When you picture the staff at a top restaurant, what do you see?
For me, one it’s one of two things: a tightly wound, highly regimented white jacket-wearing crew straight out of the Cordon Bleu catalogue, or a motley cast of misfits stumbling through service with mumbles of “Yes, chef” and intense interpersonal dramas (okay, you got me – I’m just describing The Bear).
Either way, I’m willing to bet the phrase “pie floater girl” didn’t come to mind. But Vanessa Rech, the beverage manager at lauded Norwood restaurant Arkhe, got her start in the hospo world selling pie floaters at Adelaide Oval.
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Having left her days of soup-sloshed street food behind her, Rech is best known for churning out some of the country’s most complex cocktails. She helped open the award-winning Paloma bar, by the team behind 2KW, and won the South Australian leg of Never Never Distilling Co’s Step Into the Never Never cocktail competition in 2022.
She sat down with Broadsheet to talk her changing views of hospo, her favourite drink on the Arkhe menu and biggest inspirations on the local bar scene, and the supremacy of “snackable garnishes”.
When was your introduction to the hospo world?
My first proper pay cheque came from the Adelaide Oval, where I worked as the pie-floater girl during the cricket tests.
How old were you when you realised you wanted to make bartending your career?
Twenty-two. After waiting tables throughout uni, I had started my first “official” bartending job. I held the very naive view that a bartender lives behind the bar and nothing else. Shaun Byrne and Nick Tesar [Marionette Liqueurs founders and All Day Cocktails co-authors], who worked at Gin Palace at the time, came in to consult on the cocktail menu at the venue and ran a training session for us. They told us their best bartenders often worked the floor, and it totally broadened my whole perception of the job. I realised I could have the best of both waiting and bartending. I never looked back.
Where else did you work before you joined the team at Arkhe?
Like many other hospo heads, I flitted between a few different places before finding my home at 2KW Bar & Restaurant. It’s a hybrid venue that really enabled me to grow into a hospitality all-rounder. Through that I had the opportunity to open their small bar Paloma as the second in charge, and then eventually I came to Arkhe as part of the opening team.
What was your first impression of Arkhe when you joined the team?
It was daunting! I was surrounded by a group of hospo heavyweights who had some serious industry pedigree behind them and a whole lot of passion for the mammoth task they were about to undertake. Greta Wohlstadt, my venue manager, had brought her restaurant management team with her through two separate venues, and after working with her I can see why. She is truly one of the young greats of the industry, and learning under her has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my professional life.
What’s your favourite drink on the menu at Arkhe and what was the inspiration behind it?
Our list changes seasonally so there’s a lot to choose from! I keep coming back to our Salt and Vinegar Martini. Grey Goose, Maidenii Dry Vermouth and house-made pickle brine, accompanied with salt and vinegar crisps made in our kitchen (I have a penchant for drinks served with snack garnishes).
What’s your favourite dish on the menu at Arkhe and why?
The asado rib and madeleines are two close contenders, but I can’t go past our taramasalata crumpet served with Yarra Valley brook trout roe. It’s still crazy to me that a two-bite dish can pack so much flavour, and I would truly have no qualms about eating 10 of them every day for the rest of my life. I’ll never get sick of them.
Who is someone in the local bartending scene we should all know about?
Grace Rawlins, who is the Bacardi rep in SA, is one of the most creative humans in the Aussie bar scene, with an ability to blend flavour better than most who have been in the game far longer (myself included). Loc Bottle Bar owner Olivia Moore, who has a seemingly limitless knowledge of natural wine and a genuine and unpretentious approach to wine service. Kate Rowlands, venue manager at Never Never Distilling, is someone I’ve looked up to for years when it comes to both venue and people management. She’s a legend in the game.
Where do you drink when you’re off-duty?
I’m a huge fan of Loc Bottle Bar for a relaxed wine or two and am currently obsessed with the Martini plates at La Louisiane (please refer to my love of snackable garnishes). Plus, the frozen Mango Daiquiri at Pink Moon Saloon.
What do you like to drink when you’re at home? Are you whipping up cocktails or just cracking open a beer?
If I’m having people round for a dinner party I’m known for busting out the pre-batched Margaritas and Martinis, but if I’m just chilling with a movie I’m a sucker for a neat whisky or red wine.
Keen to hear more about Arkhe? This is where head chef Jake Kellie eats when he's off duty.