“It doesn’t matter how many times I go to the same market in Germany, I always discover something,” Ashley Davis says. “There’ll be a little old lady and all she has to sell is five rabbits for the day. That’s it. That’s her market stall. And there’s something beautiful about that.”
Davis and fellow chef Sascha Rust co-own Copper Pot in Seddon, which has been plating up regional European dishes shaped by Australian produce for the past two years.
If running one restaurant wasn’t enough (the kind that has 40 people booked in on a sleepy Wednesday night) this week they opened number two, in the space once occupied by the Broadsheet Restaurant. For Messer (German for “knife”), the duo is looking to the continent’s markets to drive the restaurant’s food and vibe.
“We’re driven by the produce that’s coming onto our doorstep,” says Davis, the executive chef.
Being responsive to the day's (or week’s) catch means lunchtime diners can expect a menu del dia (Spanish for “fixed-price”, in this case for two or three courses) as well as a generous assortment of salads. Then there’s the snacks menu that runs all day; it features Davis’s take on flammkuchen or tarte flambée, a moreish woodfired flatbread of German-Alsatian origins. It’s a local custom to beeline for one of these at the weekly farmers’ market, and you should do so at Messer too. “They have these at little stands at the market in my wife’s village, Biberach an der Riss, in the south of Germany. When you visit, you almost can’t not get one,” Davis says.
At dinner, dishes are detailed yet approachable. The menu is weighted roughly 50:50 meat to vegetables. If your diet straddles the grey area between, there are a number of nose-to-tail meat dishes such as the tender ox tongue, and the entire roe, flesh and skin of a Yarra Valley trout presented as a “sandwich”.
To shape Messer’s offering the team is leaning on suppliers such as Oliver Shorthouse from Ramarro Farms (a Cutler and Co manager turned farmer) and Phil McAdam (the resilient Port Phillip fisherman behind the restaurant’s hyperlocal sardines). There’s also Bundarra Berkshires (responsible for the pork knuckle), Angelica Organic Farm (beetroot “carpaccio”) and Great Ocean Road Ducks (duck liver brûlée).
Then there are the leeks. Spent grains from La Sirène Brewing add a malted flavour to a whole leek, which is also being used in its entirety from the soft white core to crispy trimmings. “Like the rest of the menu, we’re really trying to waste as little of the vegetable as possible,” says Rust, who is Messer’s head chef.
When Rust isn’t in the kitchen (or working the “Big Green Egg”, a smoking barbeque fuelled by cherry-wood charcoal from local orchards) he’s foraging for pink peppercorns, lilly pilly berries and samphire to top that night’s dishes. Rust is joined by Gemma Calleja as sous, who comes via Quay and Bentley in Sydney and Lune Croissanterie in Melbourne.
The front-of-house team is also impressive. Kelly Woodliffe (ex-L'Hôtel Gitan) is running the floor. Wiremu Andrews (ex-Smalls Bar) is shaping the Australian and Euro-heavy wine list, and Travis Cosgrove (also ex-Smalls, and Sydney’s The Baxter Inn) is wielding all manner of intriguing spirits (Marionette, Maidenii, Applewood Økar) into mixes, including a house-made charred-grapefruit gin that’s the base of a rather punchy Australian Negroni. The first page of the drinks menu is a rewarding lesson in learning to pause for an aperitif, and not just hastily flicking to beer or wine.
Shop 1, 166 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 0035
Tue to Sat 11am–11pm