In 2021, friends and long-time hospo workers Bec Shave and Ellie O’Brien launched Babs (or Bad Ass Bitches). The pop-up diner – which is devoted to the OG, Barbra Streisand – pushes homemade pastas, clever snacks and bang-on drinks. Over 18 months, the pair took up one-night residencies at Aplenty, Valentina’s, Young Henrys and more, bringing lucky locals fantastic food and a strong community feel – for a short time only.
Now, they’ve set up shop in the former Saga digs on Enmore Road for three months (their longest stint yet). “It’s been great to be here,” Shave tells Broadsheet. “We’ve been able to work with beautiful wines and recipes that we haven’t been able to execute in the one-day pop-ups.”
It’s been a mix of Babs lovers and newbies, and those in the area who are excited to see a casual night-time venue – with fresh-made pasta daily – at a more approachable pricepoint. “The first week we saw a lot of familiar faces, long-term friends and people we’ve collaborated with in the past – whether they worked front of house [for us] or owned the venue that we were popping up in. We’re seeing people pop in on their way home from work, lots of people going to a show at the Enmore.”
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Broadsheet sat down with Shave, getting the goss on how Babs came about, how the inner-west run is going so far and where Babs will appear next.
A career in hospitality isn’t easy – what about it works for you?
It was important for Ellie and I to do something we loved. We’re here all the time, we gravitate towards it – we’re absolutely workaholics. The reward is having people come in.
You’ve only done short pop-ups before now. Has something lengthier always been the dream?
A bricks-and-mortar spot was always something we wanted to do, but Covid gave us a bit of a reality check – that it was potentially no longer something we could see as a dream coming true in our hospitality careers. [A permanent spot] got put on the backburner and the best solution we came up with was pop-ups. We could offer a food and drink experience but with the safety net of selling tickets a month ahead and knowing who was coming in.
The challenge of walking into a venue without ever seeing it was also very exciting. It ticks all the boxes in terms of high intensity and thrill, but not having the pressure of filling a restaurant every night.
Tell me about the format for the current Babs.
It’s walk-in only with an à la carte menu. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone: beautiful snacks, handmade pastas that Ellie does every morning, more substantial proteins and sides, dessert and a cheese course. It’s concise but has got everything there.
What are your picks of the menu?
That’s something I think people get caught out with when they start a restaurant – they don't realise that things will become cult classics. We were very strategic in what we placed on the menu. I like the chicken liver gougères – a little Comté choux pastry filled with chicken-liver parfait and topped with a beautiful sour-plum-and-shiso jam. It’s a cool two-biter snack to start you off. Decadent, but the right size.
Ellie executes really beautiful dishes simply, the way they’re meant to be. Pickled sardines I think people find a really fun, nostalgic throwback. Really simply done, served with pickled onions and good olive oil – of course, they go well with bread and butter. Ellie’s just started making beautiful challah buns – a little homage to our patron saint Barbra Streisand – as our new house roll.
Handmade pasta is a signature that changes fortnightly. I’m sure people appreciate that if you’re rolling pasta for hundreds of guests every week, it gets repetitive.
We want to keep dessert simple and fresh. We did get known for doing things in a bundt tin. We started with champagne jelly, and now we’ve got this beautiful Grand Marnier caramel flan. We just offer one semi-hard cheese, too – you want a restaurant to have a little bit of everything.
You guys have a two-sip Marini that I’m very into. How did that come about?
It’s just us on a menu. That’s what we like to see and drink. The two-sip Martini is our house Martini and it’s made to my spec. If you don’t like it that way, you’re just not going to have one. I mean, it’s the same with the food, right? Drink menus should have the same respect and curation that food menus do.
As I’ve aged, I really love a Martini pre- and post-meal – but I can’t drink two full ones. The two-sip is the solution: I’ve had a Martini moment, but I’ve not drunk a huge amount of alcohol.
That’s a great marker: if I like it, other people will like it too.
Yeah, I love it, Ellie loves it. We can stand by it, and that's really important. I think that translates for people – they can taste the appreciation we have for the food that we’re putting out and the drinks that we’ve selected.
There’s a clarified Bloody Mary, too. Are you behind the drinks menu?
Yeah. I wouldn’t say I’m a mixologist, I just like to see drinks done in a way that’s approachable. The Bloody Mary came from the idea of ‘We love a Bloody Mary, but we don’t want you to have a meal in a glass and not be inclined to have the meal on your plate’. [We have this] beautiful spiced tomato water that has all the flavours of a Bloody Mary but that’s nice, light and looks like a Martini.
Where do you see Babs going next?
She’s absolutely going on a holiday. Ellie and I have worked consistently through Covid, nonstop. It’s important for us to stop and reset, take stock of what we’ve done over the three months. We’ll definitely consider doing something more permanent if we’ve succeeded – a loose term! Whatever a measure of success is.
Babs is open at 178 Enmore Road, Enmore, until Sunday December 17, 2023.
Thu to Sat 5pm–late