Redefining the hotel

first_imgWhen lawyer Bill Kordos came across a photograph of the Water Rat Hotel taken in 1919, he was smitten. With a keen interest in architecture, Bill set out with fellow investor Victor Stroumos to revitalise the historic South Melbourne watering hole. “The culture of the management team is focused on excellence … there’s a very positive energy within the team.”Bill Kordos“It’s been an iconic landmark for over 100 years,” says Bill, who researched the hotel’s history before buying it. “We thought it would be a magnificent opportunity to bring it back to life and create a contemporary fine-dining venue that still resonates in its Victorian grandeur.” And bring it back to life they did. A classy renovation and revamped menu has brought in new customers and kept them coming. Six years after moving into the hospitality business, Bill and Vic’s investment is paying big dividends. Last month the Water Rat won the Best Restaurant (Metropolitan) – Victoria Award given by the Australian Hotels Association (AHA). Along with refurbishing the hotel, the owners made some shrewd appointments to get it where it is today. Offering a menu beyond the usual expectations, created by a chef with imagination and ambition, has been key. Kiwi culinary ace Chris Worley joined the team last year and says realising the Water Rat’s vision is more than making the best chicken parmigiana. “Customers come back for what they try, not for just the standard generic dishes.” While Chris’ menu pays homage to pub favourites, dishes like sun-dried tomato stuffed duck breast with chargrilled vegetable tian and a fig glaze puts some clear blue water between the hotel’s offerings and traditional pub meals. “We’ve gone step by step, it’s about building a relationship with our clients,” says Chris, who points out that since winning the AHA award, prices have remained the same. The business’s commercial success is also down to Lia Spyropoulou, who as Functions and Marketing Manager, alongside chef Chris, make up the only full-time staff. Born in Chalkida in 1987, Lia studied marketing at La Trobe University, before starting at the Water Rat in 2009. Pitched in at the deep end, Lia’s first task was to introduce new cost management systems. Lia’s scope of work not only involves being the public face of the hotel, she also deals with its day to day management, and with 15 front of house staff and four in the kitchen, it’s no small order. “I do all the rosters and daily procedures. I want my own place one day, so this is good experience for me,” says Lia, who won the AHA’s ‘Rising Star’ Award for 2011. Though the Water Rat is Lia’s first job, she’s been a perfect fit. “The culture of the management team is focused on excellence and there’s a very positive energy within the team,” says Bill Kordos. In Lia, that energy is clear to see and hear. “I’ve learned heaps,” admits the young marketing manager, “particularly in terms of dealing with difficult situations and customers.” With an a la carte menu that changes every two months to keep it seasonal, the Water Rat has become known for its wine dinners – six course gastronomic feasts matched with fine wines. “They’re so much fun,” says Lia, who extends her role to be the welcoming host on such occasions. While the restaurant is getting accolades and drawing ever greater numbers, the mainstay of the turnover continues to come from functions. “It’s 60 per cent of our business,” says Lia, “they can be corporate events, birthday parties, engagements, and weddings.There’s a Greek church just two blocks up, so it’s easy for people to come here. We can do 350 stand-ups or 100 for a sit-down dinner.” With no intention of resting on their laurels, Bill Kordos says the next target is already in their sights. “We’re committed to being the premier functions venue in Victoria with a chef’s hat dining rating.” The owners’ passion for the hospitality business is so obviously shared by their staff, and therein lies the reason for the Water Rat Hotel’s recent achievements. “The best restaurant award was a big first step,” says Lia, “but our vision is to be the leading hotel in Victoria. I want us to be the best.” With its winning management team the historic Water Rat Hotel is in good hands, and one of Melbourne’s rising stars in the hospitality industry.The Water Rat Hotel, 256 Moray Street, South Melbourne. Victoria 3205. For bookings call Lia Spyropoulou on (03) 9686 1973 or 0404 10817. Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img read more