HOT: The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

the grand richmond

Melbourne has so many eateries opening week after week that it’s easy to get caught up in the fervour of chasing new dining experiences.

But we musn’t forget the stalwarts of the city’s dining scene, places like The Grand Hotel in Richmond that have been serving happy customers for more than twelve years in Burnley Street.

I confess that despite moving to Melbourne twelve years ago myself I have never ventured to The Grand until last week. I was invited to attend one of The Grand’s special monthly events, The Grand Masters dinner to celebrate the old guard of Melbourne restaurant scene for AFR’s Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants, the only peer voted restaurant list in Australia.

the grand richmond

Branco Cokesa, Alex Almatrah and Peter Watt  are three front of house staff that have worked in the hospitality business for over 40 years and together garnered over 165 (!) chef hats between them. While they served the diners in one of The Grand’s upstairs function rooms, they regaled us with anecdotes about ACDC, Billy Joel, Alan Bond and other celebrities, shared stories about their love for hospitality and the special place The Grand had in their hearts.

the grand richmond

The night highlighted the skill of The Grand’s co-head chefs, two young Italians in their late 20s with Michelin-starred resumes.

the grand richmond

First course was a Battuta di Tonno, a simple tuna tartare inspired by Olimpia Bortolotto’s dish served at Cafe Meni’s in St Kilda.

the grand richmond

The pasta course was a dish that Stephen Downes rated as one of the 100 things you must eat before you die – chef Valerio Nucci’s Vincisgrassi Lasagne. It’s a traditional dish from the Marche region of Italy and not one you’re likely to find on many restaurant menus. The secret ingredients? Pot roasted chuck steak slow-cooked with vegetables and herbs, chopped kidneys brains and liver and lashings of butter!

the grand richmond

The main course was a melting roast porchetta with baby carrots, beetroot and spinach inspired by Bill Marchetti’s Latin, THE place for the rich and famous to dine in the 80s and 90s.

the grand richmond

The finale was developed by the The Grand’s ‘Young Guns in the Kitchen’ a white chocolate semifreddo with caramelised rock melon. It’s not often you see melon on dessert menus these days and the refreshing sweetness was a perfect counterpoint for the richness of the previous savoury dishes.

The Grand is the kind of place that families visit over generations and it has consistently been awarded one hat since 2006.  It’s not flashy or cutting edge but serves authentic Italian food in a warm and inviting environment where you know you’ll be taken care of. Treasure it, Melbourne.

The Grand Masters Wednesday 20 May and Wednesday 27 May

The Como Room, The Grand, 333 Burnley Street, Richmond (03) 9429 2530

Mon – Sun 12pm till 11pm

Fri – Sat 12pm till 1am

Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

hotel lincoln

Hotel Lincoln (sometimes known as The Lincoln) in Carlton is one of the oldest pubs in Melbourne. Its most recent incarnation has turned it into a destination gastropub since new owners took it over late 2014.

hotel lincolnThe outside of the hotel still looks much the same ie slightly seedy and dim but a light refurbishment has turned the Art Deco front bar into a gleaming place for a drink and a chat, while the remainder of the space invites a proper sit down meal.

And the food by chef Lachlan Cameron (ex MoVida Aqui, Supernormal) is attention-grabbing and stunning. It’s not pub grub for uni students – this is fine dining done at affordable pub prices. There’s not a parma or burger to be seen.

The menu spans small plates (7 oz) to medium sharing dishes (schooner) to large meals (pint). Given I wanted to try EVERYTHING I left it in the chef’s hands – $45 for 5 courses of the chef’s choice (they can cater for dietary requirements). They also do a more extensive version of 8 courses for $60 but trust me, you will be very full after 5 courses.

hotel lincoln

First course was from the ‘7 oz’ section – tersely described as ‘spanner crab, corn crackers’. It was a mixture of fresh creamy crab scooped into a delicate and aerated corn shell. Sublime.

Then onto a generous charcuterie platter of local and imported cured meats, including a melt-in-the-mouth jamon serrano, lap cheong-like peasant sausage with a hint of sherry and chilli, a ventricina and squid ink sausage which didn’t have any seafood flavour for me. All accompanied by some hunks of crusty bread and whipped butter.

hotel lincoln

The vegetable dish was a lightly scorched cauliflower with crisp and salted dehydrated cauli leaves – a most unusual way to present a part of the vegetable I normally discard.  The underlying sauce was made of parsley with chunks of roasted almonds.

hotel lincoln

From the main meals I received the only fish dish – salmon, chorizo, clams and stormy lager sauce. Lest you start worrying at this point about your pants spitting, the cut of salmon is about half size. Crispy-skinned and juicy it pairs well with the fattiness of the sausage.

hotel lincoln

The main course comes with a pot of triple cooked chips, perfect in their fluffy/crisp ratio and a nest of cos hearts with house made curd. I’m not sure whether I receive one or two people’s portion of the sides but they were enormous and could not be finished, sad to say.

hotel lincoln

Because I needed to leave room for a dessert – a deconstructed lemon meringue pie. Flaked shortcrust pastry, dabs of lemon curd, cubes of soft meringue and freeze-dried raspberries, all artfully arranged on an ice-chilled plate.

