Fitzroy's Rochester Hotel might look like a Texan dive bar but there's the distinct scent of coconut and curry leaves in the air as Mischa Tropp, formerly of south-Indian specialty kitchen We Are Kerala, moves in..
The Rochey, as it's known to locals, is no stranger to a collaboration – after a change of ownership and a facelift it reopened in 2015 with Miss Katie's Crab Shack in residence. But since Katie Marron took her crab claw crackers to 325 Smith Street, Fitzroy, the Rochey has been serving mostly pub grub.
"We quickly realised this was much bigger than a pop-up," says co-owner Stu Moss of the permanent partnership with Tropp. So $1 oysters and chicken parmas are out; and hot chips doused in curry sauce (that was Stu's idea – he's from Manchester) and battered, deep-fried boiled eggs stuffed with masala onion jam are in.
Tropp, whose mother is Keralan, made a name for himself with temporary kitchen takeovers, including at Tomboy, Host and Etta. He's taken four trips to the southern Indian state in as many years, meeting local cooks and adapting their recipes, including fall-off-the-bone chicken in tamarind and Kashmiri chilli sauce, best scooped up with flaky parota flatbread.
Tropp's menu is a mix of traditional street snacks and restaurant-style dishes, with the heat dialled down by 20 per cent for local tastes. "Keralan food can be insanely spicy," he says.
The wine list has had a spruce up, too, with small producers and chilli-friendly varietals on show (Adelaide Hills' Unico Zelo nebbiolo does an especially good job of standing up to complex curries).
Open Mon-Thu 2pm-late; Fri-Sat noon-3am; Sun noon-11pm (kitchen until 10pm daily). Restaurant menu available from 6pm each day, while the bar menu is available during opening hours.
202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 0166, rochey.com.au