Restaurant food is all well and good, but sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned counter meal at a nice cosy pub. To us, true pub grub involves parmas, burgers and everything in between. It’s the ultimate in comfort food; the bread-and-butter of the dining scene.
Pull up a stool and order a pint while we present our pick of Melbourne’s best pub meals.
The Cherry Tree Hotel
Established back in 1860 in the grounds of an orchard that grew both cherries and cherry tomatoes, the Cherry Tree Hotel is owned by the same friendly folk who operated the Great Britain Hotel for 18 years. Punters who are still mourning the loss of that venerated watering hole will delight in the signature GB touches here. There’s an old TV converted into a fish tank, a weekly trivia night, and a big back room for bands. Best of all, there’s ‘Piss’ on tap – a contract-brewed house lager that literally takes the piss out of boutique microbreweries. That means that when you come here, you can’t go past the Piss-lager Battered Fish & Chips with housemade tartare sauce. Not only is it an outstanding reiteration of a pub classic, it’s a great conversation starter - and accompanied by plenty of hand-cut chips.
The Standard Hotel
Tucked down a back street off Brunswick Street, the Standard is a gold-standard pub with a heated beer garden, an unpretentious booze list, and a down-to-earth vibe. You’ll find Hank Williams on the walls as well as Kevin Murray, and free live music every Sunday evening. In terms of food, the menu caters well for vegetarians as well as carnivores, but the signature dish has got to be the Chicken Parma Deluxe – a giant slab of chicken and melted cheese with perfectly golden chips and a sharply dressed salad. At $22, it’s excellent value for money, and will hold your stomach in good stead through a few pints of pale ale or an apple cider. Rumour has it that back in the 90s, the Standard’s bar staff refused to serve anyone in a suit – while that rule has been relaxed, you still won’t find cocktails or culinary ‘experiments’ here, and that’s just the way locals like it.
Maori Chief Hotel
We’ve all got a Kiwi friend, and this is where you should take them. Built in 1867, the Chief is decorated with black-and-white photos of Maori royalty and retro beer ads. It’s a great place for pool, poker and pints – plus, when the All Blacks play, it’s packed to the rafters with rugby fanatics. The menu is filled with solid renditions of pub classics like steak sangas, bangers ‘n’ mash and chicken schnitzel, and a couple of Asian-inspired options like beef stir-fry and green curry. However, the standout item is the Big Chief Burger with beef, onion, cheese, tomato, lettuce, bacon, egg and relish. Served with ‘chups’ and salad, it comes on a panini bun instead of the ubiquitous brioche, and takes two hands and a certain devil-may-care attitude to demolish. Wash it down with a Mountain Goat (on tap) in the rooftop beer garden and toast to our Kiwi contingent past and present.
The menu at the Yarra Hotel recently went Bowie-themed – and what better way to pay tribute to the late, great starman than by sinking your teeth into a burger named after one of his greatest hits? It may not be the most conventional pub meal around, but the ‘Velvet Goldmine’ with free-range wagyu beef, two types of cheese, two mac ‘n’ cheese croquettes and a generous dollop of ketchup and aioli will definitely fill the space oddity in your stomach. For any of you vegetarian Young Americans or Thin White Dukes out there, there’s also a veggie burger called ‘Rebel Rebel’, and a fried eggplant number called ‘Fashion’. In fact, there are 18 Bowie-themed burgers to choose from – and in addition to celebrating music’s greats, the Yarra is also a long-time supporter of new and emerging talent, meaning there’s usually a decent gig on in the front room.
Marquis of Lorne
Unlike the Marquis de Sade, the Marquis of Lorne is all about pleasure. The handsome corner pub has presided over the junction of George and Kerr Streets for more than 150 years. When it temporarily closed for a refurbishment in 2014, many were concerned that it would lose its comfortingly old-school feel. Fortunately, the new owners didn’t go too upmarket, instead just gently modernising what was already an excellent three-storey set-up. They added a spiffy rooftop bar, they installed a new kitchen and they divided the menu into bar food, pub fare and counter meals. Out of the counter meals, our pick is the 250g Black Angus Steak with blue cheese butter and creamy potato salad. From the pub fare offerings, it’s the Grilled Chicken Spatchcock with creamed corn, for those who are a little bored by chicken parmas. The drinks menu includes a lot of local stouts and ales, and you can down a half-priced tinnie from 4pm-6pm on weeknights.
Prince of Wales Hotel
Situated in an old Art Deco building on the corner of Acland and Fitzroy Streets, this longstanding St Kilda favourite serves up classic pub grub in the public bar downstairs. The menu hasn’t been over-complicated – in fact, it’s only a page long. But it covers the pub meal basics: schnitzel, pie, steak, burger, nachos and fries. The P.O.W. Parmesan-crumbed Chicken Schnitzel is the standout choice – served with cabbage slaw, it’s got a kick of spice and plenty of crunch to see you through a gig at the bandroom upstairs. And if that’s not enough of an enticement for you, the whole menu is only $10, every day of the week. Get into it.
The Charles Weston
Hidden half a block from Barkly Square, the Charles Weston was formerly known as the Sporting Club Hotel and is currently one of the best places to get a traditional pub meal in the area. Whet your appetite with a pint of Charles Weston’s very own ‘Live Long and Porter’ at the bar before tucking into a wondrously flaky chicken, bacon and mushroom pie (there’s a haloumi and chickpea version for vegetarians). While the pies are the buttery golden ticket here – particularly in winter when paired with a hot toddy – it’s also worth noting that they do a kickass kangaroo fillet with roast veggies, wilted kale and beetroot relish. There are also ridiculously cheap food specials on throughout the week – think Roo & Wine for $12 on Mondays, Burgers & Fries for $10 on Tuesdays, and veg and vegan-friendly nachos for $10 on Wednesdays. Line that up with $15 jugs on trivia night and heaps of live gigs, and you’ve got one hell of a solid local.
The Last Jar
A proper Irish pub housed in the former Arthouse building, The Last Jar has a gorgeous fit-out that takes its cues from the Emerald Isle rather than the shamrock-infested giftshop. The front room features dark-timber paneling and a cosy parlour with an open fireplace, while out back you’ll find a green-and-cream dining room and a lovely big beer garden. The menu is the real deal: housemade bread, butter, sausages and bacon, and proper baked spuds with Cashel blue cheese. The menu is divided by Gaelic terms into ‘Sneaic’ (snack), ‘Glasra’ (vegetable), ‘Iasc’ (fish) and ‘Feoil’ (meat). The standout main is the steaming ‘Pot of Sea’, brimming with mussels, cider, cream, dill and parsley. Make sure you back it up with plenty of hot chips and a few rounds of soda bread. The Last Jar also runs an Irish film night once a month, and hosts live music every Sunday from 5pm.
Northcote Social Club
Northcote’s live music hero, Northcote Social Club, got a facelift last year and now has one of the nicest open-air dining decks in town, as well as a top-notch pub food menu. The burgers come with metal ‘shopping trolleys’ full of hot chips and include all the expected trimmings. There are five to choose from - but if it’s heftier comfort food you’re after, go for the 300g grain-fed porterhouse with crispy onions, beans, chips, and your choice of shiraz jus or Café de Paris butter. Food specials run through the week including $15 parmas on Mondays and $15 lunches from Tuesday to Friday, plus you can get house wine or bubbles for $5 all-day Tuesdays. One of the best things about the NSC is the friendly bar staff who all boast a strong connection to Melbourne’s live music scene, so make sure you swing by the bar for a chat on your way out.
Want more amazing pub meals? How about our list of the best loaded parmas in Melbourne?
Photo credit: The Last Jar Facebook