As befits a good local the service was friendly and accommodating. I had stupidly only parked in a 1 hour parking spot so had to rush through my meal – and everyone was fine with that. They even let me take home a doggy bag of the chips!

While I didn’t delve into the drinks list a quick scan showed attention to craft beer and inexpensive wine.

Hotel Lincoln has got to be one of the best gastropubs in Melbourne and I’m floored by how reasonably priced it is. Get there quickly before it becomes over-popular and you can’t just walk in.

Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

Sundays to Thursdays – Noon to 11pm

Fridays & Saturdays – Noon to Midnight

7 Days Lunch & Dinner

Kitchen closes at 10pm

All Day Dining on Weekends

Hotel Lincoln on Urbanspoon

HOT: Public Inn, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine

Public Inn Castlemaine

The frontage of Public Inn Castlemaine is restored gold rush circa 1850s but the inside is now a modern bistro and bar.

The eatery moves from formal to casual seamlessly. You can choose to sit on some drinking chesterfield couches by the fireplace, at the relaxed bistro tables or in the formal restaurant area overlooked by a magnificent wine barrel and stone mosaic wall by local artist Helen Bodycomb. The natural wood/Danish inspired decor creates a calming neutral colour palate.

Public Inn Castlemaine

At lunch time there are several options available at Public Inn. There’s the a la carte lunch menu, a 2 course set menu (available 12-3pm 7 days) and an all-day bar menu of pub favourites from small bites to substantial plates. This makes Public Inn a great all round eating house – especially if you’re trying to find a place open for an early dinner or just want some snacks to match your drinks.

Public Inn Castlemaine

To start we ordered a sharing plate of entrees ($28) consisting of piping hot Istra prosciutto croquettes with a squiggle of creamed sweet corn, mounds of rabbit rillette and my favourite, circlets of smoked Skipton eel wrapped in kaiserfleisch atop some sweet beetroot puree.

Public Inn Castlemaine

To mix it up we then had two courses from the $39 ‘INN and Out’ menu, which included a glass of regional Sangiovese from the barrel wall. The barrel wall is unique because wine is poured directly into goldfields style carafes at various volumes and because the wine is made less than 100 miles from Castlemaine it doesn’t need to be bottled, corked or packaged. They also serve local beer, wine and ciders and on our visit (during a summer heatwave) they even had a spiced radler on top – apparently a refreshing drink sort of like a mix between cider and iced tea.

Public Inn Castlemaine

From the set lunch we picked an entree of turkey breast terrine served with a grape and chilli salsa, dehydrated berry and coriander. The flavours were inventive but the texture of the terrine was too firm for my liking – you could pick up the whole thing with a fork, like a steak.

Public Inn Castlemaine

I much preferred the more classic dish of tender confit of rare Tasmanian farmed Atlantic salmon, served with a blanket of watercress and a shaved citrus and fennel salad.

Public Inn Castlemaine

The highlight of our meal was definitely dessert. Our chocolate plate had three types of chocolate mouse – dark, milk and white – resting on a sprinkling of chocolate soil and crunchy ‘aero’ chunks. One person would have struggled to finish it and it was only $15.

Castlemaine is a great day-trip or mini-break for Melburnians and  I recommend Public Inn for sophisticated dining in a relaxed environment. Because you don’t want to work too hard when you’re dining out on holiday.

Public Inn, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine 03 5472 3568

Open 7 days from 12pm till late

Public Inn on Urbanspoon

HOT: The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee

While I’m generally not much of a pub-going person I do like visiting country pubs that specialise in serving up great meals.

The Plough Inn in Tarrawingee (20 minutes out of Beechworth) debuted in the 2013 Age Good Food Guide with a 14/20 score and it’s the kind of place that you would happily drive especially to visit (particularly if you have kids).

