Where Mike Eggert and Gemma Whiteman lead, the hungry will follow. Fans of the peripatetic cheffing duo formerly of Good Luck Pinbone – and its mononymic first iteration, Pinbone – will this week chart a new course for the pair’s latest venture, Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco – a collaboration with Sydney hospitality leviathan, Merivale.
“The concept on our end was really site driven,” Eggert tells GRAZIA. “When we saw the space we thought it really lent itself to a warehouse party, really, in a big old shed with this amazing drive through bottle shop.” Located in the drive-in bottle shop of Mascot’s Tennyson Hotel, which Merivale acquired in December 2016, Mr Liquor will serve as a pop-up American-style Italian eatery for the duration of the six month long partnership between Eggert, Whiteman and Merivale’s Justin Hemmes. Doors on the venue open this coming Friday, October 20.
“Justin has really flexed his muscle [creatively] with the design and concept,” Eggert says of their work with the renowned publican, who has helped orchestrate the various arrangements of the restaurant’s titular disco, and with whom Eggert says they’ve achieved an ideal kind of collaborative harmony. That means the site’s disco balls, the lighting and the DJ paraphernalia that adorns the space, as much as the large-scale wood fired ovens in which Eggert and Whiteman will concoct a concise menu that includes a selection of house-made bruschetta, fresh pasta and wood-roasted and grilled meats inspired by New York’s unpretentious neighbourhood ‘red sauce’ joints, but executed with the chefs’ signature irreverence and wit (a flourish of seaweed; a dash of soy sauce). The Sydney-based tattooist Rick Vaughn, who works under the nom-de-ink Four Eyes, has created bespoke illustrations for the pop-up, working closely with the architect Kelvin Ho of Akin Atelier to apply a disco pig motif to the walls, tables, menus and staff uniforms. “We wanted it to be fun and wild [with a] crazy vibe like a party,” says Eggert, “and when you think of those things you kind of think of like American-style Italian. It’s always really fun [and] heavily linked to great booze.”
The honour of curating the latter element befell Franck Moreau – the first Australian Master Sommelier and a graduate from the Court of Master Sommeliers Australian Program – whose final selection of over 150 wines adheres to both the site’s ongoing nature as a bottle shop, while hewing closely to the restaurant’s Italian-inflected concept and Eggert and Whiteman’s longstanding affiliation with Australia’s natural winemakers. “There’s [also] a couple of cocktails which the guys will make in a kind of Italiano style and then there’s also going to be pre-made and bottled Negronis,” adds Eggert. “And they will do takeaway, mainly out of the hotel obviously because it’s still a bottle shop.” Beer, seasonal cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs, amari and homemade cellos (the liqueur, not the string instrument) will round out the beverage offering.
Eggert and Whiteman closed the doors on Good Luck Pinbone after their last service on August 13. The restaurant, housed in a short term rental shopfront that was once the site of a neighbourhood Japanese restaurant in Kensington, fast made a name for itself hinging on the symmetry between beautiful produce, winning hospitality and a melting pot of Chinese and Japanese cuisines. Reflecting on that brief and brilliant period for the chefs and their front of house manager, Berri Eggert, and Mike says that there was “no sadness and tears. When we opened that place we had the intention of closing it so when you go into a project with that mindset you kind of get that ‘live every day like it’s your last kind of vibe. We pretty much squeezed every little bit we could out of that site and we left with just great memories, good times, good vibes and another amazing set of locals that loved what we did and will hopefully follow us like we did from the last two before that. [We’re] absolutely stoked with how that went and couldn’t have been happier.”
Merivale have built the site to exist as a rotating pop-up restaurant once the Pinbone team’s six month residency comes to its inevitable end, and currently have no plans to refurbish the pub, which will operate as normal. Understandably, Eggert is reluctant to be drawn on where he and Whiteman might head after this next chapter in their careers comes to a close – a rural restaurant in the country seems as likely as a Mexican joint, or any other culinary challenge that is yet to present itself. The only thing that seems certain for the chefs, who anticipate they’ll be serving a couple of thousand covers a week for the next six months, will be a well-earned holiday – their first in a couple of years. Now, let the music play.
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Merivale