Meet Smithward's Graham & Georgina

If you had asked Graham Hill and life partner Georgina Russell four years ago, where they would be and what they would be doing in late 2018, they would probably be surprised to know they would be running one of Melbourne’s most vibrant and intimate little bars, Smithward, in groovy Smith Street, Collingwood.

Graham had spent the large part of his adult life in radio production and digital radio, working for the ABC and the BBC. It was while he was in London working, that he and Georgina started planning a little break to Paris and Madrid. Georgina had made a career in Arts Marketing working for the National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne Writers Festival and ACMI.

They had always loved cooking and entertaining and "fell in love” with a little bar, La Patache, near where they were staying in Paris. Tiny, it featured interesting regional wines and tasty bar snacks.

Each night they came back to the little bar, getting to know the owner, trying a different wine, enjoying another plate of charcuterie and crunchy bread, getting to know some of the regulars. Soon they began talking about running a bar of their own. It would be an intimate local bar, something that could hold 20 people maximum, where they could feature interesting wines made by small independent winemakers and serve tasty little house made tapas dishes.

They kept talking as they traveled to Madrid, and the idea became more concrete. They came back to Melbourne and a tiny shop came free just where they were looking in Smith Street, Collingwood.

"It didn't sound crazy. The only moment it did sound a little crazy was opening night!" says Graham with a wry smile.

They started off featuring wines from small winemakers from all over Australia, but soon refined it to just wines from small Victorian family wine business. Wineries in areas they could readily visit and build a relationship with the owners. Graham and Georgina make use of the precious days off they now have together, to go out and explore areas new to them to meet new suppliers and source interesting varietals and artisanal foods to serve in their bar.

Graham has really enjoyed forging these new friendships. To his delight, the winemakers often come in to the bar to enjoy a glass of someone else’s wine and meet his customers. Coming in to Smithward as he is setting up on a Wednesday afternoon, and the enticing smell of freshly baked bread greets you at the door and draws you in. Graham makes his own sourdough every day. That’s where you’ll spy the Raclette grill and ham slicer. They will later whir into action, slicing ham and other charcuterie to order and melting the Raclette for the house speciality — molten Raclette served on Graham’s still warm bread or steamed potatoes and crunchy cornichons. On Thurdsay nights they serve up their house speciality Rac'n'Mac, which is grilled Raclette drizzled over baked macaroni cheese, a delicious winter warmer with a glass of interesting red, sometimes that has been a glass of my Mourvèdre or Primitivo.

Graham has found running Smithward unexpectedly rewarding. He finds the greatest compliment from a patron can be "I've never heard of this winemaker or this variety." He loves that people coming to Smithward have discovered a new variety or a new region and planned weekends away simply from enjoying a glass of wine in his bar. I can vouch for that. I have had visitors at the Osteria after enjoying a glass of my wine at Smithward.


48 Smith Street, Collingwood VIC
Open for dinner Wed — Sun

Photos: Bernie Phelan