If you’re a sure south sider; the name Fitzrovia is your bread and Roxborough the jam? Paul Jewson and his panthers have set up two classic hot spot chow kitchens in St. Kilda. ‘Howzat?’, remember we did lunch at Fitzrovia the ‘all-day-cafe-and-the-works’ recently and this week it’s time for brunch. Trade Secrets champion Dave Kerr explores the mind of proud pom Paul who has fed famous faces across Europe and doesn’t mind a cheeky-V.B-in-hand-after-hard-days-slog moment to un-wind. That’s living.
So, Roxborough, Rox-bo-rough, Rocks-bow-row, what’s the name about?
Bro.. Johnny Roxborough..? Coolest cat in the world. Used to by my boss in the UK. Party architect, posh party designer king pin… Kate Moss… Karl Lagerfeld… the royal family… man they party, everywhere, every night. I worked with him six years. There’s nothing we didn’t do. 3,000 kids and up, the Marrakesh express to St Petersburg, flaring across Europe. Best job in the stratosphere. Just a dapper old English playboy. He’d introduce himself “Johnny… Roxborough”. Like Bond. Like a pro.
What a guy
Anyway. Homage to him. Such a champion. I was gonna call it anchovy and whitebait… then I thought.. nup…anyway… Johnny Roxborough. And so, it ended up being Johnny Roxborough.
A night at the Roxborough. Bring us home. How long have you been back in Australia after EU?
Seven years? Seven… actually eight years now. I came to Australia and opened up Outpost in South Yarra.
Yeah buddy. That spot did really, really… really well. We built it up and built it up and realised we were never going to make any money out of it. So, sold it on, with the money from that, opened Fitzrovia. Boom-bastic.
Of course. We been there… soaking.
Oh yeah, that’s right, you met Sarah! She’s awesome. What a gal. So yeah, we’ve had Fitzrovia for, like, six years now. And over the last few years, we’ve been looking for a beautiful piece of architecture to expand into.
So, is this all period stuff that’s in here?
Yeah, it’s also 1920s, like the building’s built in 1922, so it’s like sort of booth style New York, art deco, lush and beautiful friezes, and stuff like that. It was nicotine yellow and beautiful turquoise blue… When we moved in here, it was actually lovely. So, we just lightened it, lightened the whole thing, put some beautiful furniture in and just got the place fit for ourselves. The people love it.
Are you going to do breakfasts?
Yeah man. But brunch is home territory. Brunch and Lunch. Sounds like a rice infomercial.
Must be nice for you as a chef-fy getting to roll dinners again?
‘Cause you love 18 hour days.
Er, yeah, exactly. Its good. At the moment, I’m doing lunches over there [Fitzrovia] and dinners over here, so it’s part of the notion that, when I have a spare hour, I usually think “I’ll open another restaurant!!” Comes with the apron…
I love that spare hour, it’s my favourite hour, I call it the blue hour. How do you fill it?
I collect books, I love books, I’m a book bug. Doestvksy, Waltons, Wolfe, Avocado’s..
How do you stay inspired?
My mates that have restaurants are all on such different tangents, you know, different lines. That’s why I love the notion of special events where chefs get together and create meals together. Because you always have a rib at each other and have a go and sort of inspire each other to do “Oh yeah, I like this, or what about this” you know, it’s cool. Fucken cool.
It’s cool, and I guess bartenders have a very similar notion to that, but we end up getting way too drunk and… Chefs do that too!
Except you guys get to do it at work and so the ideas get more and more radical as the night goes on.
And you end up with the best concepts.
Favourite Melbourne beer?
That’s all I wanna know. That’s really the question I’m asking. There are so many craft beers floating around…
Two Brothers Pale Ale is beautiful. It’s really nice beer, but I must admit, if I’m sweating it out on my feet all day in the kitchen… A cheeky VB in the cool room. Tucked down behind the lettuce.
I’m all about it, I’m all about it. I guess you have a different spin on this, being a St Kilda guy, favourite Melbourne eatery?
Chin Chin man
Yeah, yeah! All-G. I love it. It’s absolutely…. I know it’s like the flavour of the month 2015…But I love it. I reckon Ben Cooper, what he does for the size of the joint that he has and the number of people that he has… The knife skills are there. I think, it’s my go-to easy, getaway dinner. And I really like it.
Do you have like a secret chef access code, to actually book in ahead?
Yeah. Yeah, I do.
This is why you like it. This is the only reason you like it.
No, I don’t queue, I don’t queue. Also, Dainty Sichuan in South Yarra is, my partner and I go there at least weekly.
There’s literally nothing dainty about that, except its name, is there?
No, it’s the most obscure name for a place.
But I love it, like, it’s a full-on chilli fest…
You pay for it the next day. Every single time we go, we spend the next day on the loo *laughter*. But, Jesus, it’s good.
Alright, so I guess a question for you. How long have you been in business now, for yourself?
Eight years now. We wanted to open a place in London, but real estate in London is so hard to come by and it’s all chain stores. Like, everything is a chain. As I say it’s so hard. Australia, people in Australia want the young people to achieve.
Staff retention, obviously, is a huge issue for us all at the moment. Is there anything that you kinda do to single out, to make sure you’re looking after staff, I know you probably do this subconsciously, but…
I’m really lucky. I’m really, really, lucky, like, I’ve got guys at Fitzrovia that have been there for five years.
Which is a testament to you as a restauranteur.
You just, you just need to take care of people, you know. Just take care of them.
And think what do they need over and above their wage, what do they need and just take care of the guys because they’re much more use to you than, you know, replacing them with another chef because they are late all the time.
I’m bringing a couple of them in [Roxborough] because they’ve been there five years, they need to have a change, or whatever, and that was a big reason for opening the second one. You know, there’s a ceiling. In a small business, you develop people and develop people and get them to the point where they need to move on. And if you don’t have something for them to move on to, then they will go. And so, that’s, you know, I can see that’s why people open new places as well because it gives them a chance to develop that team.
I guess let’s finish on knock offs. How important are the knockoffs in the Fitzrovia/Roxborough scene?
They are very important. During the day at Fitzrovia, it’s all about beers after work. Here, it’s quite different, because we have actually got really good bar staff on at night. So we can really mix it up…
The whisky sour knock off?
Beautiful, I had a beautiful whisky sour the other night actually made with CAPI as well, up at, Misery Guts. I died.
88 Acland st, St Kilda VIC 3182