
300g green beans
100g black olives, pitted
250g semi-dried tomatoes
200g baby fennel
200g mixed baby leaves
5 eggs
1 clove garlic

Prep semi-dried tomatoes the day before. Halve cherry tomatoes, coat with olive oil, minced garlic, and season well. Place on a lined tray and put in an oven at 70C for two hours.

Cut tuna into 2cm-thick slices. Mix salt and sugar together, and coat tuna in the mix for 30 minutes. Wash off and place aside until you are ready to grill or pan fry.

Place all tahini dressing ingredients into a blender and blend well until smooth. Season if required.

Boil Kipfler potatoes until just cooked, then drain. Allow to cool and then halve.

Blanch green beans in salted boiling water with a pinch of bicarb soda (which draws out the chlorophyll) for 2 minutes and refresh in ice water. Cut beans into thirds.

Slice baby fennel thinly, then place on a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 200C for 6 minutes.

Place eggs in a pot of boiling water for 6 minutes, then run under cold water. Carefully peel once cold enough to handle.

Halve the kalamata olives.

Once everything is prepped and ready, place potatoes, green beans, olives, tomato, fennel and mixed leaves into a bowl.

Seal tuna over a high heat. Time will vary depending on the size of your tuna steaks – approximately 2 minutes per side. Place aside to rest, near the stove top to allow residual heat to bring warmth through the tuna.

To serve, drizzle tahini dressing on the bottom of the plate, and split your mixed salad across your plates. Slice the tuna, add a little sea salt and arrange atop your salad. Cut the soft boiled eggs in half, season and place atop your tuna. Drizzle with a little olive oil to finish.