Yarraville’s new foodie pub

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Hyde Street Hotel, 188 Hyde St, Yarraville. Phone: 9689 2163

As Victoria On Hyde and in our now many years in Yarraville, we’ve had close to no use for these premises.

Sure, an occasional quick-stop for beer and/or wine … but the only time I ever stuck my head inside the pub proper, I promptly fled.

Now, though, oh boy!

The place has been re-branded as The Hyde Street Hotel and given a radical makeover – and we’re very happy to be taking it for a whirl on Easter Eve, about a week after it has opened.

There’s a rather spartan public bar where a limited choice of menu items is available at significantly lowers prices than in the dining room.

There’s a couple of cruisey lounge areas.

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And there’s the dining room itself – airy, bright and attractive. It almost has an outdoor feel about.

It has booths, widely separated tables and lots of room.

The menu starters are in the $10 to $20 range and display the most diversity of the kitchen’s output, with influences from Asia and the Middle East.

From there the menu diverts to regular pub fare, including “classics”, mains including roasted lamb rump and “bbq’d” kangaroo loin, pizzas and steaks – including a kilogram rib eye for two at $75.

Overall, the prices seem less than at the Mona Castle and more in line with the Plough.

We are served well by young staff dressed uniformly in hipster black and our meals arrive promptly, the wait time spent checking the place out and frankly ogling with much interest the plates bound for the tables of other families and groups.

We go for a couple of the classics.

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My fish and chips ($26) hit the spot.

The salad is a fine thing for this kind of food in this kind of place – fresh greens and some finely cut cucumber, radish and red onion, all well dressed.

The fish is three medium-size pieces of rockling that are sweetish, delicate and add up to a good feed.

Plate aesthetics have dictated the fish is placed atop my chips, so some of the latter are spoiled by oil seep – but the rest are hot, crisp and hastily consumed.

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By contrast, I feel a little sorry for Bennie in regards to his choice of the wagyu beef burger ($24), which comes with the same chips.

It appears to be a good, unfussy burger but it simply doesn’t seem to provide him much of a dinner experience.

It’s gone in about two minutes and is a messy handful.

It has good melted cheese, some greenery, sauce and mayo, caramelised onions and that’s about it.

No bacon; just sayin’ …

But brevity of eating has, in this case, no bearing on quality.

As we walk home, Bennie spends the first block or so expounding with passion and enthusiasm on his burger … the deliciousness of the meat, the “crisp on the outside and soft inside” chargrilled bun, the whole deal.

To the point of saying bacon may have been of nuisance value only.

“Next time, you’ve just gotta try it, dad!” he proclaims.

An obvious winner …

Hyde Street Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Back to our former local

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Victoria Harts Hotel, 43 Victoria St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7581

This pub was once our very local local.

That was two moves ago and several years before the advent of Consider The Sauce.

We only ate there once, but yours truly spent time there – much time, actually – watching various football games in the days before a subscription to Foxtel made such unnecessary.

We no longer live so close, but we’re interested in checking out how it shapes up under “new management” – not that that is always, if ever, a particularly hopeful sign.

Inside, all remains much as we recall.

The new crew seems to come straight from the same template as the previous and the kitchen staff are wearing Jack Daniels polo shirts.

I even get called “Darl” when ordering.

The menu is very much your basic pub grub – steaks, some pasta, kids meals with chips for $10, a daily specials blackboard.

Bennie’s dinner desire is not featured on the menu, so he settles for chicken schnitzel ($17).

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The schnitzel itself looks rather ghastly – almost diseased, actually.

But that’s because the cheese is far more grilled than is usually the case.

The certainly brings out the cheesy factor, and Bennie’s meal tastes good to his dad.

And while I’m no expert and could be fooled in this regard, I’m pretty certain this is your actual slab of actual chook meat, as opposed to the re-constituted variety.

The chips and salad are OK, but the former seem to adhere to the dictates of a lack of generosity we seem to be coming across more and more lately in similar meals in similar places.

Health-wise, that may actually be a good thing, but still …

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My bangers and mash ($13 regular price, $10 for me as a blackboard special) looks unglamourous and drab.

But in the eating it is much better.

The snags appear cheap and nasty but are just the kind of tightly-bound Italian-style pork sausages we eat at home.

The mash is hot and plentiful; the gravy is dark and just the right kind of salty.

Both are classic cheap pub grub.

Having ordered this exact same meal in any number of places and received nothing BUT bangers and mash, I am pleased to see and eat the carrot and zucchini on the side.

There’s a big bunch of room in our lives for pubs and pub food that have none of the swishness of the Spottisswoode Hotel, Plough Hotel or Junction Beer Hall & Wine Room.

