Better Together: Simon from Commune Group

For Simon, Melbourne’s recent lockdown brought home some simple truths: Melbourne ain’t Melbourne without its buzzing restaurant scene. ‘It’s the beating heart of town and everyone needs it in their lives,’ he says. Much more than just places to refuel, he believes our bars and restaurants are a reflection of who we are: a diverse and forward-thinking society. 

As part of our ‘Better Together’ segment, this month we’re chatting with founder and creative director of the Commune Group. Never heard of Commune? Think: Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina, Firebird and Neptune. Now you’re with us. This is a guy who comes at F&B from a tantalisingly Melbourne perspective.

Would you mind giving a short introduction of yourself for the folks across Australia? 

My name is Simon Blacher, Founder & Creative Director of the Commune Group. We have a number of restaurant brands across Melbourne including Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina, Firebird & Neptune. Representing the Southside dining scene as best we can since 2012

What does it mean to be Australian to you?

I often laugh with my mates that its funny that a Jewish boy from Caulfield can run Vietnamese / Japanese and Mediterranean restaurants, but that is what being Australian is to me. I am born and bred in Melbourne. Without the restrictions of “tradition”, we are able to view a concept (in this case dining) through a unique lens. Fusion is a dirty word, but the amalgamation of concepts, traditions, flavours and art is what Australia means to me.  

This country is very young and diverse, my only hope is that the nation's mindset can become forward thinking and continue to embrace all cultures and everything that comes with it...

Tell us about your restaurants and food? How is it made, how do you source the materials? What makes you guys a bit different?

Without sounding like a dickhead (hopefully), our restaurants are very “Melbourne”. We have embraced what is great about our city’s doing scene. 

We have multiple offerings across the dining spectrum. From HH express lane which is your fast and furious Vietnamese street food OG. Firebird, technique driven fire focused dining with a Vietnamese / retro French focus. And finally Neptune, our Mediterranean wine bar / restaurant / late night whatever you want it to be. 

Our mantra from day one has been to never sacrifice or take short cuts on product. Food and flavour has always been the priority. That being said we have always put an equal amount of focus on the environment that our guests are in. Food and booze always taste better if the music is on point and the lighting is just right... 

Restaurants and bars to me are more than just a place to fuel yourself. They are a reflection on who you are, how you live and are perceived. Providing an environment that our guests can feel themselves and embrace, is just as important to me as the quality of beef we serve.

At Commune Group, we understand that we have a unique opportunity to provide an experience for Melbournians and visitors alike that is focused on comfortable, loud, full of messy plates, spilt drinks and laughter. 

What is your goal in what you do or what is the message you hope to get out? 

Our goal at Commune is to build a multifaceted hospitality company. A company that can incorporate all aspects of the game: restaurants, bars, catering, products etc. We know we can only achieve this through a great culture with loyal and dedicated staff that can grow with the business. 
I love this industry and whilst it has its issues (all of which have been well publicised), I think the most recent events that Melbourne has been has spoken our message for us: Restaurants and hospitality in general  is so important to the psyche of this city and our country. Its the beating heart of town and everyone needs it in their lives   
Who are some local heros or brands that inspire you?

Shane Delia (Providoor) - Whilst the rest of the Industry was bracing for the storm, he saw opportunity. He and Providoor have created a new way for customers to experience Melbourne’s best restaurants without having to step inside.

Jana Langhorst (photographer), Josh Nilhand / Saint Peter / Fish Butcher - Not “local” but can I cannot wait to go back and check out St Peter 2.0. Josh’s completely changed the game, anybody who works in food holds him in the highest regard.

Starward Whisky - is a brand that I have watched build and grow over the years. A world class drop made in our own backyard. 

What are some of your favourite bars and restaurants in Melbourne?

Shit …. its been a while since I went out (Lockdown Limbo) but here goes:

Cookie - who knew that serious Thai food and German beer go so well together? (they did) . And have been doing it for years.
Bodriggy Brewery - Delicious beer + rad ceviche + excellent music in a dope space. 
Section 8 - no explanation needed.
Claypots - (South Melbourne Market) - the service is all over the shop , the seats are too close together and the kitchen looks too narrow to breath in, but it works and I love it. 
Embla - food / service / wine / vibe …. the whole package. 
If you had to pick the signature Melbourne late night had a few cocktails meal, what would it be? 

I love the CBD for it's diversity, I would hit Section 8 for little sweaty session bumping shoulders. Then its Bar Marguex for a booth, late night martinis and that bloody burger.

What’s your go to CAPI Cocktail?

I love bitter sweet so for me it's Campari with a CAPI grapefruit soda. 

Hungry? Check out more on Commune Group and their venues here.