Cooking with redgum

The-Woodhouse

From butcher shop to steakhouse, The Woodhouse uses timber as both a  design element and a cooking method. By Kerryn Ramsey.

Located in the Victorian city of Bendigo, The Woodhouse is dedicated to cooking with wood—in particular, redgum. It sources fine local produce from central Victoria, and is renowned for its premium Wagyu and dry-aged steaks and wood-fired pizzas.

When co-owner and chef Paul Pitcher and his wife Danielle took over in 2012, the building already had a long and colourful history. It started life as a butcher shop before becoming a succession of restaurants. When it came on the market, Pitcher was familiar with the venue, having done work experience in the building at the age of 15.

“I’d always had a soft spot for this place and I loved its old-world charm,” he says. “However, it was very run-down and dirty. We removed the old carpet, repainted everything, pulled out the arched front window and replaced it with a modern square. We rendered the exterior and re-fitted the entire interior.”

Being Bendigo’s only dedicated steakhouse is a strong point of difference and the redgum used for cooking was inspiration for the interior. “We have deliberately utilised beautifully crafted timber,” says Pitcher. “The high ceiling is filled with timber rafters painted charcoal-black as a link to our cooking methods.”

A wood-fired pizza oven and custom-made wood-grill were added along with a large double-sided fireplace for ambience in the dining space.

Local furniture designer Simon Wilson (simonwilsonfurniture.com.au) handcrafted wooden tabletops and the feature bar. Food is served on Glenn Tebble (glenntebblehomewares.com.au) designer plates, sourced locally from Bendigo Pottery, Australia’s oldest working pottery and in keeping with Pitcher’s philosophy of embracing local product.

Prior to commencing works, Pitcher spent time in the US researching steakhouse concepts and the venue style he wanted to create. After returning home, with the assistance of family and friends, the renovation was completed within two months. “We did most of it ourselves,” says Pitcher. “My dad, who’s 70, worked alongside us to complete the project in line with my original vision.”

Further developments include the addition of a temperature-controlled alfresco eating area. This space can also be used as a separated area for seated or standing events, adjoining an indoor room to create a versatile indoor/outdoor function area complete with a private bar. The Woodhouse seats 130 people in total and can be easily reconfigured to accommodate larger groups or functions.

The recent addition of a state-of-the-art Dry Ager unit imported from Germany gives The Woodhouse further control in their quest to champion prime, locally sourced beef. “We undertook a small renovation to the restaurant entrance to install the unit right at the front door and frame it in recycled redgum timber,” says Pitcher. “Our guests see the wonderful meat and smell the smoke and timber from the moment they enter. It really adds to the experience and ambience.

“The dry-ageing process tenderises beef and develops a stronger flavour. By using the Dry-Ager, we’re able to increase our range of different cuts and enhance our unique beef experience.”

The Woodhouse has successfully set itself apart in look, menu and cooking style—the ovens consumed 42 tonnes of redgum in their first year. As Pitcher says, “We cook everything with wood and we’re very proud of what we do.”

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