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Chef/restaurateur Scott Pickett doesn’t hold back when expressing just how jubilant he is over the news he can reopen his restaurants from Friday.
“I’m pretty f…ing relieved that it’s come,” says Mr Pickett, the owner of restaurants including Matilda in South Yarra and The Estelle in Northcote, and author of A Cook’s Story.
Lockdown 6.0 is finally ending and Scott Pickett, the owner and chef of Estelle in Northcote, is relieved he can re-openCredit:Penny Stephens
“You can quote me on that, I’ve got a mouth like a sailor and an old-school chef.”
Mr Pickett’s venues had been war-gaming different scenarios based on when the state might reach its magical 70 per cent double dose vaccination target.
“We thought that might be brought forward from the Monday or Tuesday to the Friday, so now we are just ready to pull the trigger. We will prep Wednesday, Thursday and do our Mise en place and stuff and then Friday, open the doors.”
Mr Pickett was expecting to be able to reopen to up to 50 fully vaccinated people seated outside. However, Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement on Sunday that venues would also be able to have up to 20 fully vaccinated people indoors came as a welcome surprise.
“Whilst it’s not the end game, it makes a massive difference. It’s just about getting the wheels turning again and about getting Victoria going again which I think is a positive step forward.”
Mr Pickett has been no slouch during the pandemic, adding Longrain to his stable when he learned the Thai institution was closing last year and opening Chancery Lane, a European bistro at the top end of the CBD in December. Smith Street Bistro, a Parisian-style bistro in Collingwood, will open later this year.
“We decided to keep our staff busy and keep as many people as we can employed, so we’ve been doing a lot of menu tasting, testing development,” he said. (Insider tip: a hot smoked quail with green peppercorns in a jungle curry at Longrain is his favourite new dish.)
Chancery Lane, Estelle and Longrain will open Friday and Matilda the following week.
“The phone for the last hour and a half has been going off the hook. We have brought our res team in today; we’ve opened up the bookings.”
Mr Pickett said his staff had been completely compliant with getting vaccinated.
“The majority of people that I know are just happy to play their role in the bigger picture of getting the state opened up again.”
He was a bit concerned that staff might be faced with having to refuse service to people who hadn’t been vaccinated but hoped most would be weeded out in the booking process.
“There’ll be some on the night that we have to deal with. Look, I’ll be honest that’s a little bit of a concern, but it’s like when you’ve got to cut someone off from having too much alcohol,” Mr Pickett said. “There’s always those moments in hospitality. It is what it is and we’ll just try our best to deal with the situation when it arises.”
The Australian Hotel Association Victoria said the opportunity to get customers back inside pubs and hotels sooner than expected was welcome news for a sector that had been hit hard by the impacts of the pandemic on their businesses.
“This is particularly the case where they may not have viable outdoor dining options within which to serve customers, for example in land-locked CBD pubs and hotels,” said spokesman Dougal Hollis.
He said venue operators would manage vaccination arrangements for staff and customers in accordance with instructions set out in Public Health Orders.
“Overwhelmingly, pub and hotel staff have been willing to ‘play their part’ to get vaccinated,” Mr Hollis said.
“Pub and hotel staff are used to monitoring and enforcing compliance standards, for example with the service and consumption of alcohol by customers.”
Mr Hollis said ultimately, pub and hotel operators looked forward to being able to open and trade to much more viable licensed venue capacities as soon as possible without the venue capacity limits currently imposed by Victoria’s road map to deliver the national reopening plan.
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