Commis operates from a space of fluid ambiguity. It’s not quite a cocktail bar, a wine bar nor a restaurant. It could be any of those things, but for owners Daniel Docherty, Gabriel de Melo Freire and Adina Weinstein, what’s important is that the venue is what you want it to be. “We’re trying to reach the cross-section of the community where everyone feels at home, in whatever that means to them,” says Weinstein.
The owners are all Gerald’s Bar alum – Docherty worked front-of-house and behind the bar, de Melo Freire was assistant manager and Weinstein an accountant – and, at Commis, they all take pride in working on the floor. The new bar is an extension of seasoned hospitality minds that want you to have a good time.
For de Melo Freire, who looks after the kitchen, the food is all about using the freshest produce he can get his hands on, sourced from Victorian companies like Day’s Walk Farm and Two Hands Fish. “Our ethos is trying to be as sustainable and local as possible,” he says.
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The menu is approachable and creative. Unbound by any one cuisine, it’s instead a reflection of the places Gabriel has worked and places he’s visited. Think venison osso buco, kangaroo tail croquettes, or cotechino risotto with smoked carrots. It’s food he thinks we should be eating more of. “It’s about putting stuff on the plate that’s delicious and nutritious, and in a way educating people that this produce is out there,” he says.
The single mainstay on the ever-changing menu is the staff meal. What’s left of the cook up for staff lunch each day can be ordered by diners. “It’s a sign of respect to the staff, to the industry itself and to food,” says Docherty. “If you’re not feeding yourself well, then what respect do you have for the actual craft of making a nice, nutritious meal?”
On one side, the playful wine list is presented traditionally, by texture and variety. But flip it around for the “Expressionist” version – a tongue-in-cheek reordering of the same menu (with some extra left-of-centre options) under headings like Tom Hanks for crowd-pleasing drops and Slap Me in the Face and Make Me Feel Something for intense wines like Domaine Rolet vin jaune or Johann Michel Cornas syrah.
Cocktails include the Cookie Monster, a combination of cookie vodka milk punch, cacao and Marionette curacao; “Butter Beer”, with dark rum, Spanish Licor 43, milk stout and butter, served warm; and an option called Jessica Hates Everything, which is the team’s way of encouraging guests to tell them what kind of drinks they like and trust them to create something new.
It’s these considered touches – including plates delivered to the table by the chef – that create little openings for dialogue between patrons and staff, inviting a sense of intimacy and comfort.