[Read more about Australia's best boutique butchers here.
](/australias-new-wave-butchers.htm)The butcher is back. After weathering the storm and surviving pressure from everything from supermarkets to vegetarians, butcheries are opening again rather than just closing, and in Sydney a new breed of meat boutique has emerged. These new shops marry the best of the old-school, in the form of familiarity, friendliness, and know-how (those essential services missing from the supermarket experience), with the best of the new: transparent, traceable sourcing; innovative products; a knowing, chef-like approach to their care and preparation. And at the centre of it all, even if pre-prepared meals, charcuterie, stock, sauces and even books and cheese have become part of their revenue streams, the meat these butcheries sell is better than ever. The chance to buy top-quality meat from someone who not only knows where it has come from and how it was cut but also how to cook it best means the would-be barbecuers among us are that much more likely to produce a meaty masterpiece.
"The butcher shop definitely isn't dead," says Anthony Puharich, the Vic's Premium Quality Meats impresario behind the very bold and very successful Victor Churchill butcher in Sydney's Woollahra. "People want better information, they want to have a relationship, and they want to interact, so they're going back to these more specialised stores."
Puharich says the advantage of shopping at a butcher is two-fold in that you get quality products and quality service: "Someone to talk to, someone to bounce ideas off, someone to suggest things to. You walk into any major supermarket and you're confronted with a wall of meat wrapped in plastic and there's nobody to talk to. You don't have the option of questioning anyone or anything - you're just expected to believe what's written on the sticker."
And as these shops raise their sights, says Robert Marchetti, proud new co-owner of La Macelleria in Bondi, so too do the customers. "People are coming in here and buying things that I never thought I could sell."
La Macelleria "I wanted to make a shop that had everything that was good about butcheries in Italy combined with everything that's good about butcheries in Australia with none of the bad," says Marchetti.
The November opening of La Macelleria (or "The Butchery") saw the realisation of a dream nurtured for some years by the chef behind Icebergs, North Bondi Italian Food, Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons and the newly opened Neild Avenue.
The Marchetti-branded salumi line that came first was impressive, but the shop - located just a block from Bondi beach - is something else. Apart from the quality of the service and the product, Marchetti is convinced that butcheries fail because they don't make the most of their downtime. Which is why, at a time of day that traditionally means a lull in meat sales, La Macelleria is cranking with a lunch-time crowd eager for hot porchetta with mustard fruits and rocket pesto, warm corned beef with sauerkraut and pickles, or any of the 10 or so other panini that are all made to order on Sonoma bread.
There's opera on the stereo and a gaming console set up to distract the kids with Pac-Man ("I had to order it in specially"), while birds from the rotisserie are sold with a choice of vegetables either "froggy"- or "woggy"-style.You can buy frozen brodo, meatloaf or stuffed zucchini and cheese and salumi are here in abundance. But it's the thought that has gone into the essentials that's really impressive. Steaks are sliced thick, mince is minced to order, schnitzels are crumbed just before they're rung up, and the snags - whether they're Cumberland, New Orleans-style andouille or classic pork - are packed with chunks of meat. The range is impressive, and with Peter Andrews from Andrews Meat being a partner, Marchetti says the shop gets "two deliveries a day. If you want something, we can get it for you fast."
And it's not all top-dollar stuff. "We're not trying to be top-end. If we're broke in six months, at least you can say I was price-friendly."
The steak: "The dry-aged Cape Grim T-bone ($49.95/kg) is the king of T-bones. I like it aged about 20 days, and cut into a kilo piece for two people. We leave the kidney fat on so the eye doesn't dry out while the sirloin cooks."
The sausage: "We do a Toulouse sausage ($29.95/kg). It's pork shoulder, white wine, marjoram and garlic. It's skewered with a fresh bay leaf on a wooden skewer, so you can slam it straight on the barbie."
The burger: "We've got the lamb, classic beef and wagyu, but my pick is the classic beef ($23.60/kg): short-rib, point-end brisket and chuck grass-fed Angus. That, lettuce and onion, and a nice simple bun."
La Macelleria, cnr Curlewis & Gould sts, Bondi, NSW, (02) 9300 6388.
Hudson Meats Colin Holt, it has to be said, knows steak. After many years working in top-flight Sydney restaurants (notably as Damien Pignolet's head chef at Bistro Moncur, where he was responsible for one of the eastern suburbs' best-loved grills), he opened Hudson Meats on Crown Street, Surry Hills, in 2008 with a view to using his kitchen skills to bridge the gap between what his customers were eating in restaurants and what they were seeing in the shops.
