PICTURES \ DARRIAN TRAYNOR
The talented Sean Donovan has blazed a trail across town from The Botanical to Footscray’s Station Hotel – pinning the inner west to the gourmet map at last – and now, by the looks of things, at South Melbourne … City Road, of all places, at the corner pub The Wayside Inn.
Unlike Footscray, this slice of the city fringe is no stranger to decent dining. The Palace gastropub is down the street (minus Luke Mangan these days) and local heroes like The Graham, Middle Park Hotel and Lamaro’s give the distinct impression that pub dining – or dining in former pubs – is thriving bayside.
The Wayside helps strengthen the case.
There are $12 counter meals at the bar, but the real cooking happens out back in the dining room with its terrazzo floor and Florence Broadhurst-inspired feature wall.
There’s a charcoal-walled courtyard for lazy summer lunches, or even winter ones huddled beneath the heaters.
Every self-respecting chef has a mission statement these days, and Donovan’s speaks of a “simple concept of well-prepared food using quality ingredients”. But his menu appears to have higher pretensions, judging by its fancy headings of Poissons, Les Fruits de Mer and Rotissoire.
Bring your Larousse if you’ve got it handy or, alternatively, ask the floor staff for translations. They’re all experienced, mature and fun – if anyone can make French subheads seem acceptable in a pub, they can.
The proof of the pretension is in the pudding, of course, and Josh Rudd, Donovan’s proxy at the Wayside, delivers (original chef Matt Merrick left in April).
His starters range from wagyu croquetas – nine crunchy golden mouthfuls of creamy béchamel studded with pellets of braised wagyu brisket – to a slab of terrine as thick as a doorstop.
It’s appealingly mottled with chunks of suckling pig and fennel seeds, pistachio and diced apple, then drizzled with olive oil, topped with a dense dollop of onion jam and served with grilled sourdough. A textbook effort.
Scored cuttlefish, curled and coloured from the grill, comes in a mini-skillet with casseroled black-eyed peas and tomato and a hint of smoke from sliced chorizo. Lovely.
A plate of yellowfin tuna is less so, the fish buried beneath a colourful shroud of crisp apple, cucumber slices, diced onion and pink peppercorn flakes, all doused in a slick of oil and verjuice. On the plus side, it is fresh and zingy; on the minus, we can’t taste the tuna.
There isn’t anything remarkable that jumps out at us from the winelist, but a Pierro sem-sav gives good grape and the Sticks botrytis we sip with dessert is floral, viscous and scrumptious. Wines come by the glass, carafe and bottle, to cater to all thirsts.
After a suitable breather we regroup for mains and are confronted by a 300-gram, grass-fed scotch fillet and a platter of Aylesbury duck possibly large enough to feed a family of four.
The duck is a quacker. Its skin has been roasted a deep Mediterranean tan and the meat is cooked to, well, if not perfection, then something close.
Juicy and bursting with ducky goodness, it’s a testament to the virtues of rotisserie cooking, virtues the Wayside regularly promotes with its Rotissoire du Jour that offers such treats as venison on Tuesdays and organic lamb on Wednesdays. The duck, Glenloth chicken and beef rib stay on the
card all week long.
The only downside to the duck is that it squats on a bed of almost caramelised red cabbage, which seems too sweet and too abundant. Chunks of poached quince, while overdone, are a much more suitable match for the meat.
There’s some gristle wrestling with the scotch fillet but the effort’s worth it for the hearty beef and char flavours. It doesn’t really need a spiffy béarnaise – good mustard would do just fine.
Sides of commercial-quality fries and a chilled salad of quinoa, pomegranate and labneh let the team down. The salad flavours are dull, the labneh claggy and unenjoyable, the torn mint leaves bruised and deliquescing.
For sweets it’s crème brulée – surely the most pervasive dessert of 2012. The Wayside version involves unrefined muscovado sugar and the fresh spice of vanilla bean, served in a cute cast-iron casserole with a petite poached pear on the side. The consistency is halfway between custard and caramel, and it’s splintered with dark toffee shards after we crack the crust.
The pear’s a sweet surprise. Its hollow core has been packed with pear sorbet so the fruit comes in two complementary textures that, combined, seem to melt on the tongue.
In keeping with the French pub theme, the menu offers two tempting footnotes by way of petits fours (passionfruit marshmallows, salted chocolate fudge) and a terrific selection of seven cheeses spanning Roquefort and Stilton to Brillat-Savarin. More than enough motivation for another visit.
446 City Road, South Melbourne
Cuisine \ Modern Australian Chef \ Josh Rudd
Hip Pocket \ Three courses about $70 a head
Open \ Tues-Sun from 11am
Highlights \ The rotisserie, the cuttlefish, the staff
Lowlight \ The sides Bookings \ Yes
Phone \ 9682 9119