For the last of our Good Food Month chef interviews, we’re chatting to Marion O’Sullivan, head chef at P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub.
How long have you been here in Melbourne?
I moved over full time in 2006, so seven years ago. I’ve been here at PJs since early 2007. So yeah, it’s a long time, I’ve been head chef here for just over three years now. It’s been an interesting journey.
Do you like being part of the food culture in Melbourne and Southgate?
Yeah, Melbourne’s great because it’s very food orientated. There’s always something going on – festivals and food shows. There’s always something new to do, like the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival… it’s never the same day twice. Even though we do your basics: your pies and parmies, you can get exciting stuff on your menus too. You get a lot of leeway around here and a lot of support from the people too. PJ’s is great, everyone is open to new ideas, it’s a very encouraging place to work. You can be a bit creative. Melbourne people seem to have embraced Irish food. Especially in winter you’re always busy. Irish food is very rustic and very wholesome.
There is something really comforting about pub food in winter, so what would you recommend from the menu on a cold day?
Probably you can’t beat pies. You’d be stuffed after one. I love them but I wouldn’t be able finish it, anywhere near close to it. But a pie is always good, and stews, if you like, lamb stew is good. Even just having a bowl of soup and a sandwich in winter is a great lunch. Warms the soul a bit of soup.
So the servings are generous here at PJ’s?
Oh yeah, they’re not small!
What is the most surprising thing you have on your menu for an Irish pub?
Probably oysters, I’m quite surprised at how popular oysters are here. ‘Cause they’re popular at home, but just natural, not Kilpatrick. I worked in a seafood restaurant at home and no one ever cooked the oysters. It was all-natural, you opened them to order.
We have an oyster bar here and do a yearly oyster feast. We do it a dozen different ways, that’s so popular we are selling 400 dozen oysters in 2 hours
What do you put up for your classic Sunday roasts?
The most popular roast is the pork – a nice loin of pork, lots of cracking, apple sauce, veggies, lots of gravy and roast potatoes. On a Sunday we’ll sell about 30 kilos of it. You come in, listen to Pat (McKernan) and have a roast.
So it’s about good drinks, a bustling vibe and music.
Yeah, there’s always live music. At the weekends you have the Irish bands, they’ll always brings the Irish crowd in. But then you’ve got the party bands on the weekends too, so it’s a pretty diverse crowd.
I’m sure you also see a lot of the crowd from local events, like the Pink concert.
Whenever there are shows at the Arts Centre you’ll be busy from 6 o’clock when you open until the show starts at around 8 o’clock. Even the footy on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll always get a crowd before the football. There’s always something happening in Melbourne so you’ll never be quiet.
Everyone knows Guinness, but what’s another classic Irish drink that goes well with food?
Well the whiskey, we do ‘Whiskey flights’ during the week. Irish whiskeys all matched with food. We did a pork cutlet this year and bread and butter pudding, quite traditional Irish food that matches well. We’ve got a Scottish one coming up we’re hoping to do haggis for. Fish and chips is good, we use a Kilkenny beer batter. Guinness is like having a meal in a glass, whereas Kilkenny’s that wee bit lighter.
What is the essential Irish ingredient for cooking?
Spuds! Spuds are great with everything. You can have your vegetables and your fish, but if you have a bit of potatoes there, they go that much further in filling you up.
Mashed potatoes with lots of butter and cream, you can’t beat it! Or roast potatoes, either done with duck fat or the fat of the roasting meat. They’re good when you get them nice and crispy and floury in the middle.
What other events are big at PJ’s?
St. Patrick’s Day is always huge. Round the time of the Grand Prix is always really busy. Arthur’s Day in September, we do beef and Guinness pies and everyone comes in for their pints of Guinness. We also do a lot of functions: finger food, canapés, buffets.
You have New Year’s Eve, but not so much for food, it’s just for the venue. Christmas Day is always huge for Christmas lunch. It’s generally booked out quite early for that. I know this year; the Barmy Army people are coming again, so there’s been a lot of enquiries already for Christmas. It will probably be huge this year.
Well, everything is big at PJ’s!
DINE AND WIN!
Order the signature dish (such as PJ O’Brien’s delicious mussles below!) during a weekday lunch Monday-Friday during Good Food Month and go in the draw to win a Southgate Dinner voucher for you and three friends!
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