he touch of chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell is written all over our city, his restaurants the epitome of the Melbourne dining experience; slick, sophisticated and casual but executed with extreme precision.
When people from out of town ask us about where they should eat when they come to Melbourne for a weekend, the shortlist somehow almost always includes at least one of McConnell’s restaurants, if not several; be it Cumulus Inc. for that slow-roasted lamb shoulder, Golden Fields for that lobster roll, or Cutler & Co. for that chocolate ice cream sandwich for dessert. To add to this list now is a beer at that pub, by McConnell.
Being that McConnell and his team are behind the reinvention of this Fitzroy institution, The Builders Arms, this pub ain’t no ordinary pub, as can be expected from the man.
After a hiatus of several months, Gertrude Street’s bastion of yellow tiles, sticky black carpets, cavernous drinking nooks and a nod to a few university drinks has been recreated under the guiding hand of owner Andrew McConnell, chef Josh Murphy, business partner Anthony Hammond and their genteel outfit. Taking a moment to absorb the vastly different space created by regular McConnell collaborators Projects of Imagination, with its white interior and the dark wood floors, the comforting thing which strikes you about the Builders in its new guise is that it’s still the Builders. The structure remains, but with a feeling that is decidedly McConnell. It’s Cumulus in a pub really.
Drinkers stand up at the bar drinking pints of brew on tap; Mountain Goat, Cooper’s and Carlton, like a good pub should. In the next room, the move from bar to bistro is smooth as you move through to room filled with table of four and more surround by signature Thonet chairs. The bistro menu here is succinct, with the sort of polish that Melbourne has come to expect from a McConnell eatery. Sit at the bar and have a glass of Chablis or Roussane with a plate of pig’s ear scratchings, or share entrée plates of chickpeas and buffalo haloumi, Sea Bounty mussels with saffron and aioli or corned duck with raw brussel sprouts and prune. The beer garden is now graced with an enormous spit, on which whole chickens and quails are cooked over mallee root. But the grass fed beef also beckons.
Excited as we are that this is our new local, it is just the start of things for The Builders Arms, still in their first week, and with a fine dining room set to open in June. It’s name, Moon Under Water, a homage to George Orwell’s musings on the perfect pub.
“It would seem natural to put the beer first,” Orwell wrote in the opening paragraphs, and we tend to agree, but the more definitive element, he considered, was that overused, undervalued and elusive concept of “atmosphere”. As Orwell conjures up the tone of his ideal pub he teases out various elements of conviviality and decorum, each of which are present in Gertrude Street’s reopened Builders Arms.
But the best part about the opening of this McConnell pub, is that being a pub, The Builders Arms is the kind of place where people might go several times a week, for a casual drink or dinner on any night of this week.
And so we find ourselves once again charmed by McConnell and his ability to feed us well and make us feel special in an eatery, even if it is a pub.
Builders Arms Hotel
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 7700