The Vic seems to be doing a fair job.

And certainly, the fact there’s a heap of locals lining up early in the week for a feed speaks well of the place.

But for similar food presented with a tad more panache, at similar prices and marginally closer to home, we’ll most likely stick with the Mona Castle.

As we depart, Bennie asks with puzzlement: “What kind of pub doesn’t have a burger?”

Victoria Harts Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Nice buns at beer hall

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Junction Beer Hall and Wine Room, 15 Hall Street, Newport. Phone: 9391 8188

The now fading days of the Geelong commute were undertaken mostly by car, but some of it was courtesy of the uncertainties of train.

That often entailed an early evening train switch at Newport, so I spent quite a bit of downtime loitering at Newport Station, sometimes taking the opportunity to do a bit of mostly desultory shopping in the Hall Street shopping precinct.

Maybe it was more about my morose state of mind than anything else, but the recall of those times is largely one of drabness and even a certain sense of menace.

Right in the middle of that shopping strip was a down-at-heel old school boozer.

In Saturday lunchtime sunshine – and with the Geelong trip just a memory – the whole vibe seems quite different.

We pass a couple of busy cafes on our way to what is now Junction Beer Hall & Wine Room.

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The management of the various establishments may beg to differ, but the new-look Junction seems to us to have a lot in common with two other pubs we have been frequenting of late – the Spotiswoode and the Plough.

That extends to the fit-out as well as the food, although the Junction – as befits its full name – has very long beer and wine lists.

Out back there’s a roomy lounge that has – we are tickled to discover – three sofas identical to the Scandinavian-style number that sits in our living room, as well as many other of the same model in different colour schemes.

The Junction has separate food menus for the beer hall and wine room, though they appear to overlap.

The beer hall menu has pizzas and steaks, going for around $30, as well as some novel snacky items such as prawn sliders and fried chick peas with cumin and salt.

But having scoped out the menu before leaving home, we’re pretty sure we know what we’re having so waste no time ordering.

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“This sure is a shiny bun,” says “Five Bowls” Bennie.

Yes, it’s my boy’s first experience with a fancy foodie burger using brioche as its bookends.

His burger with “cheese, beetroot relish, aioli and brioche bun, served with onion rings” ($14) is less of a glorious handful than he is accustomed to, so the sandwich lasts all of about three minutes.

However, the mouthful of burger I snag in the interests of science tastes outright excellent.

The good onion rings are joined on the chopping board platters by some crunchy cornichons.

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Bennie freely casts envious and admiring eyes at my pulled pork sandwich “with house made BBQ sauce and coleslaw” ($13).

That’s only right – as it’s a beauty.

Stuffed between a wonderfully fresh ciabatta-style roll are just the right proportions of chewy, flavoursome pork and tangy, crisp slaw.

Unlike Bennie’s burger, this sandwich IS a handful – and a suitably messy one at that.

Throwing in extras such as fries ($9) and alcohol could see your Junction bill climbing skywards, but the immediate locals would seem to have every reason to be happy about having this foodie pub at hand.

Check out the Junction website – including menus – here.

Junction Beer Hall and Wine Room on Urbanspoon

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Killer burgers in Spotswood

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Spottiswoode Hotel, 62 Hudsons Rd, Spotswood. Phone: 9391 1330

Even with the contemporary makeover, the Sunday night scene at the Spotiswoode is cheerily like any pub anywhere in Melbourne.

There’s family groups all over the joint, couples and single diners, too. Some are watching footy but everyone is having a fine old time.

Some folks are even chowing down on the $10 Sunday roast special this late in the day.

It’s that sooper-dooper special that has seen us return several times since our first visit.

But tonight we’re here to try the broader menu, about which we’ve heard very mixed reports.

We have to report, however, that the meals we see scurrying around us – shanks ‘n’ mash, two kind of ribs, steaks, F&C and pasta among them – look amazingly tasty and very big.

Whether this is testament to a triumph of substance over style, we know not.

But still, we’re wondering if we’ve really goofed by BOTH of us ordering the burger with lot ($15.50).

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Those doubts are accentuated when our meals arrive looking nothing special at all.

That turns out to be largely an optical illusion caused by the large white plates on which our food resides.

The truth is, these are killer burgers – hands-on, gooey, messy, unrepentant macho classics.

The buns are big and fresh.

The good-quality bacon and cheese both taste real fine.

Even the fried egg – something I can and do live without when it comes to burgers – seems just right.

The beef patty is partially charred on the outside, nice and chewy and just the right dimensions in relation to the other ingredients.

Finally, the various green bits and the tomato have a crunchy freshness to match it with the more greasy elements, providing just the right kind of contrast.

