With so many restaurants in Canberra, it certainly feels like we’re spoilt for choice. The problem is that many of them are in the city centre. Fancy occasion coming up? Civic is where the party’s at.
But a new bar and restaurant in Curtin hopes to change that perception and breathe new life into the local shops.
Owner Sam Carlini says that since opening on Monday (10 January), business has been booming.
“We haven’t even announced our takeaway menu yet because we can’t keep up with the tables inside. Everyone has taken us on board really well,” he said.
Two Blind Mice promises to deliver “pub classics with a European twist” to the Inner South suburb, with an emphasis on informal and casual. It is the brainchild of Sam and his long-time hospitality buddy and chef, Josh McDonald, the ‘two blind mice’ in this story.
“I don’t want to go into the city every time I just want a nice drink,” Sam says.
“It’s a pain in the arse to find a park, and especially with COVID-19, everyone is a bit scared of it. I wanted to bring something to the area where locals can enjoy awesome quality restaurant food but in a casual experience.”
He says the invitation is open for locals to turn up in the afternoon and “have some beers rolling into a nice, relaxed dinner”.
Sam played a hands-on role right from the start. For instance, all the timber flooring originates from the old basketball arena at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Bruce, which Sam rescued from a paddock where it had been sitting for 10 years.
“I took all the nails out of it, piece by piece, and re-laid it all in here. It was pretty back-breaking but the finish on it has come up something else.”
Sam says that all of the hardwood used in the venue has been reclaimed, with not a single brand new piece anywhere to be found.
“Why bother buying new, especially when there is such a shortage of timber and the prices for it are ridiculous? Just because it has nail holes in it doesn’t mean it has nothing left to give.”
Sam also handcrafted the two enormous front doors himself after salvaging two structural beams from a house demolition near his home in Curtin.
The door measures 2.7 by 1.4 metres and weighs 150 kg. Sam describes it as exuding “some really serious personality”.
“People say they always remember the things they touch, so all the tables are also made from high-quality repurposed timber.”
The whole design concept was born inside Sam’s head and slots into a space at the Curtin Shops that had sat empty and desolate following the demolition of a building roughly three years prior.
“The building was left empty with big fences around it for years when I decided that Curtin needed a pub. Now I’ve jumped in and done it,” he says.
Sam has been in the hospitality business for 11 years now, starting at Verve in Manuka before meeting chef Josh at the charcoal rotisserie restaurant TERRA Canberra on Marcus Clark Street in the city.
He and Josh collaborated on the menu for Two Blind Mice, which includes wood-fired pizza, pasta, and other savoury nibbles and a bar serving wine, beer, cocktails and spirits.
“I want to keep that casual atmosphere while still ensuring a quality feed. I want people to think, ‘Why am I going to the city and battling the busyness when I can come here instead?'”
The layout is structured so visitors can be readily welcomed from the bar near the front door. An arch at the back of the room leads through to the lower level and the amenities.
All the staff members are “local kids” after a call to arms in the form of a poster in the window that had 150 CVs coming across Sam’s desk.
“I had people who took me under their wings in my first hospitality job,” he says.
“We’re trying to train these kids up and nurture them because hospitality is a great industry and it’s nice to keep it within the community.”
Two Blind Mice in Curtin is open every day from 11 am until late. Bookings are recommended but not necessary.