It’s hard to keep a good gastropub chef down. To prove it, Melbourne veteran Sean Donovan is back in the game, having just bought Fitzroy’s Town Hall Hotel.
Donovan had a long restaurant career (some of it with Paul Wilson at Radii and the Botanical) before nailing a gastropub formula built on serious produce and sound technique. It saw him build, and subsequently sell last year, two excellent businesses: the Wayside Inn (South Melbourne) and the Station Hotel (Footscray). Now he plans to replicate his successful culinary formula in Fitzroy where, for the past five years, chef turned publican Harry Lilai has successfully plied the waters of wine bar and Italian trattoria at the Town Hall. “I’d be looking to take the place back to more of a fair dinkum pub,” says Donovan, who may settle the deal next month. “I think the pub needs to be a place where you can walk in from the street and get a beer, so I hope to take the Town Hall back closer to its roots.” He says he probably will close the business and make some architectural changes before launching. For Lilai’s part, it’s a great result. “I’m really happy for Sean, he’s a great match,” the former Cecconi’s chef says. Lilai plans some consulting and travel before looking for sites for the next business he will do with wife Michelle Lilai.