Increasingly, Melbourne’s property developers are selling lifestyles, not just homes. Often, that means making careful decisions about which businesses move in at ground level.
Michael McCormack owns Milieu Property. His latest development, Peel by Milieu, opened in April on the corner of Wellington and Peel streets in Collingwood. Within a block of the site are two apartment-wine-bar success stories: Project 49 and The Moon.
Michael thought that if he wants his developments to feel like communities, “I can’t be at the whim of whoever buys this space, I have to get involved.” So he and twin sister Katie McCormack decided to keep it in the family and open their first restaurant, Congress.
The McCormack children have all ended up in food. Katie and Michael’s sister, Astrid McCormack, is co-owner of Fleet Restaurant, a 14-seat fine diner in northern New South Wales that’s been catching the attention of chefs and food writers around the country.
Katie is a trained chef but, like Astrid, recently found her place front of house. “Being out of … the heat of the kitchen agreed with me a little bit more,” she says.
It took Michael six months to convince Katie to go into business with him. “I [didn’t] know if we [could] create that atmosphere in a sterile 7/11 environment,” she says. But he persisted and agreed that they’d work with architects and designers “before there’s even a hole in the ground” to ensure the restaurant fit in.
The word “slick” can get used too liberally, but it really is the best word to describe Congress. The food and fit-out are effortlessly polished, and everything appears to run as smoothly as the brushed-concrete columns and dark-brass balustrades that lead you to the lofty but intimate mezzanine dining space.
Head chef Jack Stuart (ex-Michelin-starred The Forest Side in England’s Lakes District) designed the menu with Katie’s input. “Everyone was asking us to define ourselves. We didn’t want to say, ‘We’re this’,” she says. "The food needed to reflect that flexibility.”
The roasted quarter Milawa chicken with a thick wedge of charred savoy cabbage and chicken jus is “the perfect I-can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-meal,” Katie says. On the flip side, diners can opt for the $58 chef’s menu, or order several things to share.
The stand out is the soft, peppery, house-made kangaroo pastrami, served on a smudge of cultured sour cream (made from scratch) and a layer of crunchy shallots reminiscent of autumn leaves.
Naturally, the fried thing in white bread is also popular: a pulled pig’s-head croquette injected with chicken stock, served with green aioli between two soft rounds. Lean over your plate – that sucker bursts like a soup dumpling.
The Dutch spice cake with malt custard, tamarind and pecans is a wave to the cakes the twins’ oma (grandma) used to make.
The 50-bottle, Australian-dominant wine list mixes classic and minimal-intervention wines. “It’s there to excite, but not ostracise,” Katie says. Choose between chablis, nebbiolo, or local labels such as Jamsheed, Mac Forbes and Patrick Sullivan.
Sibling bickering has surfaced a few times at Congress, but only over little things. For example, Katie got to pick the napkins and Michael got to pick the water glasses. Naturally, they still dispute each other’s choices.
“Michael and I are the same, annoyingly. We’re very particular and we don’t compromise,” Katie says. “But that’s what it is in hospitality: bringing ideas together, and trying not to murder your brother.”
For more places like Congress, see our Guide to Melbourne’s Best Wine Bars.
49 Peel Street, Collingwood
(03) 9068 7464
Mon to Thu 4pm–11pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–11pm