There’s something about Stray Neighbour. The diverse elements of the new Preston restaurant fit together snugly like an easy-to-master puzzle. Inside an old panel beater’s workshop, there’s a bar, a sit down diner, a pool table surrounded by booths, and a beer garden which somehow all sit seamlessly alongside one another.
The brains behind Stray Neighbour also come together to make a whole that outweighs its parts. Partners Andrew Chew (No Vacancy Gallery, Chew Burger), builder Ben Stray and his landscaper brother Daniel are locals who want to make a sorely needed destination in these parts for other locals. Says Daniel, “I came from North Fitzroy, living there for eight years. I don’t miss Fitzroy at all—I thought I would,but there are too many places to choose from. But to come out here, we wanted to bring a bit of quality, a bit of nice food, some nice beers and wines, a good atmosphere, somewhere to hang out.”
The trio have tapped into a surprising talent pool from surrounding Coburg, Reservoir and Preston. In the kitchen is chef is Romina Gagliardi (formerly of Bistro Gitan, Jacques Reymond and Sapore) dishing up a friendly European sharing menu. Andrew explains, “we know where we are...we could have just opened up a pub and served Parmigiana and pies. [Romina’s] a fine dining chef, for the price you’re paying here you get something good”. We hear the pork belly with white bean mash and red cabbage is zooming out the door (pigs can fly it seems), and that the grilled chicken with lemon myrtle is a winner in place of that parma. Also local is Stray Neighbour’s ex-Vue de Monde pastry chef and their general manager David Coster, who has come over from maître d'-ing at Bistro Gitan. He’s put together a quality wine list of young label, biodynamic and naked wines for a few dollars less than you might expect.
Adding to the finished puzzle are creative elements from Stray Neighbour’s super talented mates; Andrew calling in favours from artists Robert Bowers and Ghost Patrol. Robert painted an overgrown, leafy mural with a dog straying into frame. He also hand carved the dozen dogs heads sculptures that adorn each beer tap (beer is the bar’s strength, but never fear, they’re still happy to serve punters copious amaretto sours and espresso martinis). Ghost Patrol had his way with the pool room and also created a series of coaters, each with one quarter of an image released over the next year, that come together to make a whole piece. Like Pokemon: gotta catch ‘em all.
Stray Neighbour fast become a highly personal project. The Strays and Andrew made everything they could from the tree-trunk like stools (actually scavenged wharf timbers) to the lazer-cut pin-hole ceiling. Accessories come from people they know and love such as Takeawei’s ceramics and Tailfeather’s leathergoods. Even the pool table was the brother’s family table from decade ago, hauled out of storage.
Somehow, having wandered in from a more gentrified place to reside among the run-down tradies and antique shops of Plenty Road, this Stray Neighbour just fits.
Stray Neighbour officially opens 18 July
Image Credits: Mason Bailey for The Urban List