More Than A Culinary Experience

Key Insights

  • The source of the food, the way in which it is offered and the environment in which it is served all form the story and culture of the restaurant

The brainchild of Victor and Robert Zagame, Meat Packers District Steak Kitchen is a concept site restaurant in Berwick, led by former Vue Group Executive Chef Chris Bonello. Referencing the Meat Packing District in New York City, the restaurant opened in mid-2016 with the aim of introducing a destination restaurant to Melbourne’s southeast that would remove the need to travel to the inner city for a unique high-end dining experience.

The source of the food, the way in which it is offered and the environment in which it is served all form the story and culture of the restaurant. Through the considered application of interior design, menu curation and customer service, the venue has the ability to take its customers on a journey that will help to differentiate the restaurant from the pack.

In a city saturated with designer bars and restaurants, storytelling through a venue’s produce, menu, style of customer service and interior design is essential. An authentic and personable approach is also a must, not only because an original idea is infinitely more interesting but also harder to replicate.

Walking through the narrow hall of Meat Packers District Steak Kitchen, one would be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into another world. Past the red neon ceiling and the sound of fire gently humming – a sensory experience that feels like an actual grill – guests are welcomed into an expansive dining area with soft and moody lighting, a hanging ceiling garden, panelled wooden walls and caramel leather booths. Each dining nook has its own sophisticated set of finishes and distinctive feel.

“The idea was to create lots of different dining pockets throughout the space so, each time a customer dined, it would be a unique experience from start to finish. You do not exit from the same door that you entered from,” says the Director of Lukas Partners Interior Design and Architecture, Kas Makohon.

As you turn the corner, you see the immensity of the space. Through the mezzanine area, there is a floating wine cellar and, above the bar, a spectacular chandelier made from one ton of steel and bottles, which – in an area all about seated dining – is a flirtatious come-hither from the bar.

Just like a labyrinth, with every twist and turn, there is a different area with its own design touchpoints that contribute to the story. From the carving table’s marble surface – with its deep tones of red and gold that reference the look of cured meat – to the ceiling garden in one of the dining pockets that emphasises the value the kitchen places on using fresh and local produce, no single detail has been overlooked in the task of communicating what Meat Packers District is all about.

“It’s not about what I can add to the menu but what I can take off,” says Executive Chef Chris Bonello. “[The products] should be able to speak for themselves because there’s a story behind every single ingredient.”

From succulent small bites – like crispy pork crackle and pear chutney – to delectable mains – like gnocchi with mushrooms and broad beans – or a mouth-watering 250-gram pasture fed Cape Grim tenderloin, there is a dish (or many) to keep all culinary persuasions satisfied, and minus the fuss and fanfare.

Predominantly steak-focused, Bonello knows every supplier by name (often their families too) and will only use fresh, sustainable and local ingredients. Top-notch local suppliers – like O’Connor Beef and Vic’s Premium Quality Meat – make the cut, as well as Tasmania’s Cape Grim and David Blackmore Wagyu whose 100 percent full-blood Wagyu beef is creating ripples of demand in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

All meat at Meat Packers District is hormone-free and prepared with the utmost of care. As Bonello confirms, “The lamb and the steaks don’t need seasoning. If the product is fresh, the land will season the meat for us”.

Even garnishes for the fish are foraged in local areas by the restaurant’s chefs so, in every stage of the process, no staff member (or customer) is denied knowing a particular ingredient, where it is from and how it has ended up on the plate.

Interactive and American in style, Meat Packers District is designed to be service and experience-orientated. From the way the staff talk you through the menu to the way you are able to see the meat being carved in a display adjacent to the kitchen, it is all about “feeling as though you were invited into our home,” explains Venue Manager Marcus Fabian.

Even the plates you eat from and the glasses you sip out of have been custom-made and designed. Not a stone has been left unturned in making sure the customer feels as though they’ve had an intimate, enjoyable and unique dining experience.

Just like its distant New Yorker cousin, Meat Packers District not only serves as a new and exuberant meeting place for locals in Melbourne’s southeast but as somewhere people can be taken on a journey to learn more about the land we live on (its produce and its stories) on a plate. From entrance to exit, every detail has been conceived and refined to communicate what this restaurant is all about.

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