Thee are the best burgers we’ve had for a good long while, and the price is a steal.

But we both wonder how they’d go when being assessed by our pal Nat, a hardcore, finger-on-the-pulse Melbourne burger maven if ever there was.

The chips?

They’re a deep brown and look like they may be ace – but they’re just OK.

Spottiswoode Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Getting serious at the Plough

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Plough Hotel, 333 Barkly St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 2878

We attended the opening night party, and we’ve read reviews and comments – including those at Footscray Food Blog.

Now it’s time for us try a meal proper at the new-look Plough Hotel for ourselves.

It’s an early Sunday evening dinner for us, so it’s something of a departure from our usual routine of settling in for the end of weekend night.

At the time we arrive, the landmark pub seems to be about a quarter full, yet it’s already quite noisy. The chatter and hubbub are such that they render the music little more than more background rumbling.

I can imagine that when this place is really packed and jumping, that it may be a matter of shouting instead of conversing.

Still, it’s a cheerful scene and we’re looking forward to some ace food.

There’s never been any doubt that on this particular adventure that I’d lose out to Bennie in the “I’m having the hamburger” stakes.

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His “150g veal pattie served w. caramelised onions in seeded mustard, fresh tomato, lettuce, bacon, cheddar cheese & roasted garlic aioli, served w. beer battered chips” ($21) is pretty good.

For all the fancy words, it is just a burger – and he’s more than happy with that. He rates it an 8 1/2 or 9 out of 10.

I try a few hearty mouthfuls of the meat, finding it has great texture and bite but lacks somewhat in the robust flavour department.

The chips are, truth to tell, a little disappointing … in that they’re merely good rather than being the outstanding we feel entitled to expect from this sort of place selling this sort of food.

And in my case, I have to rescue my chips from underneath the chicken parmagiana ($25) that is squatting atop them.

I’m not the first person to raise this issue, and I’ll not be the last.

One question: Why?

Another question: Would a restaurant serve a steak on top of the accompanying chips?

One solution: Ask the customer their preference.

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My parma itself is very good and very big.

The chicken is beaut – flavoursome, well cooked and juicy.

The cheese layer on top, too, is wonderful, and there’s quite a bit of basil doing good things amid a sauce made with real tomatoes. The gypsy ham doesn’t seem to add any extra flavour.

The salad of capsicum strands, radish and various greens is OK, but Bennie eats most of it.

But here’s an interesting thing about my otherwise lovely parma – it’s crunchy.

Yes, crunchy!

I lift up the cheese topping to discover from whence does the crunch come – only to discover that the cause is raw onion.

Quite a lot of raw onion, actually.

Red onion, mind you, so the flavour does not overpower enjoyment of my meal, especially once I scrape most of it to the side of my plate.

But still, it seems quite odd.

An inquiry made to a staff member elicits the information that the kitchen is aiming for a twist on the typical parma tomato sauce by concocting more of a salsa vibe.

OK, I quite like the sound of that.

But the actual fact of the matter is that there’s nothing salsa-like about my sauce.

What it seems like is fairly typical Napolitana parma sauce studded with quite big chunks of raw onion.

What it seems like is a mistake.

While our meal hasn’t really rocked our world, we like the new Plough heaps and will be back.

Plough Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Plough Hotel – opening party

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Vanessa with oysters.

Plough Hotel, 333 Barkly St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 2878

The new-look Plough Hotel on Barkly St had its low-key official public “open for business” a few days previously, but we’re here for the opening party.

The pub crew have thrown their invite net quite widely so we’re delighted to run into a range of local buddies and celebrities.

The place has been done out in a rather flash-but-nice bistro style.

Whatever the feelings about the fit-out, the general consensus is that it’s a fine thing the job has been done … without pokies!

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Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog with Lilylauren.

Fine beers are on tap, bubbles bubble and much food is consumed.

The pizzas just keep on rolling out of the kitchen. Some are tomato-based, some have spuds and some have sausage meat. They’re all good, but my final slice of the evening – tomato and prawn with a nice chilli kick – is a highlight.

And what’s not to like about free oysters? Although Bennie remains unconvinced!

There’s also meat balls, chicken ribs and marinated olives.

But the big hit of the evening is the incredibly tender and pink crumbed lamb chops dipped in salsa verde.

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The meat raffle girls.

Some folks hit the dancefloor – such as it is – to the strains of some folky romps in the bluegrassy manner.

We shoot the breeze with Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog.

And we meet for the first time some much-appreciated stalwart supporters of both our blogs.

These include Lilylauren and her hubby Andrew, with whom I discuss our mutual enthusiasm for the works of Stephen King.

