Even on the coldest of days, the pub is always a welcoming respite from the grimness of the great outdoors. But while back in the day, we'd be happy with a plate of hot chips and a pint of Carlton, these days we expect a little bit more. We've had a tour around some of Melbourne's best gastropubs, offering damn fine food and great beer/wine selections too, and highlighted 12 of our favourites. Check them out, and offer us your top tips while you're at it.
THE ROSE | FITZROY
Oft touted as one of Melbourne's best pubs, a shudder of fear rattled through the Fitzroyalty brigade when new owners took over The Rose. They needn't have panicked, because the same shabby chic, with all its quirky charm and proper local feel, has been kept firmly as it was. Though they might not be keen to brand themselves as a gastropub for fear of scaring the punters off, the fact remains that the food offering at The Rose is, and always was, top notch. Ok, it might be just a teeny bit fancier fare these days, with a swish second floor bar and rooftop deck now, but you can still get a proper parma, veal or chicken and a pint for under $30.
HYDE STREET HOTEL | YARRAVILLE
The Vic on Hyde in Yarraville has re-opened as the considerably swisher gastropub now known as the Hyde Street Hotel. An epic internal overhaul is sure to stun locals who haven't popped in in a wee while. With 12 craft beers on tap, the chef's bulging menu features a roasted lamp rump with crushed kipflers and green beans and also a devilish twice-cooked pork belly with candied apple glaze, celeriac puree and watercress. Of course you can go parma, burger or fish and chips if you prefer to keep it simple.
THE NAPIER | FITZROY
Another local Fitzroy hero, The Napier is similarly legendary for its ramshackle, rock star vibe and the stalwarts stuck to their stool, but whether or not they'd be heard dead calling themselves a gastropub, once again the pub grub is magnificent. And we're not just talking about the infamous Bogan Burger with its insane combo of schnitzel, steak, potato cakes, cheese, egg and innumerable other fillings. Nope, you can go the wagyu burger with triple-smoked bacon, or a peppered roo steak or Black Angus porterhouse. If all that meat has you running for the hills, try the homemade, pan-fried gnocchi with courgette flowers, carrot puree, salted ricotta and pistachios. They do have an artist run space, too, so the boho chic is certainly there.
THE GRACE DARLING HOTEL | COLLINGWOOD
Smith Street's sexy bluestone lady, the Grace Darling, has been serving Collingwood for quite some time, but a couple of years back she had a fancy facelift and now slips with stylish grace in the gastropub category. Whether you settle down in the romantically cosy dining room out back for a hot date for two or perch at the bar with a paper and your own sweet company, the pub menu is spot on. Focusing on local and sustainable produce, this gastropub hero does an inside-out free range parma with herb salad, crispy salmon fillets and a yummy veggie burger with spiced lentil patty, confit mushrooms, slaw and pea mayo. The streetside seats are great for better days, too.
BUILDERS ARMS HOTEL | FITZROY
One local legend that has certainly embraced the ra ra and gone glamour to the max is Andrew McConnell's sleek and stylish, white-walled and leather banquette-fitted Builders Arms Hotel. One of Melbourne's best gastropubs, the Builders Arms is an interior designer's dream and a fitting entrant to the empire that includes Cutler & Co, Cumulus Inc., and Supernormal. You'll also find the swish, white linen dining room Moon Under Water on this site, out back. The Builders' fare takes a loving look at the classics, including a knock-out fish pie that brings in the ravenous crowds and a mighty sirloin dry aged on the bone. A rotating rotisserie line-up dishes out different wonders each night, like spit jack chicken Tuesdays and grass-fed beef rump on Sunday arvos.
MITRE TAVERN | MELBOURNE CBD
If you find yourself feeling the hunger in the CBD, head to Back Place's ye olde world-style Mitre Tavern. Like stepping back in time, the pub was founded two years after the city itself, in 1837. You can believe from the little rabbit warren of cosy rooms nestled inside. A mighty fine steakhouse and grill menu offers you the cut that you want divvied up by specific area of provenance, like a Riverina grain-fed eye-fillet or a dry-aged Angus rib eye, or go the $90 share platter with grass-fed wagyu paired with aged grain-fed beef with salad and fires. Hand cut steak fries are liberally coated in tasty truffle salt. If you don't want to go all out, there are parmas, burgers and a tempura flounder.
THE KINGSTON HOTEL | RICHMOND
Richmond is teeming with great gastropub options, but we've decided to plump for Highett Street's Kingston Hotel. Right on the edge of the city, it's a wee bit off the standard Swan Street thoroughfare, but worth seeking out. Taking a contemporary look at Modern Aussie grub, the old school venue, with its big ass, leafy courtyard, does a great steak and pie night (your choice) for only $14 on Wednesdays, or for something a bit fancier go the duck and pinot Thursdays for $25. They fill up fast, so it's worth booking ahead.
COPPERSMITH HOTEL | SOUTH MELBOURNE
A newbie on Melbourne's best gastropub scene, the Coppersmith Hotel is a looker, that's for sure – all pale wood finishes and funky pendant lamps inside, with a brilliant roof terrace making the most of sparkling city views. Chef Daniel Southern, an alumni of The European, Circa, Bistro Guillaume and Comme, is bringing his finely tuned European influences to great pub grub like his tasty fish pie, bountiful burgers and Gippsland venison.
RAILWAY CLUB HOTEL | PORT MELBOURNE
A stalwart on the Melbourne gastropub scene, the Railway Club Hotel is the sister venue to South Melbourne's O'Connell's Hotel. They have a fantastic meat display case so you can pick your own cut and watch it cooked to your exact preference in the open kitchen, providing a welcome bit of theatre with your pub meal. Everything is made on premises, even the ice cream, with highlights including the Cevapcici skinless sausages, the slow-cooked lamb shoulder paired with grilled cutlets and the house-smoked pork belly.
THE LOCAL TAPHOUSE | ST KILDA
With one of the best beer selections in the city, 20-tap strong, and a fantastic roof terrace that works well in all weather, St Kilda's Local Taphouse on Carlisle Street is a great gastropub option for a mighty feed, too. We love the three-beer beef burger with German smoked beer-marinated patty, pilsner-battered onion rings and beer-battered frittes. Also worth checking out are the steak and ale pie and the Tennessee BBQ pork belly sandwich.
THE WINDSOR CASTLE | WINDSOR
You can't miss The Windsor Castle on Albert Street – the Art Deco beauty is painted bright green and has a trio of pink elephants parading on top, for no immediately apparent reason. Drawing a cool, hipster crowd, it's a bloody great pub with a big Tiki-style beer garden. Ticking the gastropub boxes, they do a standout parma, beer-battered fish and chips and a roast chicken and leek pie.
HALF MOON | BRIGHTON
Church Street Brighton's iconic Half Moon is another lovely lady who's invested in her good looks of late; but don't be fooled by the swish architectural flourishes, there's great, down to earth gastropub fare to be had here too. The main bar menu features pub classics like a minute steak with amusingly titled 'fat boy' wedges, a 12-hour wagyu shin burger and shallow-fried calamari.
Main Image Credit: Foodiecrush