For Steve Rowley, Matt Vero, Cal Hitchens and Will Benjamin, the restoration of a 19th-century pub is not an unfamiliar pursuit. The team already runs the 150-year-old Marquis of Lorne in Fitzroy, and has recently taken over the tenancy at the Mount Erica Hotel in Prahran, which dates to 1853.
The group’s new venue, Union House, is a heritage-listed hotel on Swan Street. Benjamin describes the team – which also includes Ryan Crick, a Marquis front-of-house alumnus – as “revivalists”.
They moved into the Richmond space in March after Nicky Riemer and Adam Cash closed their acclaimed restaurant Union Dining.
“We actually did all the demolition by hand,” says Rowley.
Vero adds that they basically “started again", and with help from Alex Lake of Therefore Studio there are new and noteworthy interior changes across the approachable double-level space, including comfy booth seating and a sprawling tiled bar. Crain your head back to examine the Victorian Ash acoustic timber roof panels, which help balance out the noise in the ground-level main bar.
Upstairs diners will find a more refined, but still relaxed, 65-seat dining room, which orbits around a pricey freestanding Cheminees Philippe fireplace – the “one and a half square meters” that was “probably the most expensive part of the build,” Rowley says.
Despite the pub’s close proximity to one redbrick Abbotsford brewing monolith, the team will keep its supply lines diversified. So in addition to the stalwarts (such as Carlton Draught), the 10 taps offer some of the team’s favourite smaller Victorian brews, including Stomping Ground, Hook Turn Pilsner or Mornington Peninsula Brewing’s Pale Ale.
As in Fitzroy, there’s a couple of cocktails on tap, including Espresso Martinis. Vero says this gives drinks “more consistency”. Not to mention, it’s quicker.
Wine options cover reds, whites and pinks – such as the Mornington Garagiste le Stagiaire pinot gris and Barossa Nick Spencer pinot rose – to rarer orange drops, such as the Sicilian Ciello Catarratto. A Larmandier Bernier Longitude blanc de blanc ¬is the $290 jewel in the Union’s seven-bottle magnums crown. Happy hour runs Monday to Friday from 4pm until 6pm.
The boys anticipate some “party action” in summer out on the 70-seat rooftop terrace replete with party lights, terracotta tiles and no less than three shades of green paint.
Head chef Jacob Swain has come across from Marquis to run the kitchen. His menu includes “time honoured” modern-Australian pub dishes, Vero says, with loads of familiar adaptations, such as veal schnitzel with green cabbage salad and relish. And the rockling burger with salad, chilli, shallots and chips. There are five different steaks on the menu, including a formidable 800-gram rib eye.
“It’s not too fancy,” Vero says. “But it’s also just a notch up from your standard pub grub.”
Some options that don’t feel like typical bar-menu fare include Swain’s eggplant with tahini labna and hazelnut, and a beef carpaccio with fried Jerusalem artichoke and salted ricotta. It mightn’t be your typical footy pairing, but as the team says: anything goes at Union House.
“We cater to a lot of crowds,” says Vero. “We’re welcoming to all.”
“We don’t really want to dictate what people can do in here,” Crick adds.
270 Swan Street, Richmond
(03) 9428 7882
Mon to Thu 4pm–11pm
Fri & Sat 12pm–1am
For Melbourne’s latest, subscribe to the Broadsheet newsletter.