And we meet serial blog commentator Juz, who has kept me up to date with goings-on at the Plough, and his pals Sasha and Julie.

And they include, too, Jill, Patrick and Cheryl from Spice Bazaar Cooking School.

That’s the party – and what a lovely time we’ve had.

An actual sit-down meal at the new Plough will have to wait for another day …

Bennie and I even have a swell time walking home. That boy sure does like a late-night ramble!

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Julie, Sasha and Juz.

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“Hmmm … still not sure about this oyster business, Dad!”

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Reverence Hotel

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Reverence Hotel, 28 Napier St, Footscray. Phone: 9687 2111

Just as with the now posh Station Hotel across the road, we never set foot inside the Reverence in its previous life.

Perhaps unfairly, we always had it stereotypically tagged as what a friend refers to as a “sooper dooper old man’s pub”.

Although, and as with preconceptions of another pub still standing up the road in Hopkins St, we figure you could throw in a few bikies and crims just for good demographic measure.

All that’s changed – and how – at the Reverence these days.

It’s a two-room music venue of high repute, though I suspect most of the music would be too much of a grinding, noise variety for me even when I’m in my most grungy moods.

But there’s food and more, too, with an accent on Mexican and pizzas.

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A big crowd is building for the Tuesday night trivia bash.

There’s a pleasant beer garden out back.

But most folks, including a lot of family groups, are just like me and here for the Tuesday $3 tacos.

Taco night means ONLY tacos, so sadly I am unable, on this first visit, to try more wide-ranging items from the menu, which you can check out at the pub’s fine website here.

So I order three of the four taco options available – chicken, chilli con carne and bean.

Tofu taco? No way!

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However, so sensational, so delicious are my tacos that not only do I struggle to resist the temptation to order another platter but I also feel sure next time around I’ll be ordering the tofu number just for the heck of it.

My tacos are topped with plentiful coriander, shredded red cabbage, a little red capsicum, corn and lime mayo, each taco dressed a little differently.

I anoint each one with some of the salsa provided and a hefty dollop from one of the variety of hot sauces on hand.

They’re all great, but if anything the bean number is the highlight.

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After my crash hot dinner, I enjoy another wander around – it’ a surprise and a delight. There’s many different rooms and spaces.

I meet ardent Consider The Sauce fan Lousie.

We talk food a bit but mostly about books and reading.

I leave her to finish the final 20 or so pages of Anna Karenina.

Tuesday tacos are served from 6pm to 9pm. By the time I split, at about 7pm, the bar queue to order them is longish, so an early arrival would seem advisable.

Reverence Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Stag’s Head – beer every day

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Stag’s Head, 39 Cecil St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 8337

Whatever the merits or otherwise of Williamstown as a food destination, we very much enjoy cruising the suburb’s back streets, especially those around the beach and its station.

There are heaps of lovely old homes and buildings to be eyeballed and the area seems to be defying whatever gentrification and “progress” is taking place nearby on Ferguson St and Nelson Pde.

One such building is the Stag’s Head, first built in the 1860s and reconstructed in 1887.

It’s a golden oldie and feels like it, even if the current management, fit-out, locals and food aren’t quite of that vintage.

It feels oh-so-comfortable, right from the threadbare carpet and bar full of nick-nacks through to wooden floors seemingly springloaded with age and comical signage.

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Even better, there’s a perpetually free pool table. Maybe it costs that little because at either end there’s walls that get in the way of sensible cue management.

Whatever – one of our games is abandoned because of the arrival of our lunch and Bennie beats his father in the other on a mere technicality (sinking white off black).

There’s a more formal dedicated dining room and a sunny courtyard, but we’re happy to perch on bar stools for our lunch visit.

The menu is compact, runs to two sides of A4 and includes “old favourites” such as chicken parma and  porterhouse for $20, three salads for $15-18 and five lunch dishes for $12.50 apiece.

From the lunch list we choose salt and pepper calamari and fish tacos.

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Bennie’s calamari is really fine – tender, mildly seasoned and of extreme yumminess when dipped in the lovely aioli.

Only problem is, for a lunch dish it’s light-on, with only a small rocket salad with a few parmesan flakes to accompany.

Maybe the key here is to make sure of a dish’s heft before ordering if one is keen of appetite.

In any case, Bennie for sure could’ve done with an equivalent serve of the chips that come with my tacos.

As it is, he makes do with a bag of beer nuts from behind the bar.

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My fish tacos are wonderful.

The fish – hoki from New Zealand – is mildly flavoured but goes beaut with the tomato salsa, red cabbage, chilli sauce and coriander.

The taco shells are, I suspect, store-bought. But I’m cool with that, especially as each taco maintains its structural integrity right down to the final tasty mouthful.

