On Saturday night, Ôter served its last foie gras and ham-hock terrine. The progressive French restaurant on Flinders Lane has shut its doors just two years after opening, citing a lack of business in the early months of 2018.
“We decided at the start of the year that we needed to have a couple of good months, and unfortunately, they just didn’t arrive,” says Tom Hunter, who founded the business in May 2016 with Coda and Tonka restaurateurs Kate and Mykal Bartholomew.
Ôter was conceived as a platform for former Pei Modern chef Florent Gerardin, whose meat-heavy menu was aggressively if deliciously contrarian. Dishes on the opening menu included tete du veau (whole veal head) and l’oeuf de poule, a jar full of coddled egg with tender chicken heart and liver floating in a cloud of mushroom foam and black truffle.
Opinions about Ôter’s already controversial direction fractured in 2017, when Gerardin exited the business (and the country), leaving Hunter and his team to regroup and relaunch under new head chef Jordan Clay. Hunter admits the breakdown with Gerardin wasn’t much fun, but says it didn’t affect the business overall.
“I don’t like seeing Flo out of a job, and it’s not nice to have to recreate a restaurant that was built around one person. But it was necessary,” he says. “I don’t think that’s really got that much to do with the closure. The product that Flo created and the product that we relaunched with Jordan just didn’t resonate with people.”
Still, the challenging French restaurant picked up plenty of accolades and fans during its brief tenure, and Hunter rightly remains unashamed of what he and his team achieved in its two years. “I’m super proud of what we did,” he says. “There are many things I’d change, but I’m not in any way, shape or form disappointed with the product we created. It was everything we wanted and more.”
Hunter believes the downturn in trade at Ôter may be a part of a more general issue for the industry.
“I can’t really speak of a broader problem because that’s not really my area of expertise, but from speaking to a lot of our suppliers and growers and people we work closely with, trade in 2018 has been incredibly low,” he explains. “There are a lot of people out there who are concerned about their businesses. There’s a lot of economic uncertainty at the moment and that certainly reflects on restaurants.”
Nevertheless, Hunter, Clay and the Bartholomews are down but not out. Most of Ôter’s former staff have been re-employed across Coda and Tonka, and others have moved on to Grossi Florentino. Hunter and Clay plan to take a little time to recover, before working on another project together.
“Jordan and I are going to have a break, and we’ll collaborate on something and do something again in the not-too-distant future,” Hunter says. “We’ll probably look to do something smaller in the future, and probably not on Flinders Lane. It’s not the end of the world. We live and we learn.”
For more places like Ôter, see our guide to Melbourne’s Best French Restaurants.