Tem­ple of Meat

Nes­tled in Syd­ney’s tree-lined eastern sub­urbs sits a shop which has been re­ceiv­ing car­niv­o­rous pil­grims since 1876. takes a butch­ers.

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Mar­bled wagyu steak and an Ital­ian mar­ble floor. A shop win­dow with chunks of rich red flesh art­fully ar­ranged atop an al­tar of il­lu­mi­nated ice. A door han­dle made from a string of sausages, cast in solid cop­per. I can safely as­sume I’ve found the right place. I am a car­ni­vore in Syd­ney, so I’ve made a pil­grim­age to the world’s finest butcher’s shop, the Holy Grail of hocks and haunches: Vic­tor Churchill in Wool­lahra, a place that has been a mag­net to the meaty since 1876.

Ex­ten­sively re­designed in 2009, “Best of the Year” win­ner at the In­ter­na­tional In­te­rior De­sign Awards in New York in 2010, Churchill’s is a tem­ple of tempt­ing corpses, a chapel of chops, a sac­risty of sausages and steaks.

Hung with shoul­ders and legs, ribcages and rumps, it’s a place that might pro­voke post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der in a veg­e­tar­ian but in­duces in me hunger, fas­ci­na­tion, a deep in­ter­nal yearn­ing bor­der­ing on love.

I am not alone. No­to­ri­ously sniffy Bri­tish food critic the late AA Gill, once noted that Churchill’s was the per­fect place in which to cel­e­brate Syd­ney’s “drib­bly, bloody love af­fair with steak”; an ex­trav­a­gantly the­atri­cal butch­ery “that looks like a Tom Ford bou­tique”.

And New York chef An­thony Bour­dain reck­oned it is “the most beau­ti­ful butcher’s shop in the world”, then went fur­ther still, declar­ing Churchill’s “the best food shop I’ve ever seen”.

Me, too. Af­ter glid­ing in the door, I’m met by Re­nee, who agrees to show me around. There’s a sur­pris­ing amount to see. Half­way down the store, three tall, round chop­ping blocks sit be­neath spot­lights be­hind a wall of pol­ished glass: a stage-set for the cel­e­bra­tion of butch­ery as per­for­mance art.

For many years, just in­side the door, an­other dis­play area mocked our me­dia-sat­u­rated age with 20 wall-mounted video cam­eras all fo­cus­ing down on to a sin­gle spotlit plinth where the day’s in­store spe­cial – a plump chop from a chest­nut-fed Cor­si­can pig, perhaps, or a ril­lette of wild rab­bit – sat be­neath a gleam­ing bell jar.

It was a cun­ning lit­tle art-prank, says Re­nee, and cus­tomers loved it, but it took up too much room, so they’ve taken it out now to slap in a cou­ple more el­e­gantly back-lit fridges heav­ing with bits of beast.

It ain’t the meat, it’s the mo­tion. In an­other glass­fronted room, sides of beef cir­cle end­lessly in the “dry

age­ing” zone, hang­ing from a re­volv­ing chain. Like my­self, these dan­gling slabs of pro­tein are in the busi­ness of get­ting more re­laxed and ten­der as they get older.

They hang in front of a wall of back­lit bricks hewn from Hi­malayan salt which flavours and pu­ri­fies the air, the mix of glow­ing white wall, glass vit­rine and re­volv­ing car­casses re­call­ing the work of Bri­tish artist Damian Hirst.

In the char­cu­terie counter nearby, there’s a jos­tle of ar­ti­sanal meats from all over the globe: Ja­mon Iberico de Bel­lota, duck prosci­utto, French re­gional ter­rines, as­sorted game birds who squawk no more.

“Make a mag­nif­i­cent piece of meat the cen­tre of your meal” sug­gests a lit­tle sign. I al­ways do, I think to my­self, even when I’m eat­ing a salad, alone. But enough about me.


Agreed. But all this care­fully chore­ographed meaty theatre just makes me won­der: what is out the back? I am not only an en­thu­si­as­tic meaty tourist, but also a jour­nal­ist, I say. I came all the way from New Zealand to check this place out. What’s the chances of having a butcher’s at the pri­vate bit the pub­lic never gets to see?

Re­nee nar­rows her eyes. Should she is­sue a back­stage pass?

The an­swer ap­pears to be yes. We push through swing­ing doors into the staff smoko room, the usual bowls of half-eaten tucker ar­rayed around a long ta­ble, sink full of cof­fee cups in the cor­ner, a drab do­mes­tic space com­pared to the won­ders of the main room.

But the real rev­e­la­tion is the hall­way; the whole area is a gi­ant black­board, fes­tooned with the graf­fiti of pass­ing in­ter­na­tional chefs.

“They come out here to talk to the boss,” says Re­nee, “and want to leave their mark.” There are chalky scrawls from An­thony Bour­dain, David Chang, He­ston Blu­men­thal, Ben Men­del­sohn, Kylie Kwong.

For years, a dis­play area where mul­ti­ple video cam­eras cap­tured a meaty “spe­cial of the day” was a cus­tomer favourite.

Three cir­cu­lar chop­ping blocks turn a spot­light on the butch­ers’ skills.

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