Geelong-born hospitality veteran Dave Ellis opens his second venue, Ambergris Hotel on Geelong’s central Moorabool Street, offering a quality gastro-pub experience that’s delighting locals and pulling in food-savvy tourists.
Stepping through a series of oak-panelled threshold doors to reveal divine honey-coloured Tasmanian Huon Pine polished floors underfoot sets the scene for exploration through one of Geelong’s most quaint, characterful 1856 Gold rush Victorian-era buildings. Heritage green and burgundy walls are softly lit, painted in the afternoon, with coloured beams filtering through a row of arched leadlight windows. In Ambergris Hotel’s front bar, a recently installed full-length counter features black pressed tin panelling, polished hardwood tops and black granite shelving framed in brushed brass. Above the bar, a row of nautical pendant lamps with Edison globes provides further warming illumination.
‘The renovation was about bringing the building back to its original, raw form’, explains owner/sommelier David Ellis. ‘Over the years, many additions, including vinyl flooring, Laminex benchtops and poor colour schemes, had stolen the venue’s original Victorian-era charm.’
‘While the tables are topped with delicate stemware, we want people to feel comfortable enough to come in knowing that they can have two courses, a glass of wine and a beer and leave satisfied, or enjoy a beer and a counter meal in the front bar,’ says David.
David kicked off his career at Geelong’s La Parisien restaurant in 2003 at a time when David was the only employee under 30 years of age. He later decided to study wine, eventually gaining a level three qualification in WSET (Wine Spirit Educational Trust) – an internationally recognised diploma). During his study, he was fortunate to gain employment at Geelong’s famous Lord of the Isles hotel, where he curated and managed a wine list valued at over $300,000. As his knowledge grew, so did his local and international positions, including Donovan’s in St Kilda, Melbourne, at the time of its two-hat status (before the fire), Harrison’s Port Douglas with chef/owner Spencer Morgan (who trained under Michelin Star UK chef Marco Pierre White) and Whistler, Canada’s highest-awarded restaurant Araxi, where David says he learned to work for gratuities, really pushing to sell his knowledge of wines to customers as a sommelier. Just before opening Ambergris Hotel, David was the sommelier at Campbell Point House on the Bellarine Peninsula. His challenge was to pair up to 24 wines with an alternating degustation menu that featured up to 8 courses per sitting.
Head Chef Jackson Wilde completed his second and third-year apprenticeship with Adam D’Sylva working at both Tonka and CODA restaurants in Melbourne. Jackson explains that having the opportunity to work with Adam changed his expectations and understanding of what can be achieved with food, especially refining the skills required to treat each ingredient with a high level of respect and cooking approach often reserved for meat, fish and game.
‘That wasn’t an experience I was used to, as I was previously exposed to accepting quantity over quality, beginning my apprenticeship at Melbourne’s oldest pub, the Mitre Tavern. Also, I learned great knife and plating skills thanks to Adam, including understanding the importance of uncomplicated plating’, says Jackson.
‘One of the biggest pieces of advice I was given was to consider that if you’re ever looking at food on a plate, and feel it needs something extra, generally the opposite is true – something needs to be taken away. And so I’ve held onto that lesson, always aiming to respect quality ingredients without trying to overcomplicate them with too much technique.’
Ambergris Hotel is a welcome addition to Geelong’s now thriving foodie scene, which includes urban cellar doors, fine dining restaurants and creativity-furnished bars. Ambergris Hotel is a stone’s throw from the now-famous Little Malop Street dining precinct and manages to punch above its weight, providing exceedingly well-presented flavour-memorable meals matched with personable and attentive professional service.