With the good chips on the side, I really enjoy a lovely light meal that seems priced just right at $12.50.

By the time we leave, I’m wishing the Stag’s Head was our local.

Stag's Head on Urbanspoon

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Spottiswoode Hotel

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Spottiswoode Hotel, 62 Hudsons Rd, Spotswood. Phone: 9391 1330

Quite a few months before our fine Sunday lunch at the Spottiswoode Hotel, we’d dropped in merely in pursuit of ATM facilities.

The Consider The Sauce ethos fully embraces bare-bones, old-school pubs, but in this case the gloomy vibe saw us heading for the exit as soon as our business was done.

Since then, the place has undergone a comprehensive makeover.

We’ve been hearing good things about it.

We’ve checked out the menu at the pub’s website, and found it to be meaty, matey and very good-looking.

We’ve been hearing good things, too, about the size, quality and price of the joint’s Sunday roast deal – Thanks, Sue! – so we’re upbeat for our visit.

The renovations have been drastic.

There’s a lot roomy space amid the three co-joined interior eating/drinking spaces.

There’s a lot of wood and vintage brick, comfy-looking armchairs, a big fireplace and a sweet spot outside with umbrellas and a woodfired oven.

And there’s even a room off to the side with pinball machines, into which we later pump a handful of gold coins.

It all looks great and we find the service matches.

The menu runs to a savvy list of pub grub classics and more priced around the $20 mark for main courses.

There’s specials during the week – steak and a drink on Mondays, F&C and a drink on Tuesdays, parma and a drink on Wednesday and curry and a drink on Thursdays, all for $15. We spy, too, another special scrawled on one of the mirrors – $16 for a whole grilled with salad and chips.

But we’re here for the $10 roast.

Thus continues this year’s Consider The Sauce romance of the roast that has taken in the Famous Blue Raincoat, the Footscray Club, Bruno’s Coffee Lounge and even New Zealand.

The Spottiswoode roast deal is as good as any.

The serves look a tad modest, but that turns out to be all about the large plates.

The vegetables – nice selection, cooked but not mushy – are really tasty.

The meat – it’s lamb on the day we visit – is tender and plentiful, although we seem to have struck a portion of the animal that’s quite fatty. No matter.

The gravy is dark and rich.

The spuds are fall-apart tender – if we have any regrets it’s that we don’t get more than the two halves each we are provided.

But that’s a minor issue considering the price, terrific atmosphere and really fine service that sees the needs of each and every table met with aplomb by numerous staff members.

We’re keen to return to explore the regular menu.

Spottiswoode Hotel on Urbanspoon

Rose of Australia Hotel

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Rose of Australia Hotel, 54 Ferguson Street, Williamstown. Photo: 9397 6259

Exterior that emits classy vintage vibes, a narrow hallway leading to the dining room and even more narrow hallways leading elsewhere, friendly service – the Rose is doing its bit to maintain and preserve the tradition of old-school pubs in the western suburbs.

We’d eaten here once before our mid-week visit on a typically wintry Melbourne spring evening, but that’s just a hazy memory from when Bennie was a fractious toddler.

He was often a Very Naughty Boy in those days. Well, extremely trying anyway …

The classic exterior appears to have not changed at all; not so with the bistro.

We’re told the current management has been in place for about five years and the current dining room fit-out for about five months.

It’s still old-school, mind you, and we love the comfy booths arrayed along on side of the room.

So we grab one.

The menu is straight-up pub tucker, though in this instance Bennie is going to have survive without the burger he desires.

My chicken parmagiana ($18.50) is real fine – a thickish slab of flavoursome, juicy chicken topped with the regulation cheese and ham, with the biggest flavour hit coming from a fine tomato sauce.

It’s a much more substantial parma than is conveyed by the above photo.

The chips are fine, too, but I wish there was whole bunch more of them. The salad component is OK but struggles to avoid being labelled “garnish”.

Bennie has never before ordered a mixed grill.

This proves to be not the best place for him to break that particular duck.

At $19.50, it’s described to us as various meats, other bits and “warm potato salad and onion gravy”.

It’s fair to say Bennie’s never seen anything like it.

Nor have I, for that matter.

There’s heaps of smallish but delicious pieces of steak, bacon rashers, a fried egg and a goodly sausage, all smothered in dark gravy. And none of the lamb chop or cutlet we have been expecting.

The salad in the middle has a serious case of caper overkill. I’d imagined spud salad and mixed grill to be quite a workable combo, but what with the gravy and all … it just looks wrong.

Bennie’s a bit overwhelmed, and even resorts to asking for his barely warm meal to be heated up, not that it makes much difference to him.

