Open for just a couple of weeks, Feast of Merit has become a thriving new addition to Swan Street, Richmond – a strip that has never been recognised for its culinary prowess or savvy hospitality operators.
A cafe, restaurant and bar initiative from social enterprise group YGAP, it is one of Melbourne’s newest social spaces, in both sense of the word. As with all YGAP projects (which also include the Bourke Street cafe Kinfolk), proceeds and profits form Feast of Merit are channeled back to aid projects focused on youth education initiatives in countries including Rwanda, Ghana and Cambodia.
In the Kitchen, head chef Ravi Presser comes from having been a founding head chef at Fonda Mexican, and has also worked in the kitchens of Circa, Bar Lourinha, Mrs Jones and Cumulus Inc. Working closely with growers, producers and suppliers, Presser’s menu is a Middle-Eastern influenced affair, with a focus on vegetable-based dishes that is sure to please anyone who’s a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi. Meat is on the menu for sure, it’s just not in almost everything in the menu, as is de rigueur in most restaurants.
Designed by YGAP co-foudner and interior designer Elena Critchley, the space has a wonderful and genuine feel to its raw, distressed finishes and natural tones. While budget certainly dictates what a space can and can’t be, it’s refreshing to see a new venue open that doesn’t feel overbaked and over-zealously stylised. “We spent a lot more time and effort stripping back,” Elena explains. “We revealed existing concrete floors, exposed brick, and pulled back a lot of old water damaged ceiling to expose timber joists.”
The final element of the Feast of Merit fit-out, a two-storey mural by local artists 90 Degrees, has also now been completed, seeing the spot bring life to its Richmond locale both inside and out.
Elena had a little chat with Open Journal about how the designs, ideas and volunteers that made the project come together.
Outside mural, Dando Street facade, 2014
Describe the general look and feel you’ve created for Feast of Merit?
In line with the sentiment of the food and the general Feast of Merit concept, it’s about being simple, natural, raw and honest. Local salvaged timbers, reconfigured found items and smart use of donated materials come together to give the space a relaxed feel but with layers of texture, history and personality. Each piece tells a story and supports the ‘feel-good’ nature of the project.
What was interesting or unique about the Swan Street site? What was it that made it feel like ‘the one’?
We were looking for somewhere that could host both the restaurant, but also YGAP’s headquarters. As a charity we were very budget conscious and needed something with good bones as a starting point. When we found this site it was running as a café which worked in our favour, as we could could piggy-back off kerbside trading permits and liquor licenses were already in place… It had also recently renovated to include all the bifold windows along the facade.
Having the whole corner site with lots of natural light, the upstairs office space, the courtyard, seating outside and room to grow, supported our vision to create a really vibrant little hub. A hub with lots of people and like minded groups able to come in and use the spaces, host meetings, workshops, functions, have drinks all the while being able to offer really decent, healthy meals – with the proceeds supporting YGAP’s mission.
Once we locked in being able to utilise the top floor space which included the rooftop, we knew it was the one!
What are the main materials used in the space?
We were very conscious of not using material ‘for the sake of it’ and wherever possible tried to minimise consumption of materials and the impact of our build.
We actually spent a lot more time and effort stripping back the existing building to reveal the old structure & brickwork rather than re-cladding. This completely changed the feel of the space and we gained much more height. We lime washed walls and painted out the ceilings white – but there’s a washy softness to the whites with all textures and brickwork peeking through. We used salvaged Victorian timber on banquette seats, reconfigured salvaged & found items to become screens & bar fronts- but not much more than this was added, other than loose furniture and lighting.
The copper pipping forming the shelving fixtures behind the bar is a great addition. Was this custom made?
Indeed it was… It is literally the same copper pipe and fittings you would use for general plumbing. In fact, that’s where I found the idea – watching the plumbers on site, I thought as an internal detail it creates a gorgeous warmth & sparkle.
The copper was donated by a good friend of YGAP who went to Rwanda last year on the volunteer trip, and has been inspired to continue assisting wherever possible ever since. Another volunteer donated a huge amount of his time and skills to build the copper bar – it was no small task!
So volunteers plaid a big part in the project?
The support shown by local suppliers and tradespeople has been amazing, and this is what Feast of Merit is all about: distribution of wealth, engaging the community & celebrating humanity. So many people shared our vision and came to the party by donating time or resources.
Local company Light Project donated all the front of house and external lighting, and local designer Jean-Pierre Biasol designed all the external furniture, and managed to get these donated through Meizai… and Melbourne based LUUS provided some major commercial kitchen equipment.
And the mural?
Some amazing artists called 90 Degrees completed this last week. They also donated their time. The mural tells the Feast of Merit story on the facade and depicts an amazing tribal celebration, thus giving us an incredible street presence now to top the whole project off!
Feast of Merit
117 Swan Street, Richmond
03 9428 8480 | Website
By Matt Hurst