The old Cricketer’s Arms was, frankly, an amazing place. A huge, historic hotel that pumped out parmas the size of dinner plates. Every Saturday night the courtyard was packed with Port Melbourne locals, yelling at umpires on the big screen, swigging Carlton on tap, and swapping stories beneath a canopy of twinkling fairy lights. So when it was sold off late last year, and re-opened as House Of Wine And Food (a fancy French bistro by hoteliers Deborah and Alan Giles) it’s fair to say there were some big, parma-sized shoes to fill.
The transformation is pretty stunning. You walk through the old, familiar entrance, but now the first door on the right leads to a provincial French parlour and dining room (perfect for well-starched private functions), there’s a library off the main hall with a fire burning merrily in the grate, and the courtyard out back feels like you’ve teleported to Provence circa 1963. It’s here you’ll find Giles himself on the weekends, chopping onions and cooking Marseille-style bouillabaisse on a big outdoor hob.
“You know the first time I had this dish?” he says, stirring. “I’d just landed in Marseille. It was the 1960s and a fisherman was cooking it right on the beach.” The courtyard fills with the smells of garlic, sugo, thyme and fresh mussels, all simmering away in the pan.
The weekend bouillabaisse is House’s signature event, but the rest of the menu is no slouch, punching above its weight with big European flavours. The veal schnitzel is done Milanese style, pan-fried with a chunky home-made crumb, served with parsley, lemon, potato gratin and a sweet peperonata. For starters we’d recommend the house-marinated salmon, spiked with dill, juniper and vodka and dished up with crème fresh, toast and finely chopped Spanish onion. Save room for dessert though: there’s a good lookin’ tiramisu that caught our eye as it swooped past on its way to another table.
All in all, The House of Food and Wine is a great addition to Port Melbourne’s booming food scene. Grab Mum and Dad, or some snooty French friends you want to impress, and settle in for an up-market Sunday sesh.
Image credit: Jess Prince