Despite the unhappy, blameless mishap with the mixed grill – we did, after all get, exactly what was described – we like the Rose.

The Tuesday curry night – choice of one of two, with raita, house-made roti, rice, pickle and papadam for $15 – appears to be particularly worthy of future investigations.

Rose of Australia Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Plough

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The Plough, 333 Barkly Street, Footscray

There are big changes afoot at this prominently positioned Footscray landmark.

The new operators plan to continue running both the food side of the business and its motel aspect.

My informant was unable to provide me with much by way of details – likely to be pitched somewhere in modern Australian/gastro pub in terms of food; likely to be open for business early-ish 2013.

Extensive refurbishment of the premises appears to be at its starting stages.

Mona Castle Hotel

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Mona Castle Hotel, 53 Austin Street, Seddon. Phone: 9687 7636

It’s the end of the working/schooling week and we’ve made it through in pretty good nick.

But the cook – that would be me – is sick of cooking.

Besides, we’ve skipped the grocery shopping on the way home.

Worse still, a classic, typical Melbourne “false spring” has been and gone, and it’s grim and bleak outside.

Getting something delivered doesn’t appeal, either.

What to do?

Oh well, I gee both of us up and we head for the car, knowing not at all where we’re headed.

It proves to be one of our joyful spur-of-the-moment outings.

As will be obvious to anyone who spend more than a couple of minutes perusing Consider The Sauce, pub food isn’t really our “thing”.

Nevertheless, we have eaten at the Mona Castle a few times – twice in the more formal dining room and once from the bar menu.

But all of those occasions are now just dim memories.

After this visit, though, we think: “Why did it take us so long?”

There’s been talk in the past year or so about the death of neighbourhood, inner-city pubs, especially in the western suburbs.

The Mona Castle seems to be happily bucking that trend.

The big public bar space is already busy early on a Friday night as we enter, with about half the merry crowd seemingly adorned with fluoro work gear.

The staff are wearing monogrammed Mona Castle shirts that also bear a strong resemblance to the colour scheme of a certain local AFL team that will not be competing in any of this weekend’s finals matches.

We give the more formal and expensive dining room menu – you can see it at the Mona Castle website – a miss and head straight for the blackboard bar menu.

Oh, gee, what a surprise – Bennie orders the hamburger ($14).

For his father, it’s pie of the day, which – according to the daily specials list next to the blackboard – is tomato and beef and which also costs $14.

The main bar area being jumping and well on its way to being jammed, we adjourn to the back bar, which is festooned with yet more sports memorabilia and is gradually accepting the bar overflow of patrons.

After a gratifyingly short time, our meals arrive.

Bennie’s burger is a mountain teetering on the very edge of the wooden board on which it arrives.

Indeed, as he attempts to get to grips with his sandwich, runny egg yolk oozes from the board to the table.

No matter – this is just the sort of two-handed burger he loves so much these days as the pre-teen growing spurts come and go.

“MMMmmmm, beefy taste – it was yummy,” he says the next day.

He gives it eight out of 10.

My pie turns out to be a real surprise – instead of beef and tomato, it’s chicken curry.

No matter about that, either.

Why return a perfectly good pie to the kitchen, when life’s a lottery anyway?

The pie, in a ceramic dish, is lava-like hot and contains heaps of chicken pieces along with chunks of potato and carrot. The seasoning, of course, is regulation curry powder, but frankly anything more funky or sophisticated would be grossly inappropriate.

I like my pie a lot.

My salad is fine and fresh, with an extremely lemonish dressing.

Our chips are good, but could be a tad hotter and are way, way over-salted.

We’ve loved our dinners and we love the homely, cheerful and welcoming vibe of the Mona Castle.

For a quick, hassle-free and cheap feed it strikes us as a winner when we’re not inspired to travel further afield for anything more exotic.

And as far as pub food goes, the bar menu certainly is an attractive proposition, especially when there’s goodies such as corned beef to try.

And don’t you just reckon this is the sort of place that will do an awesome spaghetti bolognaise?

Flat-screen TVs: Yes, heaps of them.

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Gamekeepers Secret Country Inn

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1555 Melton Hwy, Rockbank. Phone: 9747 1000

The Olde English thing has never worked for me.

I’d be hard pressed to tell authentic Olde English from faux Olde English.

In fact, I harbour suspicions that there is no such thing as authentic Olde English, even though I lived there for a few years a very long time ago.

But as I wander around the somewhat vast dining room of Gamekeepers Secret Country Inn, I rapidly warm to the place.

How can I not when its embracing of the gamey theme is done with such brazen, unapologetic and politically incorrect zeal?

There are formerly live things of the furred, feathered and scaled variety hanging from the ceilings and adorning the walls wherever I look. They’re now very much of the dead persuasion.