We were invited to try lunch at The Plough Inn thanks to Tourism North East. Ales have been served at the historic wayside inn since 1864 but the menu now is very much Modern Australia with a focus on showcasing local produce. It’s a gastropub in the middle of nowhere with a surprisingly sophisticated kitchen – though if you’re after a parma or burger the bar menu caters to those tastes too.

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee

To start, we shared the Chef’s tasting plate for two ($30). My favourite was the the beetroot cured Atlantic salmon, particularly the interesting colour and textural elements in the form of the pickled baby beetroot and orange jelly.

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee

For mains RM tried the roast rump of Rutherglen lamb with spring vegetables and orange onion jam ($29). The lamb was a little overcooked for his liking but otherwise beautifully presented with an unusual combination of flavours as citrus isn’t often served with red meat.

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee

I ordered the free range duck leg cooked two ways with braised leeks, confit potato and black eyed bean salsa ($29). Again the duck leg was a little overcooked and dry but the parcel of minced duck meat was juicy. The dish was again generously proportioned and I particularly liked the sweetness of the leeks.

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee

Our dessert was the Stanley apple crumble tart with poached rhubarb and vanilla ice cream ($15). The pie had a crumbly and short pie crust and inside was nestled big chunks of braised apple. The rhubarb encircled the tart, alternating poached slices with dots of rhubarb jelly. It was an imaginative rendition of a classic dessert.

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee (8)

The Plough Inn served families particularly well when the weather’s good because they have built a cubbyhouse and play area out the back – the kids can run riot while you sit under the shaded terrace and enjoy your lunch. They are large buckets of toys and books to rifle through even if the weather’s inclement.

Our only complaint was that the food was rather slow in coming, which became stressful after a while because the kids were getting fractious.

I would definitely recommend a visit to The Plough Inn with or without kids – but if you are on a timeframe you should let the friendly staff know from the outset and it won’t lead to any stressful exits or indigestion!

The Plough Inn, 2322 Beechworth-Wangaratta Rd, Tarrawingee 03 5725 1609


HOT: Mad Cow Thursdays, Hotel Nest, 111 Victoria Ave, Albert Park

A steak for $1? Too good to be true, I hear you say.

Well, on Thursdays at Hotel Nest they’ve termed it ‘Mad Cow Thursdays’ when premium John Dee sirloin steaks start from $1 for a 125g steak! The catch is that you’re likely to be spending more than $1 as the larger steaks cost more and sides and sauces cost extra.

While the normal a la carte menu is still available on Thursdays the steak deal was just too good to pass up. We opted for 250g steaks cooked to your liking ($5) plus two sides each ($3) and sauce ($1).

My medium-rare steak was cooked to the right degree with criss-cross charred grill marks and it came with fries and green beans. The side portions were on a measly side so I’d recommend ordering three items to properly fill up your plate.

Evidently word about Mad Cow Thursdays hasn’t got out too far yet. On our lunch time visit the airy Greenhouse part of Hotel Nest, filled with basket ferns hung against a white-washed backdrop, was reasonably empty. It’s not the best steak you’ll ever had but for under $15 in ritzy Albert Park it’s a cheap and filling pub lunch.

My travel to this pub was made possible thanks to the Holden Barina.

Mad Cow Thursdays, Hotel Nest, 111 Victoria Ave, Albert Park +61 3 9669 9744

Tue – Thu: 12:00 pm-12:00 am
Fri: 12:00 pm – 1:00 am
Sat: 10:00 am – 1:00 am
Sun: 10:00 am – 12:00 am
Hotel Nest on Urbanspoon

HOT: Town Hall Hotel, 166 Johnston St, Fitzroy

The Town Hall Hotel is a handsome gastropub where you can expect fine dining quality of food and service, without having to wear your best frock or bear the fine dining prices.

The bistro menu has a heavy Italian focus and spans small, medium and large plates to cater for any appetite (they also have a sharing bar menu). A particularly good deal is their lunch special available Tuesday to Saturdays – 2 courses (with items mostly from the a la carte menu), a glass of wine and coffee for $35.

We visited for lunch on a weekday and were greeted warmly by the waiter. There were only a few diners so service was very attentive, with water glasses filled, orders promptly taken and crumbs and plates cleared.

A friend had recommended their amazing gnocchi so W ordered a medium dish of gnocchi with a simple sauce of aged balsamic, butter and parmesan ($20). D also ordered a medium dish of seafood taglierini ($25) while I went the full hog with the two course lunch special, selecting a sweet corn risotto with quail and crispy pancetta and a raspberry and vanilla cassata for dessert.

