“I can’t believe we’re in Warragul.” That’s been the reaction of many visiting Messmates Dining, a new restaurant in Gippsland that feels more like a London wine bar than your typical Victorian destination diner.
Messmates is a family affair, owned by siblings Chris and Jodie Odrowaz, and their respective partners Jess Odrowaz and Michael Clarke.
“It was perfect timing” Jess tells Broadsheet. Last year she and Chris (ex-Square and Compass, Mammoth Cafe) closed the Warragul cafe Main Street, which they opened in 2017, and Jodie and Michael moved back to town.
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Jodie and Michael, who met while working together at Vue de Monde, serve as Messmates’ co-head chefs. The duo also worked together at Michelin-starred London restaurants including The Square and Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus, and both staged at Dan Barber’s influential restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York.
At Messmates, the pair developed a menu primarily influenced by classic French and Italian cuisine. At the heart of each dish is “awesome” Gippsland produce that they say doesn’t need to be messed with too much. There’s “fancy ricotta” made using crème fraîche from local micro-dairy Butterfly Factory Cheese; crudités made from locally grown produce; meat from small local farms; and seafood from South Gippsland’s Corner Inlet Seafood.
The menu is snack-heavy and mains are tweaked often. The comforting half roast chicken served with gascogne butter and peppers is a hit; and other standouts include chicken liver parfait with quince, and tagliatelle tossed through green sauce. Specials are scribbled onto a chalkboard and have included everything from porchetta with Jerusalem artichoke puree to a Hunted & Gathered chocolate and almond torte.
“The theme is you’re coming over to our house for dinner,” adds Jodie. “Bring your mates, it’s casual, it’s sharing, it’s a bit messy. There’s nothing too fancy about it, just fresh produce cooked how we like to eat it.” The name also nods to the local messmate tree (its wood was used to make the restaurant’s tabletops).
The wine list, developed by Jess and Chris, comprises around 100 bottles from local producers such as Patrick Sullivan, and importers. There are also rotating tap beers (currently Sailor’s Graves Draught), cocktails by Orlando Marzo, and spritzes on taps. Digestifs, including Beechworth Bitters amaro and Pennyweight Gold fortified riesling, are highly encouraged.
“Everything on the list, we can confidently say that we love … [and is] made by winemakers who really care about what they’re doing,” says Jess.
Jess is behind Messmates’ European-bar-inspired fit-out and the four owners renovated the space, a former church, together. It’s warm and elegant with a small open kitchen, curved leather banquette seats, dark cabinetry, earth tones throughout and a centrepiece six-metre-long terrazzo-topped bar.
Light floods through floor-to-ceiling windows by day and at night, warm lighting creates a moodier vibe as an eclectic playlist – traversing Rod Stewart, Diana Ross, Chaos in the CBD and everything in between – booms loudly in the background.
The next-gen spot is a big win for the region and Messmates is an ideal weeknight hangout for those lucky enough to live nearby. Locals can also look forward to a dinner series, pairing one-off menus with local or imported wines. For those travelling, Messmates’ Sunday long lunch – an ever-changing set menu – is the one to book.
15 Palmerston Street, Warragul
Fri & Sat 12pm–late
Sunday long lunch ($75 set menu)