Melbourne’s first rooftop restaurant

Modern day Melbourne is well known for rooftop bars, and even high class restaurants at the top of tall skyscrapers (I’m looking at you Vue de Monde). So in a recent research expedition, I was somewhat surprised to find that 447 Collins Street once had a rooftop restaurant.

Northern facade of the National Mutual Plaza, on Collins Street Melbourne

Completed in 1965 as ‘National Mutual Plaza’, the building made it into the new in January 2012, when a granite panel on the northern facade fell 10 storeys to the plaza below.

I first found a reference to the rooftop restaurant in the May 22, 1970 edition of The Age, in an advertisement sitting beside the newspaper masthead.

Masthead of The Age - May 22, 1970

The name of the restaurant was ‘Top of the Town’ – not to be confused with the current day ‘establishment’ down the seedy end of Flinders Street!

Rooftop restaurant at the National Mutual Centre: The Age May 22, 1970

I’m not sure of the exact opening date, but on the eve of Melbourne Cup Day 1964, the brand new restaurant hosted a fundraising dinner dance that was organised by Edith Bolte, wife of then-Premier Henry Bolte.

Top of the Town emphasised the breathtaking views to be found from the restaurant, such as this advertisement in the dining out guide of The Age – dated February 18, 1969.

Top of the Town restaurant: The Age - Feb 18, 1969

These photos by Lyle Fowler show the view soon after the completion of the National Mutual Centre in 1965.

View from roof of National Mutual Centre - SLV image a44461
Photo by Lyle Fowler, SLV collection. Accession No: H92.20/7649. Image No: a44461

South-west view from roof of National Mutual Centre - SLV image a44463
Photo by Lyle Fowler, SLV collection. Accession No: H92.20/7651. Image No: a44463

By the time the 1970s rolled around, the name of the restaurant appears to have changed – this advertisement from the May 9, 1972 edition of The Age features three restaurants at the top of the town – ‘Nip-In’, ‘Boardroom’ and ‘Pamplemousse’ as well as ‘new decor and design’.

Pamplemousse restaurant, 447 Collins Street: The Age - May 9, 1972

This advertisement for an executive chef dated July 17, 1970 has the restaurant still named ‘Top of the Town’.

Eventually the ‘Pamplemousse’ name stuck, as did the Johnny Edwards Trio: I found this advertisement from 9 November 1979, as well as this one from 30 December 1980:

Pamplemousse restaurant: The Age - Dec 30, 1980

From there the trail dries up: I found a final advertisement dated May 12, 1981 – then a dead end. The Google News archive of The Age itself ends at December 1989, but the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Does anyone out there know when the Pamplemousse restaurant closed?

Footnote

Here is the Google Maps satellite view of the rooftop of 447 Collins Street – there doesn’t seem to be much up there other than air conditioning chiller units and plant rooms. Maybe the restaurant was on the top floor of the office section?

Rooftop of 447 Collins Street

More clues

In March 2012 architectural historian Miles Lewis completed a report on the National Mutual Centre for the City of Melbourne. In it, he cites the following from a contemporary description of the building:

To keep the plaza alive when the office crowds are gone, there will be
out-of-hours use of the theatrette, squash courts, observation deck and roof-top restaurant; and, although a little out of the way for general pedestrian use, the fountain will provide a spectacle worth visiting. …

Architectural historian Peter Andrew Barrett also had this to say in a Facebook post dated June 2014:

Internally the building had squash courts in the roof space (where the signage is), and on the top floor was the upmarket Pamplemousse Restaurant. Diners in the 1960s and 70s at the restaurant could step out on to the balcony after their meals and enjoy the expansive views the building provided.

I wonder if there are any interior photos of the restaurant and rooftop squash courts out there?

Restaurant menu (via Theo K)

Down in the comments section Theo K mentioned they had a copy of the Pamplemousse menu at home – here it is.

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20 Responses to “Melbourne’s first rooftop restaurant”

  1. Simon Russell says:

    I’ve got no photos for you, sadly.

    Interesting conclusion in that heritage document. I guess that’s why we’ll no longer have this building (or the plaza). I guess whatever glass box replaces it will be much less likely to shed panels… And have a much higher floor area.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The relevant part:

      But even to list ten commercial buildings for every decade of the city’s history (in addition to other categories such as public buildings and churches), the result would be ridiculous.

      It raises the question – if you heritage list buildings too easily, eventually the entire city will reach a state of inertia.

      • Paul Grant says:

        My mother often recounts stories of the times and fond memories she has spent working at Top of the Town in the sixties with the live bands.