The gnocchi lived up to expectations – soft pillows that melted in your mouth with the texture of marshmallow rather than potato and flour. Can anyone tell me what the trick is for such featherlight dumplings?

The pasta was equally simple but well-executed – a seafood melange tossed in a classic olive oil, garlic and chilli mix served over delicate, al dente pasta.

My risotto was perfect – a smooth porridge-like consistency while still retaining the bite of individual rice grains. The dessert was very berry sweet and very cold, a perfect way to appreciate the warm Spring weather on the day.

I’ve also had dinner at the Town Hall Hotel before, when the dining room was much busier, but I think I actually prefer the quieter ambience of the lunchtime. Either way, it’s a refined yet relaxed gastropub that’s worth a visit.

Town Hall Hotel, 166 Johnston St, Fitzroy +61 3 9416 5055

Town Hall Hotel on Urbanspoon

HOT: Marquis of Lorne, 411 George St, Fitzroy

I stepped into Marquis of Lorne and the word that came immediately to mind was ‘lair’.

The tri-level street corner boozer just has an insouciant air of 70s rock and roll about it. It might have been the Rolling Stones covers that the pub band was playing on a Sunday afternoon, maybe the luxurious Sergeant Pepper moustache sported by our skinny-hipped waiter or the bizarre grotto rock cut-out in the dining room. Certainly the vinyl dining chairs and squishy brown couches housed in the sun-filled loft area (leading to a narrow roof terrace) are a throwback to that era.

The menu fortunately is not from the 70s.  Pub classics such as chicken parma and fish and chips do feature, alongside more modern fare like soft-shelled crab and arancini. The menu covers bar snacks, generous-sized mains right through to comfort-food desserts.

We decided to try both the parma ($19) and the beer-battered blue grenadier, salad and chips ($19) as they seemed like a good benchmark for judging the quality of the kitchen’s pub grub. RM went a little more adventurous with pork loin wrapped in prosciutto, pumpkin cake and roasted pear ($25).

The chicken parma was rated highly as the chicken breast had not been overcooked, it had been wrapped in prosciutto and there was a good balance in the rest of toppings – not too cheesy, not too tomato-ey. Tick.

The batter on my fish was suitably crisp and light with no visible pool of oil, the huge mound of fat chips were all fluffy on the inside and I was impressed by the good quality tartare sauce. Another tick.

The pork loin was a strange beast. As you can see, it comprised three knobs of pork and some very sweet pears – and when they said ‘cake’ they really did mean an actual slice of cake, complete with crunchy walnuts. The kind of thing I’d expect to be served with a side of ice cream. Anyway, the pork was juicy enough but with the prosciutto the flavour balance was tipped a little too much on the salty side. While I could understand the need to cut through the saltiness with a contrasting flavour, the other super-sweet accompaniments frankly made the whole plate a little bit too weird for my taste.

Early on a Sunday night we were the only diners but we didn’t feel like our conversation was reverberating around an empty cavernous space. The service was friendly and the whole ambience of the pub is relaxed. It’s the kind of place that you can imagine spending a good couple of hours on a weekend with some mates.

For more good food at local pubs in the area, try the Napier Hotel and the Fox Hotel.

Marquis of Lorne on Urbanspoon

HOT: Fox Hotel, 351 Wellington St, Collingwood

The Fox Hotel is an old-school boozer which outwardly looks more ‘pub’ than ‘gastro-pub’. The venue is an eclectic conglomeration of sticky-carpet-esque spaces, including the high-stooled front bar, the dimly lit dining area, squishy couches, a small outdoor space and a separate pool room. There’s even a rooftop deck which I didn’t have a chance to explore.

However, what attracted me to the Fox Hotel was its reputation for food. Specifically, I’d read on Where’s the Beef that they had an extensive vegetarian menu, quite unusual for a pub. So it was a great destination for (vegetarian) Miss Kish and I to catch up.

As we sat down in the front bar to inspect the menu, Kish remarked “Wow, normally I have no trouble choosing something because there’s only ever two token vegetarian options. This is great!” And if you flip over the page, there’s a whole page for non-vegetarians as well. Very impressive.

We started out with five homemade mushroom and tofu gyozas with dipping sauce ($10). On its arrival I had my doubts – the gyozas looked a little emaciated. Well, looks can be deceiving, as these dumplings were juicy and wrapped in skins of good consistency. In fact I think if they’ve been plumped up with more filling the whole thing could have been too soggy, what with mushrooms generally sweating water when cooked.

For our mains we shared two generous plates – whole field mushroom lasagne with three cheeses and spinach served with chips and salad ($17) and marinated tofu steak with wasabi mayo and a black sesame crust with asian greens, sticky rice and a ginger soy sauce ($17).

