Speaking of the recent overhaul of his High Street restaurant-bar, The Smith’s Scott Borg explains, ‘You’ve got to give people what they want.’ After 17 years of partnering with chef Michael Lambie at venues like Taxi Dining Room and Circa at the Prince of Wales, Borg is as qualified as anyone in understanding Melbourne diners’ whims. ‘That kind of high end dining is dead,’ he reckons.
‘It’s all about casual fun and it’s about accessibility. People want to come to your venue once a week, not on a special occasion and spend 400 bucks once a year.’ As such, it seems The Smith might be loosening its figurative tie.
But not its literal one. Staff are newly decked out in uniforms consisting of a dapper black tie or bow tie against a black denim shirt inspired by a Dolce and Gabbana number ripped straight from self-proclaimed ‘label queen’ Borg’s own wardrobe. The look is completed with black skinny jeans and the staff’s own choice of high top sneakers. Describing this new sartorial vibe as ‘casual but sophisticated and fun’, Borg seems to have also summed up the overall new direction of the venue.
‘You can’t make yourself look younger but you can give yourself a bit of a facelift,’ he says. The surgery in The Smith’s case involved necessary tweaks but not a complete make-over. The space is now encased in sound-proofing and The Smith’s awesome old exposed ceiling has been rejuvenated with hues of orange, lime and off-grey. Spotlights beaming up into the ceiling give diners a show of speckled colour and shadows when they enter the venue. ‘There’s like mosaic of wonderful colour which is hidden until you look up,’ enthuses Borg.
However the changes aren’t simply cosmetic. The Smith’s menu has given up its globe-trotting ways to plant roots more permanently in Asia. The new food direction sees head chef, Brad Simpson, cooking up modern dishes that make the most of local produce paired with exotic Asian ingredients like gochujanga (a Korean hot pepper paste), Japanese yuzu and, Indian favourite, tamarind. Don’t wait until the crowds cotton on to tuck into Vietnamese mint, chilli and black pepper-spiked soft-shell crab yuba rolls with Kewpie mayo or grilled whole baby snapper served with chilli sambal and pickled watermelon. We’re fighting the rising urge to skip straight to dessert thanks to the appearance of a delectable chocolate dulce de leche with peanut butter crème and salted popcorn on the new menu (which itself has had a colourful design refresh and now does the relaxed, doubling-as-a-placemat thing).
Basically The Smith is reading the current trends in cuisine and writing new reasons for patrons to return. Or as Borg likes to say, they’ve ‘put a little lipstick on it’.
Image Credits: Nick West