Rear of 218 Swan Street Richmond (access via Shakespeare Place)., Australia 3121
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 8am-2.30pm|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Events|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9428 2655|
It's not easy being a butcher these days. You can't beat the supermarkets on price. There's Meat Free Monday, the great vegan tidal wave, and it seems like everyone's 13-year-old daughter has gone vegetarian. So what do you do? You differentiate. You add strings to your bow. And if you're really bold, you put a hidden lunch spot at the back of the shop to move more meat, have more fun and jazz up the neighbourhood.
Jason Gabriel opened Berties Butcher in 2012 in a Swan Street shop that's been purveying meat since 1871 – it's one of Australia's oldest butchers. He sources free-range, grass-fed whole carcases direct from farmers and augments this fine, ethical meat with deli goods and salads. Egads, he's even got kale sausages in the fridge.
But Gabriel loves restaurants – he grew up washing dishes in his dad's pubs and he worked at city institution Cookie for a decade. The empty space behind the butcher kept whispering to him: 'put a cafe in me, why don't you?' So he did.
Little Bertie is the result. It's an indoor-outdoor weekday lunch spot, a hideyhole with well-priced food and easygoing cheer. Being here feels a little bit "men's shed" with a touch of hipster: there's hanging greenery, coffee sacks tacked to corrugated tin and a daily menu scrawled on butcher's paper. Inside, black-and-white posters of old-school cleaver-wielding butchers are oddly comforting.
The menu is built around smoked meats, cooked for hours and hours over cherry wood in the backyard smoker. There might be beef rib or brisket, pulled pork or jerk chicken.
Chef Pal Singh oversees the smoker and the kitchen, where one key job is attending to the signature barbecue sauce. It's made with 19 ingredients to a secret recipe but I can tell you that it perfectly balances sweetness and spice and has the right acidic cut-through for rich smoked meats.
The sides are as good as the flesh, a fact not lost on the vegetarians who make up a good chunk of Bertie's custom. You might get roasted sweet potato flecked with herbs, a jaunty salad with quinoa, rocket, almonds and feta, or coconut rice studded with black-eyed beans. A killer mac-and-cheese pops up every week, laden with four cheeses (parmesan, tasty, gruyere and brie) plus bechamel and bacon for good measure. It's hearty stuff.
If you're one of those folks who thinks lunch means "stuff stuffed in bread", Bertie has you covered with a daily brioche (mine had pulled beef, mustard mayo, tomato and pickle and the world went silent as I ate it).
There's also a Reuben sandwich on the roster: house-cured corned beef is cooked overnight then shredded and piled up with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Singh's version of Thousand Island dressing.
Breakfast is a simple grab-and-go affair. There are egg-and-bacon rolls (free-range, of course), spinach roti wraps, pastries, and the coffee machine works at a clip.
If you're thirsty at lunch, there's a basic wine selection and craft beer, though most folks come from nearby offices so the mood is more "brief retreat" than "stonking session". This is beverage-friendly food though, and the backyard setting seems to cry out for parties. It's good to know, then, that you can hire Little Bertie for functions.
Until then, come by day for good meats and great veg cooked with love and served at very fair prices. It's smart retailing and fun dining: Bertie is a little beauty.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)