Vlado’s Steakhouse. A Melbourne institution, where people have gone for over 50 years to enjoy impeccable steak and service.
Michael Gregurek is the son of the late Vlado himself and he and his eldest daughter Nicole were kind enough to host Trading Plates’ for lunch to discuss Vlado’s legacy, the importance of family and crucially, what makes a perfect steak!
Vlado, originally an immigrant from Croatia came to Australia with his wife in the 1950’s, an incredibly difficult time for people to travel in and out of Yugoslavia.
Having always loved food, the self-taught cook who had limited culinary experience first opened Gregory’s Charcoal Grill in Smith Street Collingwood in 1962.
Gregurek puts this success down to a generous bank manager and a bridging loan from a friend, Dennis Farrington. It was only 15 months later that Vlado sold Gregory’s and opened Vlado’s Steakhouse on Bridge Road, in 1964.
So why steak, we hear you ask?
Gregurek says that aside from his father’s love of meat and food in general, there was no proper steakhouse in Melbourne at the time.
“Vlado realised the potential of top quality Australian beef. So he got the best quality material that was available, which really, Australia could always produce and he showcased it,” says Gregurek.
Nothing has really changed in the steakhouse over the last half a century.
The sausages are still made by Vlado’s original recipe and the strawberry pancake recipe is Gregurek’s Grandmothers’.
“Vlado wanted to keep things relatively simple,” says Gregurek nostalgically.
“Rather than having a wider range of things but then having some inconsistencies, it is best to specialise in something and be consistently excellent.”
This philosophy is not only applied in Vlado’s kitchen and restaurant, but also in the sourcing of their produce. The majority of their grass fed meat comes from G&K O’Connor’s, an esteemed abattoir located on the gateway to Gippsland.
“We have had a long standing relationship with all of our suppliers,” says Gregurek.
“Of all our current suppliers, the newest relationship would be 15 years old.”
Gregurek’s daughter Nicole once visited O’Connor’s herself.
“It was very interesting,” she says.
“I am quite a nervy person when it comes to things like that but I thought I should probably learn about my heritage. And it wasn’t just a slaughterhouse like I thought it would be, it was actually quite a nice home for the cattle.
“My Grandfather taught me about what age the steers usually go to slaughter and that when their neck fills out, that is when they are normally old enough to go.
“What is being fed to the animal also affects the taste of it. So, as my father mentioned, our steers are grass fed and my Grandfather taught me how much that makes a difference to the marbling, it is fresher, healthier. You don’t get much marbling in here.
“My Grandfather told me when you kill a steer you want it to be completely relaxed. So it is done humanely and it is literally just a bump to the head, they hit it in the right spot, and the steer dies completely unstressed. So, when it is served, there is no adrenaline in the meat, which can add a toughness and different taste, which is not pleasant to most people’s palettes.”
Mr Gregurek adds that when you are buying meat, if it is really red, that isn’t actually a good sign, because it means the animal has been killed under duress and all the blood has drained.
“Fortunately over the years we have never had to worry about the quality of meat varying,” says Gregurek.
“Of the cuts we offer, the fillet is very soft, it sort of melts in your mouth, whereas the porterhouse has got more flavour and a little bit of chew to it.
“The rump is an acquired taste, very few people order it. Maybe three out of 100 order one. Rump is a bit gameier and if your fillet and porterhouse has to be 100 per cent, your rump has to be 110 per cent.
“There are times when we don’t serve the rump as an alternative because it just isn’t up to scratch. It doesn’t happen very often but it might happen once a year.”
It is no surprise the proprietors at Vlado’s place a lot of value on loyalty and quality, considering the family run nature of the business.
Ms Gregurek says that growing up at Vlado’s restaurant meant even the staff have felt like family over the years,
“We have plaques that all the staff who have ever worked here get to sign. It is fun going through them because for me growing up here from birth, I see names and remember a whole story behind a waiter.
“My Grandfather used to cook morning, afternoon and night and he would usually only get about four hours sleep and he would function on it. The restaurant really was his life and I don’t think there will ever be another man like him, but it is nice that we still have it in the family with our blood running through it.”
Ms Gregurek says that Vlado was famous for not having too have much topping or sauce on the meat, as he wanted to showcase the produce.
“If anyone comes here and they are game to try blue steak, I would definitely recommend it. I started eating it like that when I was a teenager, I didn’t really know what blue was but I didn’t think twice about how they cooked it. And my Grandfather would sizzle it just a little, and my Mother would come in and say ‘ohhh it’s raw, they haven’t even cooked it!’ And I was like ‘oh am I eating raw meat?‘” she says laughing softly.
“I think what was so wonderful about my Grandfather was that he was so used to judging people’s tastes and what their palette would enjoy. So somebody would come in and say, ‘can I try this?’ And he would say ‘okay, I will make you a deal. I will make it for you, but let me make it the way I like it, and if you don’t like it I will cook it the way you want it.’ And then they would negotiate and people would eat whatever he cooked up and normally they really enjoyed it.
“When you watch people, you eventually consider their judgements and it is amazing. I learnt that and hopefully try to apply it to all aspects of my daily life.
“And the way that he cooked his meat, there are a lot of secrets. Even the way he had his steers fed and cared for, it is very old methods. I know a lot of steakhouses didn’t cook the same way as my Grandfather because they said it is outdated, but he said the old way is the best way.
“It goes to show you shouldn’t do things the way everyone else is doing it, do things the way you would prefer. Because that way you will be able to relate to your product and then the people that are supposed to relate to it will come in and enjoy it more.”
One of the two current chef’s at Vlado’s known only as ‘Ivan from Vlado’s’ has been a core part of the kitchen for over 30 years. Aside from the fact he trained with Vlado himself, the kitchen goes through about a tonne of beef a week, so he has certainly had plenty of practise over the years!
His top tips for cooking the perfect steak begins with “buy the best, forget about the rest!”
- Don’t cook on an open grill at home, it is almost impossible, it will burn. Use a flat grill.
- Only turn the steak once because you need to let the heat get through. If you keep turning it all the time, you are burning it on the outside, and nothing is happening in the middle.
- If you are cooking a wagyu you should have it medium plus, a beautiful, magnificent blue or rare fillet, and for a porterhouse I would say medium rare.
Ph (03) 9428 5833