30 The Esplanade, St Kilda, VIC
(03) 9534 3800 or www.phamish.com.au
Across the road from the fledgling restaurant Phamish sit two enduring St Kilda icons; the gaping clown mouth of Luna Park and the old world Palais Theatre. Beyond these gatekeepers, the streetscape melds into a wake of eclectic venues left by the gentrification of the once bohemian enclave. It’s this eclecticism and edginess that owners and sisters Michelle and Nicole Saade commissioned interior designer Roberta Tessarolo from Rothelowman to encapsulate in the restaurant’s design.
The resulting fitout has a lot of exposed concrete, covered at times with wall graphics, dangling red rope bare bulbs, and plenty of wooden furniture and panelling. From the street, Phamish’s thin profile gives the impression that it’s a small café with a few outdoor settings and benches for a bit of St Kilda street watching. But once inside, the venue opens out to a capacity of almost 200. In fact, the original plan was to divide the space into two restaurants, but they eventually settled for the single concept with tapas and mezze grazing, a wood fired pizza oven and a collection of modern Australian mains. Under Tessa Rolo’s direction, Rothelowman designed a range of dining spaces, including a red private dining area walled on one side with fragrant wood for the oven, and sectioned off by coil drapery that doesn’t completely detach it from the atmosphere of the restaurant. And the nifty trick for getting people inside to see it all? The toilet is right down the back. The Saade family has opened around 60 cafes and restaurants over a long history, and now focuses primarily on developments. It’s been about two years since the family sold up interest in Giorgio’s and moved out of the hospital- ity game altogether. Since then Michelle has followed the family business, while Nicole worked at a number of other venues. Nicole runs the place most days, with Michelle coming in after work and on weekends as ‘downtime’ from her day job. They’re a busy pair, but after working at 500-seater restaurants, the sisters reckon Phamish is pretty manageable for two with their staff. Phamish has been treated well by the St Kilda locals, and especially well by the old stalwarts across the road. The Saades have 200 seats to fill, and partnering with the Palais has brought a lot of pre-show dinner customers through the door. Luna Park pulls its weight with the family crowd, giving Phamish as eclectic a clientele as you might expect from St Kilda. They’ve got it down pat too, with the style of dining perfectly suiting the in-and-out theatre crowd, non-confrontational for families, all day breakfast pulling in the cyclists and plenty of space to accommodate groups. “We didn’t want to scare people away and over-design, and we didn’t want [to be] too grungy or just another St. Kilda café,” explained Michelle, “We really wanted to market it across the board and cater for what St Kilda is.”