Grilled half chicken: a house staple
The modern Aussie pub can take any form, can’t it? How about a 1950s diner decked out with found and recycled furniture and featuring a Sunday roast?
There should be one in every suburb.
I have a soft spot for Port Melbourne’s Rose Hotel – as it emerged from its Rose and Crown days into Greek taverna, it was one of the earliest places I reviewed. The modern Hellenic take, when the dining room was draped in chocolate tones, dark timber and low lights, rightly earned praise for several years. But in its next phase, with a seafood focus, the Rose lost its way. The most recent reincarnation is, for me, the most appealing.
Owners Ashley Cranston and Steed Sherriff met behind the bar at Young and Jackson in their early hospitality days. Cranston has most recently been at Little Creatures Dining Hall and Sherriff was the manager at the Royal Saxon Hotel.
They took over the former Rose Hotel in February and, with Sherriff’s brother Blake and a plasterer, gave the Bay Street landmark the love it needed, creating
16 tonnes of rubble with a sledgehammer and some old tools in the process.
“We didn’t have the funds to hire a designer, but we knew we didn’t want to create one of those places that’s all stainless steel and makes your shoulders droop as soon as you walk in,” Sherriff says. “There was no real grand plan. We wanted to build a venue that we would like to go to ourselves. Somewhere you could sit at the bar after work, order a drink and simple comfort food, and be at home. There’s a lot of stuff in here that comes from my own house.”
BBQ Chicken wings
Sherriff brought with him the Royal Saxon’s sous chef, Stephen Drake (ex-Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons), who worked with Gary Rhodes in Britain early in his career, picking up some of Rhodes’ reverence for British classics.
The Rose Diner’s menu comes with its own touches of nostalgia though, and much of it arrives on floral-patterned pre-loved crockery. It’s uncomplicated food that’s accessible, well-priced and retains elements of pub tradition.
Vol-au-vent appetisers filled with pine mushrooms and béarnaise sauce, or ham hock and split-green-pea soup and the Sunday roast are good indicators of the compellingly priced form guide, printed diner-style on paper placemats.
Share plates include a generous offering of barbecued chicken wings in a killer sauce made of celery heart, tomato, smoked paprika and chilli, which Drake bases around a smoked ham-hock stock. The flavours are earthy, sweet, sour and smokey all at once, but given added pungency by a creamy blue-cheese volute. For added cute factor, the cast-iron serving dish, garnished with leafy celery stick, sits on a floral plate with a pretty, striped cloth serviette.
Hervey Bay scallops
A slightly more nouveau-cuisine offering, of pan-roasted Hervey Bay scallops that’s a little less easy (or was I just unwilling?) to share, is given panache with pickled green chilli, a tangle of endive, toasted almonds, green beans and anchovies. It’s a zesty combination of contrasting flavours that lift rather than swamp the plump, delicate molluscs.
From the selection of nine main-sized meals, the brined and grilled half chicken has become a house staple. Drake says the humble chook does not appear often enough on Melbourne menus. His is brined for three hours in salt, sugar, bay leaf, thyme, lemon, peppercorns and cloves. Grilled to a crisp finish, the flesh remains moist and salty, and the poultry is served atop a mound of celeriac, potato and pumpkin given depth with walnuts and brown butter.
While the weather is still cool, Drake’s slow-cooked lamb shoulder is essential winter fare. It’s braised in a luscious combination of red wine, juniper berries, bay leaf and thyme and served with roasted turnip, golden chunks of potato and caramelised carrots. The dark, earthy dish is finished with a flourish of braised beetroot leaves and a crisp, nutty topping of toasted quinoa.
The menu also offers pan-roasted snapper with clams, braised lettuce, bacon and white ale, and whole grilled Buxton River trout. I’d happily put them on my list.
Desserts stuck to the nostalgic theme – think bread-and-butter pudding and “mum’s trifle” – but I was defeated by previous portion size. A Lillet-poached pear with yoghurt ice-cream certainly tempted. Maybe next time, before or after a visit to Little Rose, its sister café built from a rear garage with that sledgehammer.
309 Bay Street, Port Melbourne
Cuisine \ Classic Australian
Chef \ Stephen Drake
Owners \ Steed Sherriff and Ashley Cranston
Prices \ Share plates $7-$16; mains $19-36; desserts $12
Open \ Sunday to Thursday noon-late; Friday and Saturday noon-1am
Phone \ 9681 8550
The Verdict \ Somewhere special
The cloth banquette and the pressed-metal panelling that wraps around the bar are the subdued green of a faded rose leaf. The hue is picked up in cloth serviettes and repeated judiciously around the room. Refurbishment of this Port Melbourne local takes it beyond its days as a pub to a post-2010 providore that’s also reminiscent of a 1950s diner. Contemporary floating-timber floors, black Bentwood-look chairs and pale timber tables are given a touch of irony with industrial shelving, recycled doors and crate-style timber planter boxes. The finishing flourish is second-hand kitchen furniture, beams, walls and ceilings rejuvenated with white paint.