Who knew that the three key ingredients to a good night out were hip hop, cheese and wine? Lewis Jaffrey and Jared Merlino, the two masterminds behind Big Poppa's, definitely did.
"It seems so obvious now that we've built it, but we really didn't know it would be so popular," says Jaffrey. "The idea came from the fact that Jared and I were hanging out and listening to R&B and hip hop and spending thousands — literally thousands of dollars — on good cheese and wine," he says.
Unlike most excellent ideas conceived over a few too many, these two hospitality vets (Jaffrey is ex-operations manager at The Baxter Inn, Frankie's and Shady Pines while Merlino is behind The Lobo Plantation and Kittyhawk) put their money where their cheese hole — uh, mouth — is. Cue Big Poppa's, an ode to Biggie Smalls in the old Hello Sailor digs on Oxford Street.
The renos have seen the space transformed into a compact restaurant upstairs with a small bar, bare brick walls, candle lights and an attractive leather banquette. It's definitely date territory, without being stuffy. Downstairs is a bigger, darker cocktail bar area, which also serves cheese and snacks.
In case you hadn't already caught on, cheese is kind of a big deal here, with about 80 percent of the menu containing it and about 25 cheeses on offer for before/during/after dinner. But don't overlook the rest of the food. Created by chefs Liam O'Driscoll and Jase Barron, it's smart casual Italian, with the likes of kingfish crudo ($17.5), clams with guanciale ($19), baked eggplant with five (five!) types of cheese ($27) and a snappy shaved zucchini salad ($15). The highlight though was the single best piece of burrata I've ever tasted, served with heirloom tomatoes, toasted farro and fig vincotto ($21).
The wine list is pretty sexy — mostly Italian with a good range by the glass like a lovely Soave from Veneto ($12). There's plenty to like in the bottle section under $100, or you can just sip Champagne when you're thirsty.
In a rare occurrence in this lockout-laden city, BP's is open and serving food till 3am. "We want to show the council and the police that we can operate responsibly as a restaurant, and that people like us want to come in and eat and drink till late and not cause a problem," says Jaffrey. You mean, show them that grown ups can act like, er, grown ups? "Exactly."
Get in early though — it fills up fast and they don't take reservations. There's a pleasant lack of attitude on the floor, lead by the affable Jaffrey himself. I bet it's the kind of place you could eat a whole wheel of cheese and no one would even be mad.
The tunes, which are loud enough to do that weird shoulder-shaking chair dance thing, seriously make this venue – and even if hip hop ain't your thing, the atmosphere might convert you. The cocktails too are on-point — as is, well, everything about this place. It seems cheese, wine and hip hop is the perfect combo. And if you don't know, now you know.
Oxford Street's home of hip hop, cheese and cocktails is giving us even more to love with its new aperitivo hour dedicated to the latter two. From 5–7pm every weekday, Big Poppa's is serving up four $10 cocktails and three heavily discounted cheeses. Knock off work a little earlier and head to the upstairs bar or underground lounge for $10 negronis, martinis and spritzes paired with $7 wedges of brillat savarin, parmigiano reggiano and blue cheese (that's half the regular price). The cheeses come paired with jams, honey, fruit and bread, too.
Images: Bodhi Liggett.