  2. Rohan Storey says:

    Yes I always thought it was in some kind of setback floor on the roof, like the top of the old RACV club, but there isnt one ! So mustve been just in the top floor. I vaguely remember being told it was there. Think it became an executive dining room in the 80s.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The RACV Club being the one at 123 Queen Street, built in 1961?

      http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn3059672

      The RACV headquarters were at 422 Little Collins Street from 1987, with the first Club being at 94 Queen Street from 1925:

      http://www.racv.com.au/wps/wcm/connect/racv/Internet/Primary/about+RACV/RACV+history/milestones

      • Rohan Storey says:

        Yes the 1961 building. They didnt move until the new Bourke St one opened. that ‘corporate centre’ is an extension to the 1961 building.

        As to too much listing equalling inertia, if only 10 commercial buildings in the CBD were listed from each decade, there would still be plenty of room ! Theres already far more than 10 from each decade before 1940 (about 200 altogether, plus precincts) and only 5 from the whole post-war period (not in precincts), and theres an awful lot not worthy of listing, and in any case a listed building isnt frozen in time, its still used and re-used, so inertia is unlikely.

  3. Andrew S says:

    Melbourne had a strict height limit for city buildings of 32 feet of occupied floors set in 1916 which was a replacement for an older code allowing for reinforced concrete or steel framed structures (the older codes assumed load-bearing walls below).

    By the 1950’s special exemptions were given starting with the ICI Building (itself outside the CBD grid) tying building height to floor space and light angles. The National Mutual Building and Southern Cross Hotel built in the early-mid 60’s on the former Western and Eastern Markets respectively followed these rules hence the open plazas (or balcony in the case of the hotel) at the front of these buildings

  4. mgm says:

    I can’t contribute anything to the history of the restaurant but I remember my Dad taking me and my brother for dinner when it was Top of Town. I still have the matchbook with our photo on the front taking at the table.

  5. Richard James says:

    I have a 35mm colour slide of the Yarra River taken from Top of the Town Restaurant in 1967.

  6. Carol says:

    I have a souvenir sleeve for autographs/photos from 1970. Enjoyed chateaubriand there. Memorable night. Is there anywhere I can donate this souvenir to.

  7. Doug C says:

    Hi there! I worked at the Pamplemousse in the late 1970’s early 1980’s as a chef and have many fond memories of the people and times. The restaurant was on the 20th floor if memory serves me right. The Squash courts were actually on the floor above.
    The restaurant took up approximately 2/3s of the 20th floor on the east end of the building. The Observation deck surrounded all the dining area up to the kitchen. There were excellent views south of the Yarra.
    PS/ I have recollections of a watermelon being dropped from the 20th floor landing on the road in Market Street (stupid!)
    and of the total eclipse of the sun over Melbourne (what a sight)

  8. Theo K says:

    I have a photo of the Pamplemousse menu. How do i attach it

  9. Robyn Counihan says:

    Hi there i waitressed at Pamplemousse in the 70s at lunchtimes and drove the express lift up to 20th floor with guests!! I haven’t got photos. The manager then was Fritz Holler. It wasn’t really a rooftop place, just on the top floor with the narrow balcony part way round for viewing. I recall the artist (name escapes me just now) setting up his Australian paintings for sale outside the restaurant doorway.
    regards Robyn

  10. Chris Bishop says:

    As a very young graduate, I was taken along with my work colleagues to lunch at Pamplemousse in 1972 or 73. I remember the paintings inside as being all representations of girly bits, and on our first visit I thought it was a test to see if any of he newcomers took offence or made a comment. I have no recall of the view or the food, only the paintings. Can Robyn or anyone else comment on them?

    • Doug c says:

      Hi there Chris Doug C here,that painting on the wall behind the Bar was actually supposed to have been a cross view of a pampalmousse (grapefruit).You’d be surprised at how many people thought the same as you about being a picture of lady parts

  11. Carol Burley says:

    Hello Marcus,
    Cleaning out old stuff. Looked up Top of the Town, 447 Collins Street, Melbourne and found your info.
    I have a souvenir photo cover from my night out there in 1970.. I recall it was the place to go for a dining experience. Remember – we all had Chateaubriand which was very impressive. Would you like the cover? I could post it to you or perhaps you know someone else who would like it.
    Regards,

    Carol.

  12. Simon Miles says:

    I also have a souvenir photograph of my family dining there in 1969 when the restaurant was still known as Top of the Town.
    It was owned by Richard Frank, husband of celebrity hairdresser Lillian Frank. Richard owned Pety Sessions and Quarter Sessions too.

  13. Rob Connelly says:

    I worked there as a chef in 1976, had a great reputation and good food.

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