Chef Iain Hewitson and food critic Sigmund Jorgenson started the influential Clichy restaurant in unfashionable Collingwood. The restaurant menu experimented with nouvelle cuisine, described as “original food in the French manner’. The wine list featured the wines of Victoria alongside French wines – a first for Melbourne.
Hewitson and Jorgenson evidently hatched the idea for Clichy over lunch at Carlton’s Jamaica House after Hewitson had left his previous gig at the Lemon Tree Hotel. The choice of the Collingwood venue was a brave one as Melbourne’s inner north (with the possible exception of Carlton) was not fashionable at the time.
In The Age, Rita Erlich reported that Jorgenson was particularly attracted by Hewitson’s way with vegetables. “He was one of the first chefs in Melbourne who didn’t cook the devil out of them so that they still had flavour and texture,” Jorgenson said. In its early days, the restaurant was almost too successful. It was difficult to get a booking. This raised expectations. Iain Hewitson said Clichy was providing “ordinary restaurant food done with care” but it wasn’t good enough for many of the early reviewers. Despite this, the restaurant thrived.
After the first year of operation, Clichy adopted a fixed price menu. It wasn’t the first in Melbourne to do so, having been preceded by Stephanie’s Restaurant in Fitzroy. Hewitson claimed that the reason behind the fixed price was financial. With the ambitious food the restaurant was offering, they could not afford to have people come in, order one or two courses, and stay all night.
The handwritten menus changed daily – in itself an innovation in the 1970s. A typical $30 fixed price menu from 1982 offered an amuse-bouche of chicken and spinach pate en croute, spring onion coulis and a fresh vegetable salad with mango sauce, followed by a choice of six entrees, five mains, five desserts, coffee and friandises.
According to Jorgenson, the fixed-price idea proved challenging to conservative Melbourne, although he thought it would have worked well in Sydney. “When we became licensed it was unworkable,” he said, “because people didn’t know what wines to order.” The restaurant had been BYO until obtaining its liquor licence in 1980.
Hewitson left Clichy in 1982 but the restaurant continued until 1987. By 1984 the fixed-price menu had been abandoned in favour of a more traditional a la carte.