I remember looking at my son’s barber – you know how they all are now, wearing tailored tweed pants and button-down collars, mustachioed, hair somehow simultaneously pouffed, parted and slicked, bedecked in aprons that look like they should be worn by a 1940s stableboy or butcher – and thinking “I wish my meatsmith looked like that”
Meatsmith first opened on Smith Street Fitzroy in 2015, a retail baby that slid into the Cumulus cluster that also contains Cutler and Co, Marion, Supernormal and the Builders Arms Hotel. Owners Andrew O’Connell (previously O’Connell’s South Melbourne for those of the greater vintages) and Troy Wheeler (ex Peter Bouchier). My nearer venue is in Barkley St near the corner of Acland, and although it hasn’t yet seen it’s first birthday, it is somehow already perfectly wedged into local St Kildian lifestyle. It’s as hipster as a barber in plus-fours, as revolutionary as the first-ever lazy susan and as artful as the Dodger himself.
Meatsmith isn’t just a butcher shop – the reason most people return is the convenience offered by a swathe of pre-prepared items and smallgoods that make mediocre homemakers look like they should be going for a spot on Masterchef. I’ve personally tried their bolognese (children declared it “just as good as in a restaurant”), foie gras parfait (heavy on the cognac, just the way I like it), duck and pistachio terrine (lied and said I made it myself to some afternoon tea guests – they actually believed me) served with their zuni pickle (is ‘zuni’ the newspeak for ‘zucchini’?), several of their sausages and smoked meats, and some twice-cooked pork belly (that crisped up just as nicely as a Chinatown version).
There’s been just as much care and attention put into the selection of Meatsmith’s primary products. Most of the beef comes from O’Connor’s in Gippsland, a family owned supplier with predominantly Hereford and Angus pasture raised beef (in season, Meatsmith also get some wagyu and Maine-Anjou). All the lamb is free range, from a range of small, family-owned farms specialising in heritage breeds, and will have different characteristics throughout the year as the lambing seasons are followed around the country. Most pork is sourced from Glen Eyrie Rare Breeds Farm and processed just 2 hours north of Melbourne (free range and ethically farmed). Again, to keep up with the seasons they also work with Bundarra Berkshires, McIvor Farm and Otway pork. Chicken is all free range of course, sourced from Bannockburn (Geelong), Milking Yard (Daylesford) and Milawa farms.
Meatsmith needs to be looked at in perspective. This is a bunch of food available retail, but is put together with the same thought and artistry as the menu from a hatted restaurant. Yes, it is expensive, but only if you compare it to a standard butcher shop. Considering you can pop in and buy the same slow-cooked lamb shoulder recipe that is served at Cumulus (vacuum sealed with a 14-day use-by window, feeds five for $45 and only needs to be heated up), and it’s in season, local, free range and guaranteed to be tender and delicious, it actually starts to sound quite cheap.
Impulse buyers beware – to the gourmet glutton, entering a Meatsmith store may turn out to be a similar experience as popping into Ikea to buy a $10 lamp, then exiting with a $1000 trolleyfull. Inside, shiny white surfaces (way too clean to revive visions of a traditional butcher) are offset by the tantalizing pink of supreme smoked meat, rows of prettily fat-marbled garnet cutlets, and bouquets of dried herbs hanging from the rafters like visions from the kitchens of Jane Austin fiction. There are glittering jars of natural wines and pickled wonder, wooden boards too pretty to work with, rustic paper packaging housing raw ingredients you’re too inexperienced to use, and a fridge full of kitchen cheats and hacks to inspire even the most facile home chefs. My first in-store experience cost me $250 and fed us with protein for nearly 10 days. I only meant to buy a chicken.
And so, although I still stand by my belief that Meatsmith is not horrendously expensive, I’ve found it’s better to ordering online and do a quick drive-by (St Kilda or Fitzroy), or requesting delivery through YourGrocer.com.au – another fabulous supplier that I will tell you about shortly…