Victoria Hotel, 43 Victoria Street, Footscray. Phone: 8320 0315
Like several others in Melbourne’s inner west in recent years, the Victoria Hotel has undergone a rebirth.
Often a lot of the interest and conjecture surrounding such enterprises is about whether the necessary makeover can be achieved while maintaining a down-to-earth pub feel.
Our visit to the Victoria Hotel leaves us with a strong belief that those behind it have achieved just that – and with elan.
In regards to this pub, I have a particularly personal perspective.
Before our now long and happy life in Yarraville commenced, we lived in Seddon.
Middle Footscray was our train station and Hart’s – as it was then known (and doubtless still will be by many …) – was our local.
We were, for a lot of that time, a TV-less household.
So I spent much time across the road at the pub, most of it watching games of the Melbourne Storm and All Black varieties, rubbing shoulders with many types born, like myself, on the other side of the ditch.
In those days, we ate there on just a few occasions – with no great enthusiasm.
From that perspective, I can only marvel at – and enjoy – the change that has been wrought.
They’ve kept the basic superstructure in place and it shows.
There is much dark wood and a central, rectangular bar surrounded by high tables and stools, with regular tables at one end.
There is a single TV screen (not turned on during our visit) and the TAB facilities that dominated the place’s previous incarnation are no more.
The old dining room is still in play, and adjacent to that an outdoor area has been created by leaving much of the old look that was uncovered in the makeover just as is, including …
… some nifty old-school artwork.
Here’s the bottom line: This place still reeks of pubbiness in a way that, for example, the Plough – a couple of blocks up the street – does not.
Likewise, the menu (see below) entices and excites us with what seems like a very savvy mix of pub tucker combined with deft tweaks.
The price range is right in the pub zone, too, and thankfully there are none of those over-priced and silly nods to multiculturism that result in noodle dishes that cost in the high $20s.
There’s a nice crowd in on a rainy Thursday night – most of them families – as we explore.
As you’d expect, the garlic bread ($8) here is not your usual sloppy, foil-wrapped loaf.
Here, the good bread is sinfully dripping with butter, tarragon, parsley and chervil.
Nat loves his black pudding and pork scotched egg with watercress and apple chutney ($14).
I am afforded a sample taste, finding it to be tasty but – OMG – preposterously rich.
The spring vegetable and samphire fritters ($13) are a light delight, expertly fried and served with cucumber and mint yogurt.
I have to look up samphire when I get home – according to Native Tastes of Australia, it’s a “native succulent also referred to as sea asparagus, swamp grass, salicorne, glasswort, pickleweed and sea beans”.
Had we known our fritters would be so similar to the bhaji we regularly eat in Indian joints, very much including the seasoning, we may not have ordered them.
Still, very enjoyable.
It’s a night out, so I am happy for Bennie to go on his usually chosen hamburger way.
But he spies a couple of the double cheese burgers ($22) going by and worries that one of them will not be up to his sharp appetite.
Instead, he asks: “Can I have a steak?”
He’s very happy with his 250-gram $30 rump, cooked medium rare and served with fine salad, anchovy butter and triple-cooked fries.
Nat and I both go for the pork schnitzel with kohlrabi remoulade, the same triple-cooked fries and grilled lemon ($25).
Now, I like beautiful food, but regular readers will know appearances on the plate are not a high CTS priority.
But it’s both surprising and beguiling to find our meals so determinedly monotone – lets call it dijon mustard yellow.
A splash of colour would not go amiss!
The key is in the eating, however – and in that regard, Nat and I enjoy our meals very much.
The pork is quite thick – i.e. not hammered into wafer thinness – and juicy with wonderful piggy flavour.
The salad – effectively a slaw – adds just the right touches of contrasting textures and tastes.
And kudos to the Victoria Hotel crew for taking care of their own fries business in such a homely and fine way.
Bennie and I had originally intended going on a mains-followed-by-dessert journey, but went in another direction when we discovered there is no coffee machine in the house.
Fair enough – and perhaps, for some, that may enhance the place’s pub credentials.
But we can’t come at sweet treats minus espresso.
No matter – the three of us have had a swell time in a venue with enormous and immediate appeal.