Otis. Brutal by Otis Armada

Author: Lisa Marie Corso
Photography: Ben Clement

As children we're taught not to play with our food. But don't worry: Otis Armada is here to flip the script.

Otis who? Otis Armada is a Melbourne supper club that celebrates communal dining with food, design, installation, music and wine. It was founded in 2014 by Gus Carmichael of Milton Wine Shop (and a front-of-house alumnus of Supernormal and The Builders Arms), who works with creative directors Laura Clauscen, Lauren Stephens and Fred Mora, and executive chef Ali Currey-Voumard (Cumulus Inc, Moon Under Water).

Clauscen, Stephens and Mora are young art directors and designers from Melbourne who run their own design collectives, Practise Studio Practise and Lucky Prawn. (Mora also has a hand in Malaysian eatery Sugar Prawn in Collingwood.) It's their task to bring the theme of each Otis series to life. "We cook up the whole thing from scratch," says Mora, "from location to tableware, to uniforms to napkins."

This May, the theme is "Otis. Brutal". "It'll be a celebration of the ugly or the overlooked," says Stephens. The menu will balance Currey-Voumard's fascination with raw produce, fermentation and undervalued ingredients with contributions from wine importer Campbell Burton, sommelier James Ahearn (Embla), butcher Troy Wheeler (Meatsmith), and the coffee kings at Bureaux Collective. "While the space oozes brutal, the fare will comfort and excite," says Carmichael.

The event takes place in a warehouse in Melbourne's Clifton Hill, with the presentation and service as carefully crafted as the food to bring a sense of theatre to the experience. It's not about molecular trickery, but guests can nonetheless still expect the unexpected. The first course, for instance, will be a spectacle in itself: autumnal dishes by Currey-Voumard served on a prison tray. "Think liver, sweet jam, crispbreads and cultured butter," says Mora. There are no starched white tablecloths or bentwood chairs at Otis Armada; the team are instead taking cues from the "Brutalist buildings that housed educational institutions and government". Last year diners were instructed to play with their food and draw on tables; this year, they'll sit in rows facing the front of the dining hall like school pupils.  

Brace yourselves, people: things are about to get weird.

"Otis. Brutal" by Otis Armada is part of Brutalist Block Party, a series of events presented by Assemble Papers and Open House Melbourne. Tickets to two new dining sessions have just been released for the previously sold-out 2016 series on Saturday 21 May at 6pm and Sunday 22 May at 1pm. For more information visit otisarmada.com.

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