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My name is Kit Fennessy, and I've been writing this blog with your help for eight years, and there's over a hundred recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours. I hope you enjoy it, and please send me any feedback or suggestions about what you'd like to see herein through the feedback link at the bottom of posts.
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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Builder’s Arms Hotel
211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
OK, it’s official. I’m excited. Officially excited. “Why?” I hear you ask, in that imperturbable way of yours that makes you the paragon of all things admirable. “Enough with the bullshit. Why?” you ask again, shrugging off my impenetrable compliments.
The pub. The pub that is the next door to Blue Vapours. The door directly next to our front door at work. Literally one foot away. Is about to reopen. I can’t believe it.
Ring the bells and let people dance with joy in the streets.
It’s been shut for six months.
Now we didn’t open up a design studio next to a pub and restaurant so I couldn’t go to it for the best part of a year. Or indeed for the last two years really. Why? Read on.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Builder’s Arms. It used to be good, in a comfortable pair of old jeans way – back when they had tropical sunset wallpaper, a cheap Singapore noodle kitchen in the back, a weird mezzanine with a pool table, and a disco out the back that would go till the break-a-break of dawn (which used to drive my current landlord spare). Habitue of gays and groovers, you could buy a pot cheap, and there were regular queues out the door.
Then it changed hands to a consortium of owners, the current team behind the Sporting Club Hotel in Brunswick.
A very nice bloke Noel (who still owns the building), was the leader of the group (or at least drank plenty of white wine out the front) and was behind the reinvention of the Great Britain Hotel on Church St in Richmond (when it used to be good), and the Baker’s Arms Hotel on Victoria St in Abbotsford (before it became an apocryphal 24 hour pokies venue for triads), so he had a great track record.
The disco? Gone. A restaurant featuring giant couscous and Middle Eastern flavours? Open… as a separate business within the premises, run by Noel’s girlfriend at the time. The inside of the pub? Transformed. Done out like a Kylie Minogue film clip; big purple couches and dark corners to go off and be enigmatic in.
But it didn’t work. The restaurant changed, got cheaper and nastier, then barely functioned at all. The front bar wouldn’t open– it ended up only trading from Thursday to Sunday night. And the staff? The first bar manager Andy, who last I heard now manages the Riverland Bar next to the Yarra, was ace. But he left. Then Yule took over, she was nice, everyone loved her, but then she moved back to New Zealand to look after her mother. And then? Rude, Gen Y, holier than thou, groovoire foosh-sticks with attitude. Terrible.
So a pub that was never open – with terrible staff who would not mix drinks or serve you if you were the only one there (since they were busy talking to their friends on the phone) – started to lose money.
Noel and pals gave up the licence halfway through last year, and left it to one of their waitresses to have a crack at until Christmas. She turned it around with her mother, showing even with burgers and bangers and mash you cold make it profitable – just by opening and not being rude to everyone. But it lacked a certain class. The food was OK, but it was all a bit cheap and nasty.
So at the end of the year, the business was served up on a silver platter to anyone with an eye for turning what was fast becoming a wreck into something marvelous.
Enter the three amigos: Anthony Hammond, Andrew McConnell, and Josh Murphy. All met at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda, cooking at Circa and managing the complex.
Incidentally, the Prince is now the jewel in the crown of the guys who own the Middle Park Hotel, Albert Park Hotel, and the Newmarket Hotel (reviewed by me here ) - hi CJ!.
Andrew McConnell is the big name behind the business and is the general impresario. He’s done a few restaurants now, and has it down to a fine art: Cutler and Co (one of my earliest reviews); Golden Fields, Fitzroy St Kilda (can’t attest, never been there); and let’s not forget Cumulus. You can find a bit of a bio on him here.
Josh Murphy is partner number two. He won the Age young chef of the year for 2011, and is the executive chef from Cumulus. He’s from northern Tasmania, and is quiet and efficient.
Anthony Hammond makes up the third side of the partnership. The former Prince of Wales general manager, with his rockabilly hair and a memory for names, is tall, thin and likeable.
They’ve spent a bomb on refurbishing the pub, with timber floors throughout, clean white walls and a redone beer garden with a new tree they brought in already grown. In the near future, a 100 seat reception venue will be opening upstairs, and I plan to make it the home of ‘Gertrude.com’, the Gertrude St film festival. The pub will, apparently, sell affordable beer over the bar and be keeping a pub feel, but then have something kicking in the kitchen. This morning I saw them loading mallee roots through the lane, which will be used on their char grill. The menu is unannounced, but tomorrow the pub opens for drinks at least.
My rating tentacles may be pending, however my saliva glands are already going. See you there! Feel free to drop by the office any time and I’ll take you for a tour.