15 Warburton Lane, Melbourne, VIC
(03) 9602 2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Corey Sleap
Nestled in a laneway in the old merchant district of Melbourne’s CBD, Murmur has been quietly bubbling away for four years with positive word-of-mouth recommendations ensuring the first-floor Cuba-inspired cocktail bar happily ticks over. While Murmur built up a following, Pierre van der Heyde and his management group were deciding what to do with the ground floor level.
They rented it out to a bunch of friends who turned it into The Punch Club, the emblem of the boxing and workout gym still emblazoned on the rear wall. On the weekends, a steady stream of their clientele walked down the laneway past the entrance to The Punch Club on their way to Murmur — the opportunity going begging right under their noses.Finally, the time was right, and the group took the plunge, coming up with a pizza and jamón (Spanish cured ham) bar concept to complement Murmur’s cocktail offering. Portello Rosso, so named for the 100-year-old fire engine red sliding warehouse doors, is a small, homely bar with mezzanine that ties the Cuban inspiration of Murmur to its Spanish heritage. venue picks up with Pierre van der Heyde after four years to find out more.
venue: You and your group built Murmur yourselves, was it the same arrangement for Portello Rosso?
Pierre van der Heyde: Gwyder Consulting Group created the layout and structural design of the building including feature elements such as the pendant lighting and reinforcement mesh wine rack, they defined how distinct areas flow and interact within the space, l selected the finishes schedule including the colour palette, timber finishes, tiling and furniture. Pepperino manufactured the tabletops for us out of recycled messmate and they also made our pizza boards. Mobi Living supplied all the chairs and banquettes. We had a bunch of floorboards left over after reboarding the Murmur floorboards, so we used the reverse side on the front of the bar to create a bit of contour. We used the same technique on the side of the stairwell to the mezzanine. Luke Cameron designed the back bar layout, and Jeremiah I designed the kitchen layout. It was a joint effort.I like to use space in a venue to communicate with customers, so along the way I decided we needed a really big blackboard space rather than having a framed blackboard on it. One thing we were short on here is space, so we had to be creative in the way we maximise storage areas, building the bottle racks and the banquettes that hold our consumables. It’s about actually using the space to work for you.
venue: Was this always going to be a distinct operation or did you consider the idea of a double-height Murmur?
PVDH: We considered the idea, but we wanted to run two individual businesses, to give us the flexibility to move or re-position ourselves if any offers came forward. In saying that we always wanted something that was complementary to our business upstairs. And we thought that gourmet pizza and tapas would be a good match for cocktails and the Cuban feel of Murmur.We also wanted something that was very comfortable, a little homely and rustic, with the open kitchen and bar getting full focus while using the ceiling height to maintain the feeling of space. We had to build in the mezzanine level to make the place work in terms of seating numbers because the bar and kitchen takes up a quarter of the space of the ground level. We’ve got 55 seats, which is still quite small, so we rely on turnover.
venue: How did you arrive at the jamon-focussed menu?
PVDH: The menu is something our head chef, Jeramiah Schoemaker, has developed. The idea and concept was initially to serve pizza and jamón, we decided to compliment this with tapas and a focus on high quality produce. A lot of places are doing prosciutto, so we thought we would do Jamón. Jamón is cured from pigs bred in the mountains and pastureland lands of Spain. They say Jamón Iberico Bellota is known as the best cured ham in the world, the pigs are fed on acorns with the meat taking on a sweeter and more complex flavour profile. We lay it out on a pizza board in wafer thin cuts, drizzle some olive oil, and serve with Manchego cheese, bread, and a bit of red wine.
venue: Has establishing Murmur given you a bit of a kick-start?
PVDH: The businesses are working well together. At the moment a lot of our business is coming from our Murmur clientele, specifically on Friday nights, where a lot of business flows down. We’re expecting the uptake to be a lot quicker than Murmur, which took about a year, because the laneway is a bit more established now, a few more people have moved in and it’s taken on a more vibrant aspect.