Prahran Market will soon be home to two new ventures from Paul Wilson: a restaurant and a chicken shop.
It's hard not to get a little bit excited when Paul Wilson describes Wilson & Merchant, his forthcoming restaurant at the Prahran Market, as "a luxe, younger version of the Bot". The Botanical Hotel was, after all, a high-water mark for Melbourne restaurants last decade, where the unofficial leader of the cheffing Britpack helped refine the notion of modern Australian food.
Wilson & Merchant promises double happiness - it also heralds Wilson's return to the kitchen after a long hiatus during which he acted as gun for hire, designing Latin American-leaning menus for the likes of the Newmarket, Albert Park and Middle Park hotels.
Tapping into his old Botanical networks (executive chef is Dave Marshall, the Bot's sous-chef who went on to open the Middle Park Hotel; bar chief is his former chef de partie and recent Black Pearl resident Sam Ng), there will be no tacos in sight when the 90-seater opens, replete with separate bar and café areas, in anywhere from three to six months. It's back to mod Oz, the menu enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the market, supplemented by biodynamic and organic produce grown specially for the restaurant.
"It will be a seasonal menu with a seasonal accent," says Wilson. "European-leaning in winter, more Mediterranean in summer. There are some amazing fishmongers here and as a chef I can order produce four times a day. It's like having a restaurant by the ocean."
You can expect rare-breed chicken on the wood-fired rôtisserie, too, a concept Wilson is trying out with a second Prahran Market project on the boil: a modern take on the classic Australian chicken shop. "There's no market in Melbourne where you can buy a roast chicken and they're usually disappointing quality. I really want to highlight real free-range, brined, wood-roasted chicken with different condiments and triple-cooked chips, all designed to take home."
The as-yet unnamed chicken shop is due to open in the former Swiss Bakery site in around six weeks. While Wilson is using the dreaded words "pop-up", he has a five-year lease and plans to move it to a larger location if the concept works out.