Pub grub’s come a long way since ham steak and pineapple. Here are the bistros, taverns and hotels with the best food on tap in Melbourne.
￼One of Melbourne’s first and finest gastro pubs, O’Connell’s hides its whitewashed good looks in a pretty inner-suburban backstreet and does a nice line in alfresco quaffing behind a wall of potted greenery. The colder months demand the smartened dining areas, replete with wainscoting and cricket memorabilia, where the British-leaning menu suits the season. Beef and Guinness pies with mushy peas leave the kitchen at an alarming rate, closely followed by beer-battered fish and chips, keeping good company with aïoli and a pickled onion – and the British Raj shines through with fried nests of cumin-accented onion bhajis and suckling-pig croquettes with curry mayonnaise. Really, you could be in East London rather than South Melbourne – but the solid Aussie wine list will get your geographical references in order.
407 Coventry Street, South Melbourne; (03) 9810 0086
It’s the Aussie pub from central casting: a corner old-timer that opened in 1854 and has been saved from the good intentions of interior designers. A pub first and foremost, it has 12 craft brews on tap and a wine list that sources drops of lo-fi distinction – a creed that applies equally to the kitchen, where a DIY ethos results in house-cured free-range bacon (try it in a grass-fed-beef burger with chips) and accoutrements such as housemade bread and pickles (say hello to both with the farmhouse pork terrine). A classic two-speed menu lets diners head deep into ye olde territory with Lancashire sausages, mash and caramelised onion, then surface in the modern age with fried chicken to dip in nam jim sauce and pork schnitzel getting its tonkatsu on.
91 Cardigan Street, Carlton; (03) 9347 4666
￼The jewel in the crown of the Yarra Valley, the grand Healesville Hotel has grown into a mini empire with its own butcher shop, provedore and café lining the old-fashioned main street. It’s hard to go wrong hitting the front bar for its gutsy menu – think locally farmed trout cakes and dry-aged steak – but it’d be a shame to miss the charming dining room where the food places it firmly in the category of regional star. The outdoor wood grill puts a smoky spin on everything from coal-baked beetroot with hazelnut, nori and sesame crumble to local Berkshire pork belly with the extra meaty heft of boudin noir, while the service is tuned to match a pub with a statewide reputation.
256 Maroondah Highway, Healesville; (03) 5962 4002 ￼