Florent Gerardin; Kate and Mykal Bartholomew and Tom Hunter decided to open a business together in the usual manner: “We drank a lot first,” says Gerardin, partner and head chef at their new restaurant, Ôter.
A mere stagger across Oliver Lane from Kate and Mykal Bartholomew’s Coda, where Hunter has also been working, Ôter will serve outré French cuisine in the former home of Yu-u. The partners have been renovating the basement-level space themselves, stripping back the Japanese restaurant to bare concrete and wood. “I’ve done [restaurants] on big budgets and small budgets before,” says Kate. “I was buying all these magazines, and it’s all Scandinavian wood and whatever, and it’s boring. So I went back to magazines that were five or 10 years old and that was what was more inspiring. I never want it to date. I don’t want it to be of a trend or of an era.”
The central teppanyaki bar remains in place, stripped back to its hardwood jarrah. The furniture is mostly Italian oak. A mural from Hepburn Springs-based artist Bridget Bodenham will tie the room together. “We haven’t gone overboard with the fit-out, we’ve just done what we needed to do with a real emphasis on functionality,” says Hunter. “The whole restaurant is centred around a big kitchen bar, which is sunk in. There’s a real intimacy with the chef, with the front of house that we wanted to bring back to Flinders Lane.”
Gerardin, who was previously head chef at Mark Best’s celebrated diner Pei Modern, has been digging into his culinary history to come up with the menu. “The hardest part of being a chef is that when you’ve worked so long for someone else you have to discover what is true food to yourself,” he says. “It’s very fulfilling at the moment because what I spend my time doing is opening books and digging into very old recipes I can now bring out. It’s time to pull all the rabbits out of my hat.”
You’re not going to be eating coq au vin or cuisses de grenouille (frog legs) at Ôter. During a recent research trip to France Gerardin was most inspired by a traditional dish in Brittany – fisherman would gather every Friday night to eat a calf's head – brain included.
“It will happen! The only problem is finding the veal heads,” he says ruefully. “With French cuisine people expect things from you. I’ve made it my mission to not give them what they expect.”
He’ll also draw from his extensive experience in Japanese kitchens. “There will always be a few influences from Japan, because that’s me. I love the place,” he says. “I use more soy sauce than I use salt.”
Hunter believes while there’s no shortage of great dining on Flinders Lane the precinct’s ready for something more ruthlessly modern. “I’ve worked in this particular zone in the city for well over 10 years, and I think what we’re looking for is something new and something different,” he says.
Ôter will open at 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne in April.