There are 45 beer taps in the main bar at the Middle Park Hotel.
Gastropub always seems an odd word to describe a hotel that serves decent food. Whoever decided to prefix “pub” with a shorthand word for inflammation of the stomach and intestines was clearly no marketing genius. It always makes me picture green-faced diners streaming out of the main bar clutching their stomachs.
There’s little chance of that happening at the Middle Park Hotel, a self-styled gastropub with a kitchen run by Paul Wilson (ex-Botanical, Radii and Quaglino’s in London) and his Botanical alumnus David Marshall. The pair has devised an inviting menu of British and Australian pub-food stalwarts spruced up for the 21st century. You’ll find no hogget offcuts here, only premium Australian meat and veg and a bread-and-butter pudding that already has a devoted online cheer squad.
Looks-wise, the grand 1889 pile has been given a facelift by the always-inventive Six Degrees, who’ve gone for a gentlemen’s club feel of oak and maple-panelled walls, a slightly grim chandelier of stacked antlers and a selection of cognacs and eaux de vie on the fireplace mantle. There’s a separate ladies lounge for those craving less testosteronic surrounds.
It’s a mark of the faith I felt in the place that I immediately ordered a feast of offal. Not something I do lightly, especially not when a menu promises old-school staples such as prawn cocktail and chicken Kiev and a carnivore’s orgy of old-breed delights. (At weekends the kitchen roasts medieval slabs of belted Galloway, blackface Suffolk lamb and Wessex saddleback.)
Etta James is crooning on the sound system as I tuck into a bright-pink plank of ham hock terrine, set in aspic with a heaping of chopped parsley and tarragon. Two fried wisps of pig’s ear rest on top and there’s a crumbed patty of pig’s trotter alongside. The terrine zings with tarragon and shallots and positively pops when teamed with the intensely fruity pickled pineapple piled beside it. The crisp ear bits don’t taste of much but the trotter is rich and pleasant and an inspired match with the mustard-laced celeriac remoulade on the side. It’s a really well-thought-out arrangement of tastes and textures.
The offal salad at the Middle Park Hotel consists of lamb sweetbreads, black pudding, liver, heart, tongue and a dollop of salsa verde.
More full-on but equally enjoyable is the warm salad of offal, a garden of earthy delights including bite-sized bits of cereal-rich black pudding, lamb kidneys, sweetbreads and calf’s liver nestled around a mound of frisee spiked with sliced green apple and capers. The lot rests on two slices of brawn seasoned with sherry vinaigrette, with a smear of salsa verde for extra interest.
Such hearty food works up a thirst, which explains the encyclopaedic 21-page drinks menu and the 45 beer taps at the main bar. Wines are all Victorian, and for afters (or befores) there’s a page-and-a-half of single-malt whiskies.
The trick with offal is to make it look and taste like real food, and the Middle Park kitchen succeeds admirably. A main-course pig cheek is braised to a translucent shimmer with a lid of dark-golden crackling I can’t wait to pillage. Alongside it, on a bed of minty green lentils, lies a slab of garlicky, salty tongue and a Lyonnaise sausage with a strong hammy flavour like a very tasty frank. I wish there was more of it.
For sides we succumb to the sound of triple-cooked chips but what arrives is a bowl of so-so wedges. A bit disappointing, we both agree. Likewise, the heirloom tomato salad, a pretty plate of colourful fruits and crumbled feta overwhelmed by the (rather nice) caramelised vinegar in which it’s doused.
We don’t try the apricot bread-and-butter pudding because the waitress warns, “It’s another meal, big enough for two.” Instead, we opt for a slimming slice of After Eight chocolate terrine decorated with 24-carat gold leaf and offset with a dense mint cream and salted caramel ice-cream. Perhaps we’ve already eaten too much to fully appreciate the Middle Park’s pudding prowess but, aside from the mint, the flavours seem muted and the chocolate is oddly crumbly and dry. Next time – and there will definitely be a next time – we’ll save room for the real pudding.
The Middle Park Hotel, 102 Canterbury Road, Middle Park
Cuisine \ Gastropub
Chefs \ Paul Wilson and David Marshall
Hip pocket \ $80 a head, including modest wine
Open \ Daily, noon-3pm, 6-10pm; Bar dining noon-10pm
Highlights \ The offal, the emphasis on old-breed meats and Victorian produce; free wireless internet with your beer.
Lowlights \ Side dishes let down the main events
Bookings \ Recommended, 9690 1958 or middleparkhotel.com.au
We rate it 8/10