Restaurant Hubert will open any day now. At the helm are Jason Scott and brothers Anton and Stefan Forte of the Swillhouse Group. Dan Pepperell (previously at 10 William Street) will be in the kitchen. Like its Swillhouse sister venues, Frankie’s Pizza, Baxter Inn and Shady Pines, what sets Restaurant Hubert apart from other venues are its details. “We wanted to hark back to the post-war era of dining,” says Anton. The model for Hubert was, “a dingy little place in post-war France that has awesome food and service and a really buzzy vibe.”
Hubert’s proprietors have gutted the old Celestial Chinese Restaurant that traded at 15 Bligh Street for 26 years. Gone are oriental flourishes such as the pagodas, the pond and the carp it housed. Ripping the boulders out of the subterranean pond was tough, says Stefan. “It was the hardest job I’ve ever done,” he says laughing. A grand DIY project, Restaurant Hubert’s design was developed in-house. Low ceilings, warm hues and materials such as brass, leather and “tonnes of timber” add to the restaurant’s cosy vibe. “There’s lots of pine we’ve painstakingly stained,” says Anton. His wife, graphic designer Allie Webb, is responsible for much of the signage.
The cavernous venue is divided into distinct spaces, each with its own name and feel. Bar Normandy offers full bar service, and is overlooked by a balcony providing access to an enormous wall of wine. Beatrix Dining Room will serve bistro classics, It also features a stage with a baby grand piano. A crooning soundtrack will entertain diners with, “Music themed around classic gypsy jazz, Frank Sinatra, rat pack, classic the ’40s and ’50s,” says Anton.
Bar Pincer is a small, energetic area that will have its own menu. Adjoining it is the Chester Lounge, a warmly lit space featuring comfortable leather booths leading to a private dining room dubbed the Botero Boardroom. It’s an homage to a favourite artist of the Swillhouse Group, Fernando Botero. Fittingly, the room’s walls are decorated with the Colombian painter’s signature voluminous figures.
Lining the walls of the rest of the restaurant are hundreds more vintage prints collected over the years from auction houses and trips to Europe. Posters marking Picasso exhibitions are displayed alongside portraits and period advertisements. Upstairs a collection of nearly 4000 miniature spirit bottles, some dating from the 1920s and ’30s, line the walls and stairwell.
The Swillhouse team has renovated the building’s original theatre, which was boarded over during the Celestial’s residency. The team has plans to host hospitality talks and events in the refurbished Royale Theatre. “It could be like a James Halliday companion release or a wine masterclass,” says Anton. “We picked up these great red-leather theatre seats from Adelaide, all vintage from the ’30s and ’40s. They’re going to look gorgeous.”
Connecting the theatre and the entry is a bridge that overlooks the main dining area. It will be, “A wine and charcuterie dry bar where people can hang out, eat cheese and drink wine, and look down on the stage,” says Anton.
The restaurant’s name continues the Gallic theme. “We found a restaurant named Hubert in a ’70s Michelin Guide we picked up. We kind of think it exemplified our perfect customer,” Anton says. “Jolly, French, slightly pompous and overweight.”
Restaurant Hubert is opening mid-March at 15 Bligh Street, Sydney.