Less than five months after the St Kilda institution burnt to the ground during dinner service – and two weeks after the subsequent pop-up finished – the curtain is lifting on a new Stokehouse. Taking the place of Comme (once the legendary Mietta’s), the Van Handaal Group pared back the dark-toned hues for something sandier and markedly less formal.
Architect, designer and restaurateur Pascale Gomes-McNabb (Cumulus Inc., Cutler & Co., Sydney’s Yellow) was drafted to re-imagine the space. After consulting on the redesign of Stokehouse Upstairs, Gomes-McNabb was uniquely sensitive to the original restaurant’s ambiance. “It was really site-specific, that place,” she says. “How to transpose it here is a huge ask. But it’s not impossible.”
General manager Anthony Musarra admits the concept of St Kilda-in-the-City could easily have gone pear shaped. “Part of the brief to Pascale could have been a bit weird and gone off the rails trying to bring the beach, so to speak, to the city,” he says. “Whilst being respectful to this building and its architecture, we needed to bring the laid-back style that we’ve got.”
Gomes-McNabb began by exploring the quality of beachside light and came up with a tonal palate for the heritage-listed building. “If you look at the ocean, it’s always shifting and changing. It’s a palimpsest of colours. I guess I was trying to bring that idea of a changing scape here,” she explains. “The horizon line is really important, and the colours that are generated from the sun dancing on the water: the golden colours, the sandy colours and the other vibrant colours that jump out.”
To evoke the seaside, the restaurant is bathed in a peachy-pink light, with canvas ‘bathing boxes’ used as lampshades. Subtly mismatched bentwood chairs reflect a variety of colours. Gomes-McNabb and her team sanded the ink-black floor back to its original oak and painted a rough white border. “It’s almost like a boardwalk in here, it’s reminiscent of the St Kilda pier,” she says. “It’s almost like sand has drifted onto the floor.”
The chefs have also come along. Downstairs chef Nick Mahlook’s bistro menu is made up of share plates, house-made focaccia, pasta and a serious roast beef sandwich. Upstairs Oliver Gould is presenting a more refined dining experience, with dishes like spanner crab and tomato tagliatelle or Jurassic quail saltimbocca with roast celeriac and chestnut cream.
Like the food, the upstairs retains its original grandeur, with a grand staircase leading into the ballroom and a six-metre-high ceiling. “I don’t think there’s anything else like it in Melbourne,” says Gomes-McNabb. “We’re very lucky to have inherited something like that.”
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