It was Keith of the venerable Heather Dell bakery in Yarraville from whom we got the tip about this place, but it’s a taken a year for me to find my way here.

With a drive on the Bacchus Marsh-Geelong road beckoning after lunch is done, I am finding the change of routine a tonic. I have an armful of newly-arrived CDs of the Tex-Mex and swamp pop variety, and even Hawaiian guitar recorded in Paris in the ’30s, to keep me very fine company. I love the internet!

Quite oddly the establishment’s food fare seems to be lacking any offerings of a game-based tucker equivalent of the overwhelming theme of the decor.

The food on the main menu and the cheapo lunch list that is the focus of myself, and presumably the handful of other tables in use for this midweek lunch, features a regular lineup of oysters, pasta, salads, ribs, steaks, a seafood platter, roast duck, garlic prawns and so on.

Typical country pub fare, in other words – its own kind of comfort food. This change of routine, too, can sometimes be a tonic and I’m looking forward to my lunch.

Having already perused the option at the inn’s website, I have my heart set on the corned beef from the lunch list, which also includes braised lamb shank, steak sandwich and beer-battered fish and chips – all for $14.50.

How nice and quirky is it to be charged $14.50 for something – as opposed to, say, $13.99 or $14.99?

The vegetable component of my lunch is very good – they’re cooked through but still have a beaut element of crunch.

The mashed spuds aren’t a patch on the coarse skin-on version we rustle up at home with just olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley, but I like it anyway.

The sauce, using a seeded mustard, has sufficient tang to overwhelm my three medium-thick and very mildy-flavoured slices of corned beef.

Remember back a decade or more ago when corned beef became so very trendy around Melbourne? This is like that – I hanker for the heftier, saltier flavour whack that resides in memory of the corned beef served countless time to me during my upbringing by that most superb of cooks, Pauline Ethel Weir. (Hi Mum!)

Maybe it’s another trick of the mind.

In any case, I save my last slice of Gamekeepers corned beef to savour at the end of my meal, at which point the flavours do come through with a strongish whiff of cloves.

It’s all good and I enjoy my lunch. The bill of $14.50 seems pretty fair for this kind of food in this kind of place.

After eating, I embark on another stroll around, taking in more of the dead critters and the music room upstairs. The entertainment fare seems to be very much of the Kenny, Dolly, Big O and Neil variety.

After paying and exiting, I walk across to the neighbouring Galli winery, where I am knocked out by the gorgeous dining room and peruse their menus, which actually traverse very similar territory and price range as those of the inn I have just departed.

Another one for the hit list!

My first ever drive on the road from Bacchus Marsh to Geelong is pleasant but somewhat featureless, though I do see lots of parrot-type birds – of the live variety this time.

The soundtrack is fabulous.

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Blarney Stone Irish Pub

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35 Anderson St, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 2034

We’ve had a heap of meals at our local pub over the years.

None of them have been great, some of them have been good, some of them have been just OK, some of them we’ve said rude things about.

But where we were once rather dismissive of the pub fare on offer, we are now converts – of a sort.

The catalyst for this is a chilly mid-week night.

We feel like a break from the arduous work/school/eat/sleep routine.

We don’t feel like cooking. We do feel like a quick, cheap feed.

But nor do we feel like hopping in the car for a jaunt to Footscray.

So off we go to peruse our back-yard options.

After examining the bar menu at the pub, and going “Nah, not this time”, we stroll around the corner to Ballarat St.

We check out no less than five menus, and are dismayed to find them all beyond our mood or means.

We’ve become accustomed to the super-cheapness of Lebanese pizzas, so paying $16 or more for an Italian version doesn’t appeal.

Nor do we feel up to paying $24 for pasta.

And so on … and that’s just half the Ballarat St options, but I doubt the rest offer much variation.

Truth is, while Yarraville has myriad good food possibilities, it is sorely lacking the sort of choices that allow us to grab a quick and healthy bite for under $10 each – so easily had in Footscray.

Even at Nando’s or Burger Edge, the bill can exceed budgets, especially when a full-on meal is sought.

And the fish and chip shop lacks seating facilities.

So back to the pub we go.

It still has a metal sign that reads Railway Hotel under the Blarney Stone painted signage.

And therein lies its charm.

While it got swept up in the bloody silly Irish-themed pub syndrome that swept across Melbourne several years ago, nothing has changed.

Sure there’s a bit of Irish artwork around the place, and maybe a few more backpackers and travellers come and go, but basically it remains a well-worn home of a steady and loyal and mostly blue-collar crowd.

