Photo: Eamon Gallagher

The team from Melbourne’s San Telmo pay homage to the street-food culture of South America with their new eatery CHE, writes Kerryn Ramsey.

Bringing a touch of Latin America to Melbourne’s Fitzroy was the vision for executive chef Alejandro Saravia, Jason McConnell and David and Michael Parker—the team that runs the Argentine-flavoured San Telmo restaurant and the Peruvian diner, Pastuso. They turned to the architecture and interior design firm, Ewert Leaf, to design CHE, which stands for the teams’ cuisine specialties: chicken, helados (ice-cream) and empanadas.

After they’d selected a heritage-listed building in Fitzroy, they worked with Ewert Leaf’s interior architect Ana Calic to give the space a street vibe feel. The look triggers childhood memories of suburban chicken shops—with a Latin American twist.

“Our intent was to create a humble, authentic fit-out that tied in with the wholesome food they’re offering,” says Calic. But, as she recalls, converting a former chocolate shop into an eatery required plenty of research. “Alejandro and the team shared their many experiences of Argentina which proved invaluable, as well as going to the library and searching through Pinterest.”

While the building is a heritage-listed property, it’s the exposed raw brick in the interior that set the tone. “This gave us a specific colour palette,” says Calic. “The first job was to rip out the plasterboard so we could expose the brickwork, which is the hero of the space.”

Overall, the interior has a minimalist, pared-back look but is rich in materials. Intricate details, such as small handmade Argentinian tiles on the countertop and wall and lamps with large globes make a strong statement. To add some vibrancy, large photographic murals depict everyday street life in Argentina. “The traditional font drew inspiration from vintage signs on street carts in Argentina,” says Calic.

Varied seating options range from stools to banquettes to a large communal table. “The seating ties in with the bones of the building. We didn’t want the chairs to look too new or shiny,” says Calic, who also introduced both low and high tables.

At CHE, the star of the kitchen is the grill. It was positioned so that when diners are ordering food, they can see the marinated chicken that’s slow-cooked in a charcoal oven for 48 hours.

The build took six weeks from demolition to completion and was completed last August.

Since Saravia, McConnell and the Parkers understand the functionality of an eatery, they were hands-on in the initial stages. “We compiled various materials and different samples to show them, as well as different schematic concepts,” says Calic. “They brought plenty of suggestions to the table in the beginning, and that’s why it all works so seamlessly.”


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