A gastropub is a fairly recent invention and it can be hard to pin down exactly what one is. Not quite a bar and not quite a restaurant, a gastropub is somewhere that puts a near-equal emphasis on quality eating and drinking; somewhere that welcomes beer drinkers and wine snobs, non-fussy eaters and foodies alike.
Here in Melbourne, gastropubs are as ubiquitous as hipsters at a craft beer convention, and some institutions have really raised the bar (pardon the pun). These are our top picks of local gastropubs that have raised their drinks – and their dishes – to an art form.
The Builders Arms
The beloved Builders Arms serves up traditional pub grub with a twist – think dry-aged rib eye with house-made mustard, and spit-roasted chicken with braised beans and bacon. The front bar is frequently packed out so move through to the bistro area for a full menu and table service. The wine list is, in a word, comprehensive, and the dessert menu features a next-level ice cream sundae that’s a hot, heavenly mess of strawberries, cherries and chocolate fudge. If you really want to go upscale, Moon Under Water is the Builders Arms’ dedicated dining space, and offers three, four and six course menus.
The Station Hotel
The Station Hotel is a great reason to go west, young man – it’s got top-notch food, a laidback atmosphere and plenty of craft beer on tap. The menu ranges from freshly shucked oysters and seafood bisque to Gippsland lamb shoulder and ten different types of steak. The signature Station cheeseburger is thick with jalapeño mustard, pickles and onion rings, and the salads prove more than an afterthought, with an outstanding medley of beetroot, Stilton and candied walnuts. There’s a leafy courtyard for al fresco nights, a tight but well-structured wine list, and a butterscotch-steeped sticky date pudding that’ll put you in a stupor (the good kind).
Both the pub side and the restaurant side of the Lincoln dole out delicious pub fare, but we prefer the pub side with its long art deco bar. The menu is divided into four sections named ‘7 ounce’, ‘pot’, ‘schooner’ and ‘pint’ – it’s a cute way to say entrée, main and so forth that neatly tips its hat to the wide range of beers on tap. Snack on crisp Korean-spiced quail or coffee-cured ocean trout before moving onto pork and apple sausages with garlicky mash or a 200g grass-fed eye fillet with cauliflower truffle. A good selection of cheese and cured meats is available along with a 30-strong wine list that’s helpfully categorised as ‘lean’, ‘bright’, ‘structured’, ‘aromatic’, ‘textured’ and ‘deep’.
The Spotted Mallard
The Spotted Mallard is a handsomely-furnished, 300-capacity crossbreed of a classic British pub and a modern live music venue – and probably the only place in Melbourne where you can drink from a duck-motif wineglass. The menu has a Mexican influence and a solid selection of bar snacks – get stuck into some triple-cooked chips served with aioli and hot sauce, or wolf down a piping-hot bowl of blackbean poutine. Burgers arrive on squishy brioche buns, while the bigger meals like beef cheeks and herb gnocchi are all about the pinot jus and butter sauce. The bar stocks an all-star line-up of craft beers and boutique wines from Cake Wines, who donate 10% of their proceeds to independent radio stations nationwide and host the Archi-bottle Prize.
Railway Club Hotel
The Railway Club Hotel is renowned for its really, really, ridiculously good-looking steak and traditional à la carte menu. You can choose your own grass-fed beef from a display fridge and pimp it with béarnaise, truffle butter, and brandy cream peppercorn sauce. Not a fan of steak? There’s a huge selection of seafood as well as house-smoked pork belly and Cevapcici skinless sausages. Aussie reds dominate the wine list and the more delicate whites pair nicely with the three cheese plates on offer, available for one, two, three or four.
Windsor Castle Hotel
The Windsor Castle Hotel is pretty easy to find – it has pink elephants on the roof. Inside, you’ll find a tiki courtyard and upgraded counter meals that focus heavily on pies, parmas and pizzas. You can order food from wherever you’re perched but there’s a dedicated dining room with horseshoe-shaped velvet banquettes which are perfect for group catch-ups. The crinkle-cut chips have acquired cult status in Windsor and the golden-brown pies coming out of the kitchen certify the celebration of carbs. The beer list is crafty – see what we did there? – and while the menu may not reinvent the wheel, it’s a sure bet for smart but casual food.
The Kingston Hotel
The 1880s Kingston Hotel has an old-world atmosphere that harbours interesting bits of Melbourne’s history – Paul Kelly's first ever gig was held in what is now the restaurant. The kitchen has an Asian and Italian influence with lots of chilli, shallots, garlic and cheese. Flinders Island goat is braised on the bone with fennel, white wine, coriander and truffled pecorino, while a trio of donuts filled with vanilla custard are prettily dusted with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with milk chocolate. The wine menu is extensive, encompassing both fortified and digestives, and there’s a Duck & Pinot special on Thursdays as well as Steak Night on Wednesdays.
Hyde Street Hotel
A relatively new addition to Yarraville’s pub scene, the Hyde Street Hotel is housed in what was formerly Victoria on Hyde. There’s a dedicated dining room area, a ramped-up wine list and a menu that focuses on hearty mains and house-made pizza. Smokey BBQ chicken wings are sweet, smoky and just the right amount of sticky, while a Vietnamese mint potato rosti provides the perfect foil to crispy skin pork belly. An entire page of the menu is dedicated to items for sharing, the majority of wines are available by the glass, and the local ales have a few darker porters and stouts thrown in for good measure.
The heritage-listed Metropolitan Hotel has a beautiful high-ceilinged dining room and a cosy public bar with stained-glass windows. Unsurprisingly for a place that used to be a Meat Market, they’re big on steak: there’s an 1824 dry-aged eye fillet on the mains menu, and a Bavette steak cut from the flank and shallow fried. Other mains have a cosmopolitan flair – think duck confit risotto, milk-fed lamb and beef bourguignon pie – but there’s still a bloody good parma and cheesy arancini balls for those seeking the classics. Effortlessly interesting things to drink — either by the bottle or from the tap — round out a reliably elegant experience.
The Terminus Hotel
The Terminus has been part of North Fitzroy’s community for almost 150 years, and boasts a beer-friendly menu of spicy Vietnamese snacks as well as a killer beer garden. Did we say ‘beer’? It’s definitely a focal point here, with 16 brews on tap and fridges full of bottles imported from Australian and overseas microbreweries. The food serves the pub cornerstones of fish ‘n’ chips, steak and chicken parma as well as a quality range of salads and vegetables. A beer wall showcases different beers from around the world, and Happy Hour slings wine, beer and Espresso Martinis every weekday from 4pm – 6pm. There’s always a good vibe and a lively crowd in the upstairs sports bar.
If you love a good pub session, check out our list of 7 Winter Beer Gardens We're Loving.
Image credit: Paul Griggs for The Terminus