Another catch up dinner with my Hungarian gal pals brought us to the Town Hall Hotel in North Melbourne. This location was my suggestion. We were originally going to dump out at Chin Chin but I was afraid I might overindulge so we changed it to the pub so I could have a steak with salad and vegetables. Resistance was minimal.
Vicky and I arrived early to secure a table but when we walked in, I felt regret about choosing this place. The front bar was dim, cluttered and smelt of stale beer with some creepy old guys scattered in the corners. The walls were covered with rock ‘n’ roll music memorabilia and two chandeliers hung from the old ceiling.
Vicky and I continued through the back door to see if there was anywhere to sit out back. We ended up in the dining room, which was empty except for two girls having a glass of vino and a chat, and a creepy old guy in the corner. The kitchen was visible at the back of the room and the walls were once again covered, but this time in religious images.
Vicky and I went further and deeper into the place, past the greasy smell of the kitchen and holding our breath was we shimmied past the ladies toilet to eventually find the beer garden out back. It looked like it had been recently refurbished and had about 12 bench seat tables, including a few booths along the side. If it was sunny instead of rainy, we could have spent our night out here.
We retreated back into the dining area and tried to find a table but most of them were reserved. What the hell is going on? Is this place THAT good? We found a squishy table big enough for the four of us and claimed it as our own.
Vera and Jo arrived shortly afterwards and after a quick chat, one of the waiters brought over a basket of the sexiest bread I have ever seen. It was still warm, thick, moist and soft, and beautifully fragrant. Oregano and possibly caraway seeds had been kneaded into the dough and each fluffy mouthful was absolutely ambrosial!
The bread did a wonderful job at whetting my appetite, and all dreams of sticking to steak with salad and vegetables flew out the window. I want to experience what this pub is all about. I want to eat their parma.
By the time we ordered, the dining area was packed. There was a line to the bar, all the tables were full and we had to raise our voices a bit to hear each other. The wait for our meals was not noticed.
Vera got the grilled fish of the day served with kipfler potatoes and lemon butter sauce. The fish was trout and she said it was cooked well but the sauce was a bit of a let down. She said it didn’t have enough flavour and almost needed more salt. She did complement the spinach though.
Jo got the Black Angus porterhouse with pepper sauce cooked medium rare, with salad and vegetables. She said it was a good, honest steak but it was cooked more well done than medium rare. The vegetables were perfectly cooked with a little bit of crunch left while the sauce added enough flavour without being fatty. She did say that the salad was red onion heavy but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Vicky got the warm garlic prawn salad with feta, red onion, kipfler potatoes and salad greens. She said the salad was fresh, evenly dressed and well washed, and the potatoes were well cooked. The prawns were juicy and had a perfect amount of garlic, and the lime was a great addition. I got to have one of her prawns and I got a hint of food envy.
I have to admit, despite the food envy for Vicky’s dish, my parma was super sexy, despite the chicken being on top of the chips again. When are they going to stop doing that? I want crispy chips! They were still ok – standard, straight edged chips with some boring tomato sauce as a dressing. I rejected the red and went to the kitchen for a squirt of mustard mayonnaise, eyeing off the fresh herb bread in the pass.
The chicken breast was heart shaped and fresh from the kitchen. My first mouthful burnt my mouth a little. It was evenly covered in well-grilled cheese, subtle napoli sauce and BACON! It was topped with BACON! The chicken itself was of average thickness and while the first mouthful was hot and juicy, the fillet got drier as I worked my way through it. Regardless… bacon.
By the time we finished out meals, the dining room was packed. I was absolutely amazed that a pub could be so quiet after work on a Friday night before exploding with activity at dinner time. It just goes to show that these guys can really dish out some proper pub grub.
If we are in the area at dinner time again, then I will be pulled back for another round. Other menu items that tickled my fancy include the kangaroo with sweet potato mash, spinach and red currant jus and the humble steak sandwich. The atmosphere transformed from awkward to cosy, and the staff were unexpectedly patient and pleasant.
Well done Town Hall – if only I had discovered you sooner…