No pokies, but much beer and punting

As a holdout amid the solid yuppieness that surrounds it, the Blarney Stone/Railway Hotel is to be treasured.

And as such, applying any of our usual foodie standards – be they concerned with flavour, healthiness or pricing – seems both superfluous and ridiculous.

Even here, though, the bistro is a but rich for us, so the bar menu it is.

Bennie goes for the $12 burger – not for the first time.

This time around, it’s a tidy package that holds together well. It’s more in the style of an Aussie burger than its American counterpart, but he makes quick work of the lot, so to speak. All the chips follow likewise.

I order the chicken parma with chips and salad at a cost of $13.

This is less successful.

Disappointingly, the salad bits are little more the inconsequential embellishment.

The chicken is moist, but more like your typical chicken breast than a flattened piece of chook, parma-style. The very thin slice of ham add a surprising level of flavour and goes well with the cheese and bol sauce.

It’s an unusual option for me to pursue, so obviously I’m no expert. But I suspect it’d fall short of raising robust enthusiasm from hardened parma fans.

Still, it suffices. And the chips are fine.

Presumably, this could be ordered for $10 on a Thursday, which is Parma Night.

Tuesdays are anointed Locals Night and Wednesdays Pasta Night.

Our “local” will never be cherished among our favourites, but sometimes it’s just right.

And for dad at least, it is a handy stopover for a post-work or pre-footy beer.

Take it as it is or not at all.

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Steampacket Hotel

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13 Cole St, Williamstown. Phone 9399 9600

I was in it for the company – which was all to the good, as I’m hardly enamoured with pub food.

Especially after our recent disappointment at the Ashley.

Our most local “local”?

Yikes!

But this was a fun night out – $12 steaks and free entry into that night’s trivia quiz.

My three dining partners – Deb from Bear Head Soup, her bloke Dave and Ms Baklover/Lauren from Footscray Food Blog – had heaps of good things, mind you, to say about the Station Hotel in Footscray.

And between the four of us we fancied we had enough all-round general knowledge – and few areas of arcane expertise up our sleeves – to put in a good showing in the trivia.

My previous visit to the Steampacket had been about five or so years before – to see my mate Ashley and his pals from the Louisiana Shakers pounding out some of their old-style New Orleans jazz.

Like so many pubs in the west, it has undergone change – although not so much as to completely ruin the place.

And there are no pokies!


The place was packed on Thursday’s steak/trivia night – and therein lies the biggest criticism we had.

The noise level was very, very high.

For most of the night it seemed to be at almost rock concert levels, forcing tablemates to shout instead of converse.

Indeed, such was the racket that we – cocooned in the pub’s dining room – were utterly unaware there had been a no doubt loud and raucous thunderstorm outside until I split for a few minutes to move my potentially ticket-attracting car.

The Steampacket boasts an inviting menu and a blackboard of specials at the rear of the dining room. It covers a broad range of steaks, seafood, pastas, salads, burgers, parmas and so on. If I return with Bennie in tow, it’ll likely be for the $11.90 main meal specials that are served on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6pm – see poster below for that week’s line-up.

But as pre-trivia repast, our entire table ordered the same meal – medium rare porterhouse. There are other, more pricey cuts available as part of the Thursday night deal, but none over $20.

We were all pleased with our meals – they did what was expected, if without sending us into raptures.

Steaks of a decent size and little on the chewy side. Yeah, yeah, I know – what did we expect for $12?

My chips were on the flabby side, and I could’ve done with more of them, and the salad bits and pieces were a tad straggly.

But the onion gravy I asked to be served on the side came in a little bowl, and was sweet and delicious for dipping into it every forkful of beef.

Yes, tartare sauce does float in beer.

The trivia was something else.

Bracing ourselves to be quizzed on all sorts of wide-ranging topics, we were instead assailed with probing queries on what amounted to little more than bogan pop culture.

We even had to take a punt on one of five entrants in a pot-skulling contest. We got that one right.

Still, we far from disgraced ourselves – or should that be the other way round, given that we did quite well and considering the general nature of the questions?

Dave stepped up with a few sports answers, and I opined – correctly – that if Winston Churchill had a third nipple I’d have known about it.

In the “sink or swim” section, and basing our answer on the fact that oil floats, we correctly guessed that tartare sauce would float in beer.

The trivia guy proved it – and then got a punter to skull the result. Heck, I don’t think he got any points for his for his brave efforts, either!

But mostly it was a matter of movies, TV programs, pop music and celebs that I’d barely heard of, let alone seen or heard.

When I returned the next day to take some pics, the staff said the previous night’s line of questioning should not necessarily to be taken as normal, and that the trivia quiz differed from week to week.

The Steampacket Hotel website is here.

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