Just off Johnston Street within the Collingwood Yards precinct, Hope St Radio is serving simple eats, great wines, but more importantly, it's serving a community. A beret-and-beanie clad community of creative types, emerging artists and electronic music enthusiasts. Now the permanent home of a long-loved community radio station, Hope St Radio is the ultimate neighbourhood hangout where the plentiful pet nats and pastas and lighthearted atmosphere convince even the most uptight among us to leave our worries at the door and enjoy the pleasures of the present moment.
Colourful festoon lights strung between trees, hordes of rugged-up friends gathered around open firepits and thumping music in the courtyard out front hint more towards a music festival than a restaurant. The impression persist as you enter the venue, with the DJ station taking up the prime real estate of the space. Playful, childlike crayon drawings cover the walls. Low-hung light fittings imbue the otherwise slightly chaotic space with a serene orange hue; this golden light echoed in the countless glasses of orange wines being enjoyed across the restaurant.
A glass of the Momento Mori ‘Hope St Rodeo’ Lagrein from Gippsland, ordered from a tracksuit-clad waiter, goes down particularly well on a cold and miserable Thursday evening, as we play catch-up to those around us clearly a few stops ahead of us on the wine train. Collaborations, such as this one with a local Victorian winemaker, seem to be at the heart of Hope St.
The menu is often changing but likely to follow a simple formula: oysters, focaccia, some form of raw fish dish and a carpaccio one, cheese, a pulse or legume and a couple of pastas. Small, plump, sweet oysters arrive first, suitably dressed in a subtle vinaigrette. The waitstaff aren’t sure where they are from (or what exactly is in the accompanying Radio Mignonette), but they think they may be from Merimbula.
The stracciatella is filled generously to the brim of a soup bowl of sorts, laden with a wedge of expertly charred sugarloaf cabbage, capped with a seriously salty anchovy crumb. The little pools of oil forming atop the cheese dripping off the crumb hint at its richness. And because we simply will not let the tinned-fish-hot-girl-food-trend die, we can’t help but feel a childlike sense of joy when the Yurrita Cantabrico Anchovies arrive still in their cute little tin alongside the focaccia. While that focaccia is undoubtedly famous for a reason, eaten all together, these dishes push the sodium boundaries a little too far. Next time we will save our $10 tin of precious anchovies for another time and place. The pasta does no more than it says it will – artichokes, chilli, lemon – with enough olive oil to grease our lips and encourage us to try another Momento Mori tipple, a Moscato Giallo, Verminto, from Heathcote this time.
Dessert is a triumph and leaves the evening off on a sweet and satisfying note. A giant meringue, served on a non-user-friendly, comically small plate, is a joyful juxtaposition of chewy and crisp, crowned with whipped cream, slightly acidic rhubarb and emerald nibs of pistachio.
Let's talk about the elephant – well in this case, the DJ – in the room. The whole restaurant-live-radio-show-mash-up thing cold be seen as a bit of a gimmick. However, with diners and waitstaff alike mingling around the decks, it is clear that the DJ decks are the beating heart, one beating rather loudly to an eclectic variety of tunes, of Hope St Radio; the thing setting it apart from other wine-bar-come-pasta-joints down the road.
While service is laidback to say the least – questions are answered with minimal information, we have to send an incorrect bill back, after asking for it several times in the first place – we get the sense that this is just how the majority of the patrons like it. Those in the know are here to chill and take their time, to bond with the waitstaff over their favourite skin contact wine; caring about something as trivial as a correct bill suddenly seems very not cool. Even the kitchen staff do a brilliant job of making the dishes seem easy and carefree. At some point in the evening we convince ourselves we could easily whip up this lamb carpaccio at home (we all know that isn’t true).
The master behind this deception is up and coming young chef Ellie Bouhadana (of @ellies.table), whose namesake focaccia is a mainstay on the menu, who has found her pasta-making home as the head chef of the Hope St Radio kitchen. It just so happens that on the night we are dining at Hope St, we spot Ellie’s Focaccia making an appearance on the menu of the 30 Under 30 Melbourne Food and Wine Gala Dinner (as we scroll through Instagram stories like bad dinner guests). Ellie’s inclusion in this impressive bunch of young chefs is not only testament to her talents, and the mark she is making on the industry by doing things her own way – confidently and unassumingly – but also to the actual hard work going on in that tiny kitchen.
Hope St Radio is a beacon of hope, warmth and inclusion. Come here to drink and eat (in that order), to leave your cares elsewhere, and to feel part of something bigger than yourself – a dynamic, forward-thinking, intriguing and welcoming community.