Holt is strongly of the paddock-to-plate school, and is a big believer in both the health benefits and the eating quality of grass-fed meat. "By liaising directly with farmers to gain an understanding of the meat's provenance," he says, "we also take pride in educating customers about the meat, its breed, age, how it was raised, its story." Whether it's this approach, or simply the mix of deli goods, salumi, organic veg and a smartly curated grab-bag of books and high-end grocery goodies, that has spelt success, Holt and his team have gone on to open outlets in Cammeray, Lane Cove and Mosman.
The steak: "There's no doubt here, I always cook Cape Grim grass-fed scotch fillet ($49.95/kg) from Tasmania on the barbecue. Cape Grim comes from the north-western corner of Tasmania; the beef is as pure as it gets, and the cows live a pretty good life, too.
The sausage: "I create all of our sausage recipes at Hudson Meats, but the signature sausage, and one of our best sellers, is pork, veal and truffle ($23.95/kg). It sounds indulgent, but the flavours work together beautifully. They're made on the premises with female black Berkshire pork from Byron Bay and pasture-fed veal from Victoria."
The burger: "We use Black Angus grass-fed beef round and brisket with caramelised onion in the Hudson Meats' burgers ($28.40/kg)."
Hudson Meats, 410 Crown St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9332 4454; Cammeray Square, 450-476 Miller St, Cammeray, NSW, (02) 9954 5900; Lane Cove Market Square, 24-28 Burns Bay Rd, Lane Cove, NSW, (02) 9427 9000; 900 Military Rd, Mosman, NSW, (02) 9960 6666.
Victor Churchill It's been called the Tiffany of butcher's shops, and it's truly a meat boutique: Victor Churchill has changed the way people look at butcheries not just in Australia but around the world.
It's got both bells and whistles in the form of a Himalayan salt-brick wall and the kind of visual merchandising more typically associated with high fashion than rissoles, but it backs it up with a bullet-proof core product. Opened by Anthony Puharich and his dad Victor, the team behind Vic's Premium Quality Meat - suppliers to restaurant stars nation-wide - Victor Churchill's got rock-solid credibility.
The shop has become a must for food-focused visitors, impressing everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Fergus Henderson, but since opening in mid-2009 it's also become a hub for the food lovers of its inner-eastern neighbourhood.
Beyond the glam fit-out and the appeal of top-notch Blackmore wagyu and kurobuta pork, Anthony feels it's Victor Churchill's service and diversification of offer that has kept them on top. "When we first opened one of the things that people commented on was the charcuterie and pre-prepared meals, but though they're not something you'd usually see in Australian butchers' shops, if you go to Europe, to France and Italy, it's very much a big and important part of what they do." Anthony says that the charcuterie and traiteur products account for 30 per cent of the shop's business, while the chickens turning on the burnished French rotisserie probably contribute another 10 or 12 per cent, not to mention bringing the side benefit of making the shop smell like a good roast rather than raw meat.
"You go back 30, 40 years and a butcher shop was still a meeting point for people, and I think that's what Victor Churchill is today," says Anthony. "There's a real sense of community in Woollahra, and here people are bumping into each other and catching up. It's awesome. I love it."
The steak: "I love grabbing a whole piece of flank steak, usually 300-day grain-fed Rangers Valley flank (about $30/kg), I'll marinate it overnight in herbs, olive oil, chilli and garlic, then I'll throw the whole piece of flank onto a very hot barbecue and caramelise it, brown it really, really well on both sides, and then it's done. It'll be on the rarer side of medium-rare, and texture-wise, flavour-wise, and in terms of juiciness, it blows me away every time. And it's quick. It won't take any more than 20 minutes. Veg and potato salad, maybe some chimichurri or some fresh horseradish sauce."
The sausage: "Romeo [Baudouin, charcutier and head chef at Victor Churchill] does an amazing Toulouse, and his chicken gremolata is phenomenal, but the one that I can never ever walk out of the store without buying is his pork, apple and cider (about $29/kg). Texture-wise, I've never tried better sausages. There's that coarseness, and the juiciness that comes with it, and I love the sharpness of the cider and the sweetness of the apple."
The burger: "We've talked about this a lot. The one I like best is made from 36-month-old grass-fed meat that we source from the O'Connor family in Gippsland in Victoria. We use bone-in rumps that we dry-age for about 30 days, and the only thing I do is take the bone out, then run it straight through the mincer on the coarse plate, and that's it. It has the perfect mix of fat and the texture and the flavour are phenomenal. It'll cost you around $20 a kilo. In terms of toppings, I keep it simple: cheese, a good bun."
Victor Churchill, 132 Queen St, Woollahra, NSW, (02) 9328 0402.
WORDS PAT NOURSE PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS CHEN
This article was published in the January 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.