If he shuts his eyes, John Stamoulis can still hear his father’s thick Greek accent shout: “It’s another tommy ruff!”
Five years after Stamoulis opened his first spot in Elsternwick, and a few years after establishing a second outpost in Mordialloc, the fish bar has opened in Windsor. Like the others, it’s named Tommy Ruff in honour of his dad’s favourite catch, which is a kind of Australian herring.
Stamoulis has been around fish all his life – as a kid he lived above the fish-and-chip shop run by his late father, and friends were always begging to stay for the Friday-night fry up. But Tommy Ruff isn't your standard, nostalgic greasy feed.
“People know their fish now. It’s not just battered flake and chips like the old days,” Stamoulis says.
“You can have a bad pizza, and the following week you’ll eat pizza again. But if you have a bad oyster, or a bad piece of fish, it’s a long time before you come back to it so we’re making sure that doesn’t happen.”
On the menu you’ll find fresh catches grilled, poached or lightly fried, which come from seafood suppliers Lefkas, Clamms and Ocean Made. Mud crabs and prawns might come from Queensland.
“We’re having a few difficulties with prawns at the moment, and I could just say, ‘This alternative will do’, but I refuse to compromise on freshness,” Stamoulis says.
“Instead, I’ll just remove it from the menu for the time being.”
Seafood chowder; blue swimmer crab in ginger and garlic butter; or a take on Hawaiian poke are all already proving popular over the classic fish and chips.
Prices rarely go over $25, though the fish platter is one exception.
“It’s a taste of everything we do. Oysters, zingy fish tacos and fish wings. There’s also a grilled fish, which I’ll try and mix up. It’s certainly not your traditional fish platter,” Stamoulis says.
There’s wine, draught beer and cider made specially for Tommy Ruff by a family friend in Geelong, which are all part of the Australian-only drinks line-up.
Tommy Ruff has been open for about six weeks and already Stamoulis and his wife Helen (who he credits as the experimenter) are noticing a different crowd to the beachgoers at Mordialloc and the families in Elsternwick.
“We get the gym people for their healthy fish and salad during the day, then the young ones at night who will have a beer,” Helen says.
Studio Equator has done the fit-out and it feels like a modern-day beach shack, with fish nets, rods and a ceiling lined with wooden slats in a seaside colour palette.
It would be right at home on a boardwalk by the sea.
121 Chapel Street, Windsor