It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Chapel Street. The butt of innumerable jokes over the years, the strip stretching from South Yarra through Prahran and on towards Windsor is regularly considered a no man’s land of chain stores and bad food. It’s true in part and it’s a shame, but not all is lost. There are diamonds in the rough and a burgeoning culture buried beneath Chapel Street and its precincts that is slowly but surely coming to the fore. The area is beginning to nurture our desire for smart food, drink and shopping.
Fleur Studd, co-owner of Market Lane Coffee in the Prahran Market, reckons “Greville and Chapel Streets are certainly being reinvigorated and reenergised, and we have seen the emergence of some fantastic new eateries, shops and cafes.
“There is a very vibrant, creative and mixed community in the area of designers, students, young families and couples, so it makes sense that businesses are recognising this and starting to open up in the area.”
These families, designers and students are influencing community pockets such as Greville Street in Prahran, where some business owners are nurturing their relationships with customers and each other. “There’s a simmering, a bubbling of good things coming in terms of interesting creative businesses in the area,” says co-owner of Ladro Greville, Ingrid Langtry. “While there are good places to go up and down Chapel, you do need to be selective.”
Kim Wood, owner of Japanese incense store Metta Scents on Greville Street, is part of the new Chapel Street precinct movement. Her store has become the local pick-up point for urban farm CERES’ organic food delivery initiative, Fair Food, which delivers fruit, vegetable and produce orders to a central location for locals to then pick-up. “At the moment we have around 10 regular participants in this service and we have room for more,” she says. Her own year-old business has also felt the benefit of the area’s changing landscape. “Many people are interested in the provenance of their purchases – how, where and why they were made – eco and ethical credentials. People love hearing the stories!”
When Steven Choo was looking for a location for the restaurant that would become Franco Choo’s, he wasn’t looking in the Chapel Street area in particular, but ended up finding the perfect space just off the main strip. “I looked at many areas, including north side in areas like Fitzroy and Collingwood, but finally found this existing sandwich bar in Prahran, looked beyond what it was and started Franco Choo’s,” he says. “It was exactly what I wanted for my first restaurant: small, intimate…”
Despite any initial reservations, he is positive about the development of the area. “For quite some time now Chapel Street seemed to be going downhill and looking tardy, but it does appear that there is a sense of revitalisation, which I hope will keep going.”
For Wood, “it’s always been the south side,” but Studd is more diplomatic. “I live north side and work south side and I love both – I think they both have their own things to offer and I am definitely enjoying watching the south side develop its own unique personality.”
That said, there’s still a bit of work to be done. But in the meantime, if you find yourself wandering in the depths of Chapel Street, here are our recommendations from Broadsheet and our favourite locals.
Chapel and off-Chapel recommendations
For coffee, The Final Step off Toorak Road and Dukes Coffee Roasters, who do a mean breakfast. Food-wise, Ladro is a bit of an institution for all of our staff. More recently, The Smith has opened up on the Windsor end of Chapel Street. Furniture-wise, we are just across the road from Arteveneta, a wonderful carpentry workshop run by Orio Randi. Also close by is Tarlo and Graham which is stocked with fabulous industrial furniture, as well as the Chapel Street Bazaar which is always an adventure.
Others we think need mentioning include Oriental Tea House and David’s for yum cha, sandwiches at Mileto's or Windsor Deli, drinks at Borsch, Vodka & Tears and sunlit beers at The Windsor Castle. We also love visiting the markets and pimping out our kitchen at The Essential Ingredient.