Mr Brownie is Jessi Singh’s biggest project yet. The chef-restaurateur is behind casual Indian diners Horn Please and Daughter in Law, and Flinders Lane wine bar Mrs Singh, but his new South Melbourne pub is four storeys tall, with an eclectic bar on every level.
In the basement is the Boom Boom Room, an intimate, red-lit cocktail bar. On ground there’s a bottle shop with counter seating, more than 1000 craft beers from Aussie brewers, and a few from Singh’s former home in San Francisco (masala-spiced porters, milk chocolate stouts and orange sour beers make up just part of the mammoth collection).
On level one is the dining room, featuring a mixture of tall tables and booths, and the open-air rooftop is home to a tiki-style bar with knockout city views.
Singh designed the space himself, filling it with red velvet furniture and an array of plants – all bathed in neon blue, red, green and purple lights – and playing tracks from the ’70s and ’80s.
Singh says Mr Brownie (the name is a playful spin on the tradition of naming pubs after historical European figures) is about showcasing Indian-British fare – and specifically how well curry and beer work together.
“When the British settled in India during the Raj, they set up clubs where they’d drink beer and eat curries that evolved to their tastes. Curries were made creamier, less spicy and sweeter,” he says. “There were also very famous signs outside the clubs that would read ‘No dogs or Indians allowed’.
“In 1947 the British left India. They moved to other British colonies, like Australia, New Zealand. That’s why most of the Indian food we eat here is Indian-British style.”
Despite this chequered colonial past, Singh still finds something worth celebrating in the crossing of cultures.
The samosa burger is carried over from Babu Ji, Singh’s temporarily closed New York restaurant. A freshly made samosa comes sandwiched in a burger bun, its mild spice balanced with a minty tamarind chutney. There are also toasted brioche rolls filled with butter chicken, and nachos topped with salsa, date and tamarind chutney, mint and coriander.
Singh’s curry pies are a fun drawcard, and come with curry-dusted fries. Choose from chicken tikka, a fiery lamb vindaloo, palak paneer (cheese and spinach) and the chickpea-based chana masala. They’re $10 to take away or $15 if you’re dining in.
You can order the curries– which Singh says are made with more aromatics but less heat than traditional Indian food – on their own too, or try two at once as part of the $15 thali special made popular at his other restaurants, with rice, pickles and pappadums.
Some cocktails nod to Singh’s Indian roots, but not all. Welcome to Miami is thyme-infused tequila with elderflower liqueur, white chocolate syrup and pear foam. The Chai Guy is made with brandy, Portuguese Madeira and garam masala – served hot.
There are 16 beer taps, rotating weekly, as well as four tap wines – including a pét-nat – all from Tasmanian winery Domaine Simha.
Singh says that while Covid-19 restrictions are in place, and after difficulties with cancellations at his other restaurants, Mr Brownie is walk-in only, but that may change in future.
343 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne