Since reopening in 2015, the Rochester Hotel has become one of Fitzroy’s favourite drinking dens. Quietly though, it’s also started to garner attention for its culinary offering.
It started with an extended residency for Miss Katie’s Crab Shack – which has since gone on to open a permanent spot on Smith Street – and the pub wants to make another statement with its new food concept.
The Rochey has partnered with chef Mischa Tropp to bring an unexpected menu to the local corner pub. The food is inspired by Tropp’s Indian heritage, specifically by the state of Kerala on India’s southwest coast, where his family is from.
Tropp is the founder of caterer We are Kerala, so even while working in the kitchens of Rupert on Rupert and Host Dining, he was spending “another 10 to 30 hours” a week honing his Indian-cooking skills.
Over the last year and a half, Tropp has hosted dinners and kitchen takeovers at Etta and Host Dining, which allowed him to sharpen both his menu and his vision.
“Each [dinner] has been better than the last, so we got to the end of last year and we were at a point where we were good enough to be in a restaurant,” says Tropp. “There was an identity that was really strong and we had a good following.”
Tropp got in touch with Stu Moss, owner of the Rochester, who seized on the opportunity to serve up another menu that went beyond typical pub-fare.
Tropp’s bar menu reinterprets pub classics and snacks through an Indian lens. Instead of chips and gravy, there’s chips and curry. The fried chicken is familiar, but it comes laced with Keralan spice (cumin, fenugreek, cinnamon and cardamom, amongst others); flavours in the sliders are influenced by the once-Portuguese state of Goa. More adventurous eaters can snack on chargrilled duck hearts served with a sweet-and-sour spicy sauce.
The dining room menu takes a different path, ramping up both the tradition and spice of the dishes. Nadan is a traditional and very hot Keralan fish curry that rewards those who can withstand the heat from the Kashmiri chilli. That’s balanced out by milder highlights such as roast chicken in a tamarind, ghee and Kashmiri chilli curry, and pulishari, a refreshing papaya-based dish. Vegetarian options include kadala, a nutty chickpea curry cooked in coconut masala, and a stir-fried cabbage dish cooked with coconut and curry leaves.
There’s a lot of spice here, so the drinks list has an understandable focus on palate-cleansing ales and cool viogniers and rieslings, alongside a few bottles of smashable Shiraz.
At first glance, Indian cuisine in an Australian pub setting might seem like an odd pairing (in Britain the pub curry is a staple), but it’s that point of difference that has Tropp convinced the menu will succeed.
“You can go anywhere to get a pub meal – you can’t get what we’re doing here anywhere else,” he says.
202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 0166
Mon to Thu 3pm–1am
Fri to Sat 12pm–3am
Bar snack menu available from opening. Dining room menu from 6pm.