Just as Con Christopoulos was almost single-handedly responsible for reclaiming the Paris end of Melbourne’s city from what looked like terminal decline some decades ago, he too is redrawing the borders west of Elizabeth Street. In territory mired in restaurant touts, with menus pitched mainly to a tourist audience, and otherwise populated by city workers…
Jason Scott and brothers Anton and Stefan Forte, from the Swillhouse Group, had plenty of success under their belts (The Baxter Inn, Frankie’s Pizza, Shady Pines) when they conceived of Restaurant Hubert, but as deeply considered and painstakingly realised as their other venues were, nothing can truly prepare one for the breath-takingly ambitious Restaurant Hubert. But the Swillhouse Group do know how to create theatre, how to transport their customers to another place, another time, and to do so with mesmerising verisimilitude.
The gestures at Restaurant Hubert are big, grand really, with no attempt to hone and refine the old to look new, but they are done with such aplomb that they never sink into pastiche. Once past the heavy wooden doors, which incongruously sit at the base of an ’80s office tower in Bligh Street, and down the stairs, you are in Sydney no more. The theme is grand post-war Europe, and France more specifically, with wood-panelled rooms (seven in total, with two bars and even a 100-seat theatre) lit with tasselled wall lamps and the flicker of proper candles in proper candle holders – not a tea-light candle in sight. The walls are massed with vintage posters and photographs, and an army of bottles, both spent and un-broached, glint throughout.
Unsurprisingly, the wine list speaks with a thick French accent and tends to the vast, with an enviable selection of hard-to-find bottles from makers such as Jean-François Ganevat, Anselme Selosse and Thierry Allemand, for example. The leather-bound tome stretches to 600-odd listings, with 35 by the glass that are rotated monthly.
Dan Pepperell (formerly of 10 William Street, and now with Swillhouse’s Alberto’s Lounge in his executive chef orbit) turns out the classics of yesteryear seen through his uniquely nuanced lens, weaving Asian spicing, dashi and house-made XO sauce (with escargot, of course) where they make sense, and leaving well alone when they don’t.