“I’m really quite nervous,” says Wilkinson. “It’s me going back to night times after 10 years of being in Pope Joan … I'm 40, and 40’s not young. It’s 20-odd years of being on your feet in the kitchen. I’m seen as old in the industry. The food I’m going to do I’ve not done before. It’s really putting myself on a path to be criticised, and that’s nerve wracking and exciting.”
This will be the first time Wilkinson has returned to dinner service since leaving now-closed St Kilda fine diner Circa in 2010. After that, he opened the first outpost of his celebrated Brunswick East cafe, Pope Joan (which closed in 2018, but reopened in the CBD this year). He’s also behind the Pie Shop in Brunswick East and its newly opened CBD counterpart.
The menu at Crofter will focus on vegetable-forward dining, relegating proteins to side dishes. Expect to see big bowls of fresh salads at the open kitchen.
“If you come to my house you’re not going to eat huge portions of meat,” says Wilkinson. “My favourite places to go out are places where you can have a few snacks, a bit of bread, some vegetable options and then some small sides.”
There'll be two types of bread – a roti is currently in development – and three dips (spicy dahl, a butter dip and a green sauce). Wilkinson will also use the existing fire pit at Hellenic Republic to inject some woodfired cooking into the nine to 11 salads on the menu. The salads will be accompanied by seven small sides, including marinara, gin-cured fish, homemade sausage and mustard, and a classic British ham.
“The world is changing, I’m not going to sell you a big fuck-off steak, you can’t order the chicken Kiev anymore. Those place will always be there and I love [them]. But the way I cook at home is lots of salads and a small amount of meat,” says Wilkinson. “Ten years ago I wrote my first book and it was about vegetables … so I’m making a restaurant based around that.”
For dessert there'll be traditional English puddings. In development is a summer pudding (berries set in bread) crossed with an Eton mess (meringue, strawberries and whipped cream), a hot pineapple pudding with mango-ripple rice-pudding ice cream, a salted caramel and chocolate bombe Alaska, and a warm carrot cake with big wedges of cheese.
The existing Hellenic Republic space will get a refresh with indoor plants, tones of brass and British oak to create what Wilkinson is calling a “modern day inn.” The front of the restaurant will be converted into a dedicated bar area. The main dining room will retain the long tables but with added banquettes.
Former Masterchef judge and host George Calombaris opened Hellenic Republic as a casual Greek diner after coming to fame at the now-closed fine diner Press Club.
Hellenic Republic’s last service will be on Tuesday December 31. Crofter Dining Room & Bar will open in the new year.