It’s the final course

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Berwick’s iconic fine dining restaurant Clover Cottage will close down early next year after its private sale last week.

The existing owner John Chipperfield told the Gazette that the eight-acre Manuka Road property had been sold to an investment company.

“They have no intention to subdivide,” the 72-year-old said.

“There have been a lot of rumours going around but the current zoning wouldn’t allow the land to be subdivided.

“They haven’t purchased it as a business. Whether it’s leased out as a restaurant or not, I have no clue.”

Mr Chipperfield admitted to having lodged an application to council about six months ago to rezone the land from farming to general residential development.

City of Casey CEO Mike Tyler said the council was still in the process of considering that request, along with three neighbouring properties.

“If it was me purchasing the property, I would completely rejig the place,” Mr Chipperfield said.

“Maybe go for something more modern. But trying to copy the place would be suicidal.

“I hope it will get looked after and I’m sure it will.”

John and his wife Engelina had considered closing the restaurant business and living in the cottage, but decided against it given the costs associated with maintaining the property.

Instead they will trade the stressful restaurant routine for a slow country lifestyle, returning to their farms in Gippsland and French Island.

“I’m more excited about food now than ever before.

“We’re going home to the farms in Gippsland and our French Island property with hundreds of acres that overlook the water.

“My dream would be to build a commercial kitchen on our farm.”

The final restaurant night at Clover Cottage will be on New Year’s Eve, with booked functions such as weddings continuing through January and early February.

Mr Chipperfield recalled that the property had been merely a paddock when they, in partnership with Trevor Burr, had bought the land from tea merchant Fred Tuckfield’s estate in 1974.

By this stage the trio had already established themselves as restaurant owners in the Gippsland region.

“There was a farm across the road and the land between Berwick and Dandenong was all dairy farms,” Mr Chipperfield said.

“It wasn’t a bare block of land. There were gardens but everything as you see it today – the cottage and the garden – we designed ourselves.

“I was inspired by my aunt and uncle’s house in Kew as a child and have always loved old English and Victorian-style decoration.

“I’ve had plans for this cottage drawn up since I was about 11 years old.”

The cottage took two years to build, during which time the restaurant operated out of a shop on Berwick’s main street where the Berwick Charcoal Chicken shop currently stands.

The entrance gates were made in 1840 for Oliver Gilpin, the founder of Melbourne’s first cash and carry grocery, while the fountains were imported from England and France.

Clover Cottage opened at its Manuka Road site in 1979, with the Chipperfields living in the original cottage at the back of the restaurant. Their 1860s weatherboard house had been one of two twin cottages that was used as a country retreat by the Armytage family, who owned South Yarra’s Como House.

From the start, the ambience and abundant smorgasbord ensured full-house bookings. In the restaurant’s first 60 days, 58 were booked out.

“My wife has been the heart and soul of Clover Cottage, a real quiet achiever,” Mr Chipperfield said.

“The three of us (John, Engelina and Trevor) have always worked amazingly well together. We don’t argue. We’ve had less than 50 sick days between the three of us in 40 years.

“Next year would mark 50 years of working in the hospitality industry and for 45 of those years we’ve owned our own business.”

The Chipperfields have had many loyal staff members over the year, some staying with them for more than 30 years.

He said he had cooked all but about 14 dinners and that the restaurant had never been open without the Chipperfields being present. He remembered missing just a few days of work and only due to health reasons.

“Being country people, it’s been frightening to watch all the development over the years,” he said.

“It’s very sad and difficult for us to part with the cottage after years of developing the business and servicing people in the Berwick community for a good 40 years.

“What I’ll miss most is our customer base. It’s precious to us. We were so young when we opened up and we’ve seen lots of generations through the restaurant.

“We’ve waited on many celebrities but it hasn’t been the high flyers keeping us alive all these years, it’s been our guests who have saved their hard-earned dollars for a special dinner at the cottage.

“Our suppliers, staff and customers have basically become our acquaintances.

“It’s been an amazing journey.

“But sadly, it’s time.”

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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