Richmond is like the Switzerland of Melbourne, a neutral terrain between north and south. Punch Lane owner Martin Pirc, and head chef Daniel Schelbert, both live in the suburb, where they’ve also just opened Saint.Urban – named for the 4th-century French Bishop, who was the patron saint of wine.
“We’d always spoken about doing ‘a local’ in Richmond,” Schelbert says. “Somewhere for a long Sunday lunch or to just pop into for a coffee. Something that was familiar, that locals could own.”
They chipped away the layers of paint caking and peeled back the faux-timber vinyl floors to reveal the bones of the space – ageing blue-and-white tiles underfoot and a concrete wall speckled with tones of rouge, mustard and teal.
Then there was the boarded-up laneway entrance that felt like the perfect link between the opening of Punch Lane – one of the city’s pioneering laneway restaurants 21 years ago – and today. “The intent wasn’t to copy, but for Punch Lane to have a little sibling,” Schelbert says. “We wanted it to be more whimsical, playful and local. We want the locals to use Saint.Urban as their lounge room.”
The full effect of the space will be realised as the weather warms; when the open-flame heaters are packed away and the arching steel windows unfurl, allowing interaction between indoor “lounge room” and outdoor “sunroom.
That humble neighbourhood atmosphere extends to the menu, which covers Wagyu carpaccio with manchego custard; gnocchi with burnt butter, pumpkin and amaretti; and barramundi with fennel, pickled rhubarb and chorizo. “It’s seasonal, it’s fresh, it’s comforting – as in, we’re not trying to take anyone out of their comfort zone. It’s the sort of thing you can keep coming back to,” Schelbert says. Sample the extensive wine list (Australians and Europeans, shaped by Schelbert’s partner Pia Tatjana-Tukiainen), cosy up in a corner with a book and a nibble, or stay for an indulgent feast.