Three wise kings of Melbourne's hospitality scene come together this Friday when Rue & Co, a pop-up container-style street food quarter, plugs the gap at the top end of Collins Street, next to the old La Louvre that recently housed Scotch & Soda.
Setting up shop at 80 Collins Street, the public space at the foot of Nauru House set to be the site of a brand new, shiny tower in a year or so, Rue & Co brings together St Ali guru Salvatore Malatesta, George Calombaris's fancy souvlaki joint Jimmy Grants and a hot off the press preview of Chin Chin maestro Chris Lucas's upcoming Richmond-based Korean BBQ restaurant, Kong.
All three eateries will be housed in specially converted and decorated shipping containers, with the vibrant space overlooked by Australia's largest street artwork, a vast mural of a woman daubed on the side of one building, dubbed L'Inconnue De La Rue (The Unknown Girl Of The Street), by RONE. There will also be a funky digital installation by Joel Zika.
The third instalment of Malatesta's St Ali empire, joining the original South Melbourne outpost and Nicholson Street, Carlton North sibling St Ali North, the Rue & Co pop up will be open for breakfast and coffee on the go from 7am, working its way right through to espresso martinis for dinner in the largely open-air space. Both the Kong teaser and the fourth Jimmy Grants joint will open a little later at around 11ish through to the (hopefully dry) evenings.
"When I do stuff, top line it's fun driven," Malatesta says. "When the opportunity came up to curate the space, I put forward a couple of names and George and Chris were keen to put this pop-up together. It's a collaboration of some of Melbourne best operators doing some cool stuff in a particularly special location, not just because it's the top end of Collins, but also because it's next door to the old La Louvre building. That's pretty darn special too."
Originally toying with the moniker Trailer Park on Collins, they settled on the classier-sounding Rue & Co instead. Just back from a stint at the London Coffee Festival and Milan Furniture Fair's Salone, where the St Ali gang staged another pop-up location, Malatesta thrives on these projects.
"We're driven through my craziness," he admits. "We're about to go to Tokyo. We like to think of ourselves as a rock and roll band touring. I travel five months of the year and I'm confident in saying that the coffee circle in Melbourne is definitely leading the renaissance. It used to be that we'd go overseas to see what people were doing, but now most of my counterparts come here to see what we're doing. The quality food offering is outstanding in Melbourne, too."
Malatesta loves the container bar approach, and feels it's time he returned to a concept he once narrowly missed out on realising. "About ten years ago I used to own a block of land in Punch Lane next to Longrain and was going to do a container bar, but Section 8 beat me to it, so I bailed. I didn't want to look like a copycat. This is a rough version of that at the Paris end of Collins."
Chin Chin's Benjamin Cooper, executive chef of the Lucas Group, will helm Church Street's Kong, but while we wait with baited breath for its grand opening, he's looking forward to showcasing a little of what folks can expect from the new venue at their Rue & Co container. He's been prepping the kimchi for 12 months now and is itching to let us at it with his kimchi jjigae.
"It's like a western stew with beef ribbon kimchi, which is awesome," he says. "The food offering at Rue is going to be an abbreviated version of what Kong is about, more finger food and smaller things. We have these amazing hand made roti rolls, boa buns and it will be far more orientated towards eating on the run. It won't have any of the really complex dishes but it will have amazing chicken wings and some really cool soups."
He's hanging out to give Melburnians a taste of what chargrilled Korean food can do, and to work alongside the St Ali and Jimmy Grants crews. "I'm really looking forward to getting it up and running and having a chance to see those guys in action. It's always good to have the energy of multiple spaces."
For more info on Rue & Co, check out our full verdict here.
Rue & Co | 80 Collins Street in Melbourne (near the corner of Exhibition Street)
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Main Image Credit: L'Inconnue De La Rue by RONE - Tony Owczarek.