I think of the two dishes the lasagne was more successful. It was a cheesy, oozy slab of mushroom, spinach and pasta sheets, an excellent retort to people who insist that they just can’t get full on vegetables. The accompanying salad was crisp and fresh and the chips were great for mopping up the cheese.

There was no hint of wasabi mayo in our tofu steak and the black sesame crust was more of a garnish than a crust. I also didn’t particularly like the sticky rice – it felt more like glugginess of overcooked rice than the elasticity of glutinous rice. Not a bad dish overall, but really outshone by the lasagne.

Though only a weeknight, the pub was full of diners and drinkers and a seemingly popular hangout with locals. Even if you’re not a local, I think that the Fox Hotel is well worth a special trip.

For a pub meal at the other end of the spectrum, check out my review of the meat-tastic Napier Hotel.

  • Fox Hotel, 351 Wellington St, Collingwood +61 3 9416 4957

The Fox Hotel on Urbanspoon

HOT: Little Creatures Dining Hall, 222 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Most people know of Little Creatures through their beer, so it’s great to see this WA-based boutique brewery branch out into a natural partnership of Little Creatures beer served with good pub grub in Melbourne.

The Little Creatures Dining Hall is no run-of-the-mill boozer though. It’s a lofty warehouse converted into a friendly diner, with low booths and easygoing wooden tables and chairs. On the Sunday of our visit it was filled with families and I can see why – the atmosphere is relaxed and hums with enough noise so there’s no need for kids to be hushed, there’s space for running antics, plenty of interesting paraphernalia to poke through and the aisles are wide enough to fit prams.

That’s not to say that it’s just an upscale version of McDonalds though. Firstly, of course, there’s a strong focus on beer and you can do a tasting of all their beers by buying 125ml ‘ponies’ of each.

Little Creatures Dining Hall, 222 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Secondly, the menu, while not being particularly challenging, does go beyond burgers and fish and chips. I tried the pizza with chorizo, feta and unusual pops of sweetcorn ($19), RM had the melting lamb shanks and we share a large bowl of chips ($8) which I was pleased to see still had their skins on.

Thirdly, and this is my favourite, they hire out classic Swedish Kronan bikes for free to anyone who wants them. You don’t have to eat or drink at Little Creatures – just leave an imprint of your credit card and return the bike by sundown/around 6pm (if you don’t return it, you’ll be charged $1000 a bike – you’ve been warned). The bikes come with locks, helmets and back racks. What a great neighbourhood scheme!

Little Creatures Dining Hall on Urbanspoon

HOT: Cafe Provincial, The Provincial Hotel, 299 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

You know you’ve officially turned middle-aged at 30 when you go out for a proper sit-down meal before a gig at the Evelyn Hotel instead of grabbing something greasy from Souvlaki King and downing support act beers.

Second confession. Even when I wasn’t middle-aged I never had a drink at the Provincial Hotel. But I have eaten at the adjoining Cafe Provincial several times over the years and never been disappointed.

So, for our pre-gig sit down meal RM had the day’s special braised beef and bacon pie ($28.50) and I had the Otway pork belly with pear puree, roast sweet potato and rocket ($27). I can never resist pork belly and this was a very good example of the cut – a nice hunk of soft meat beneath a smear of fat and a lightly crispy cover, almost like a creme brulee crackling.

Personally I’m not a fan of pie where it’s just a ramekin covered with a pastry crust (why deny the opportunity to put more butter into your body?) but RM pointed out that this is quite common practice so I could hardly take marks off for that detail. The inside of the ‘pie’ contained generous chunks of meat which seemed to have been cooked with something very earthy, perhaps mushrooms? Anyway,  the rich aromas lifted it beyond your bog-standard pub pie and RM was very happy with his choice.

We really didn’t need dessert but were tempted by the chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream and sweet caramel popcorn ($15). This stylishly presented dessert is definitely more suitable for two or even three people – the slice of tart is really just pure chocolate and a couple of spoonfuls is enough. I liked the contrast of the crunchy popcorn with the creamy chocolate ganache but I will take marks off for the commercial vanilla ice cream without a speck of vanilla bean in sight, plus I think the tart may have been microwaved or heated in some way, as the edges were soft but the inside was quite solid, and the pastry bottom was definitely melting away in butter and crumbs. Strange.

Overall, my niggles with Cafe Provincial were minor and willingly overlooked given the good solid food we were served in front of the open fireplace.

The Provincial Hotel on Urbanspoon