George Calombaris shuts down Hellenic Republic
FOR the past decade it's been the home of halloumi and lamb, feta-crumbed chips and the most famous grain salad in the country, but come 2020 Brunswick's Hellenic Republic will have a new look, new name, new cuisine and new chef-partner.
"I haven't been this excited, or nervous, since I did the changeover from fine dining to sharing at Circa in 2009," says Matt Wilkinson of taking over George Calombaris's original Greek restaurant and transforming it into the British-influenced, Crofter Dining Room and Bar.
"I want Crofter to be a modern-day inn. I grew up in a pub and that style of hospitality is what I want this to be, somewhere for a casual drink and snacks or full meal."
The changeover comes after revelations Calombaris underpaid his restaurant staff $7.8 million over six years.
The celebrity chef's professional and personal brand was left in tatters in the wake of the scandal and during a TV interview in August he begged diners not to abandon his restaurants for the sake of his employees.
Hellenic Republic's departure from the Melbourne dining scene is just eight months after Calombaris shutdown his flagship CBD restaurant The Press Club in March.
He posted to Instagram about Hellenic's closure, saying he had "bittersweet news".
"On December 31, 2019 we are farewelling Hellenic Republic Brunswick and transforming our beloved space into 'Crofter' with our new partner (Matt Wilkinson)," he wrote.
He said the restaurant "could not be in better hands".
New restaurant Crofter will have two spaces - a bar with room for 45-50 in the front and an 80-seat dining room at the back - where Matt will cook a menu of salads and vegetables teamed with sides of meat.
"This is how I like to eat these days. If you came round to my house on a Sunday this is what I'd serve, a heap of different salads and a bit of meat."
In partnership with MAdE Establishment, Crofter - which is a small agricultural landholding found throughout Scotland - marks a return to the northern suburbs for Matt who shuttered his much-loved café Pope Joan down the road last year.
It is now in the CBD under the stewardship of David Mackintosh and chef Jake McWilliams, with Wilkinson finishing up at the end of the month.
Hellenic Republic Brunswick will serve its last moussaka and taramasalata on Dec 31.
Crofter is scheduled to open mid Jan at 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East.