Robert Burns Hotel – 376 Smith St, Collingwood

To me, the Robert Burns Hotel was just another one of those pubs on Smith Street that you went past all of the time, never thinking twice of going in there. For one, it’s in the heart of ‘secondsville’… one of the numerous inner-city pockets of Melbourne that consists of wall-to-wall outlet stores (sporting attire is the attraction in this neck of the woods, if you didn’t know).

Subsequently, teems of buses filled with outer-suburbs bogans and weekender provincial folk meander from store to store with a glazed look on their face until they find their bargain of the day – 30% off a three-pack of tube socks that they didn’t really need.

I would have gladly continued to ignore this part of Smith Street (unless I needed discounted tube socks). However good friends of ours whom, up until a few months ago were Collingwood residents, had the low-down on some of the better places in the neighbourhood. As we were well overdue for a catch up, they selected the Robert Burns Hotel as our lunch venue.

Inside, the Robert Burns Hotel is a strange mix of two vastly different countries; a Spanish restaurant inside a pub that bears the name of Scotland’s most favourite son and poet. This is further emphasised by the garish tartan carpet, that in places continues up the wall like it’s trying to escape. It’s cosy and comfortable. As my friends tell me, the venue has recently had a bit of a make over.

As some of us had young children in tow, we were of course unfashionably early (by only a few minutes) and the doors were only being unlocked as we arrived. Our Spanish-accented waiter escorted us to our table and was quick to dispense some water… a great start? Alas, no. The service was awfully slow and haphazard, and that’s an understatement.

To further complicate things (which wasn’t really all that complicated), friends had to leave by 2pm as they had a flight to catch, so they asked if they could order immediately even though we were waiting on a couple of other guests. So, our friend’s drinks orders were taken and duly received, whereas the rest of us were left wondering. Then again, our friend’s food orders were taken and although we were also ready to order, we were again left wondering. There wasn’t even the opportunity to grab the waiter’s attention because as soon as he had taken our friend’s order, he was off again in the blink of an eye without even bothering to see if anyone else at the table was perhaps a little bit thirsty or hungry. We eventually took control of our thirst and decided to order our drinks from the bar.

And it wasn’t as though our initial waiter was the only staff member on the floor. There were others – all easily identifiable as they all wore the same short-sleeved checked shirts, rushing around doing… actually I don’t know what they were doing, other than not waiting on our table. It was hardly busy at ten minutes past midday on a Sunday and there was only one other couple that had taken a table. Although to the staff’s credit, they were at least quite friendly and attentive… when they were present.

As for food, there’s a separate front bar menu that lists a selection of tapas (all $6.50) served in the traditional cazuelita; the terracotta dish synonymous with Spanish morsels. Although I didn’t get to try some of these dishes on offer: Costillas De Cerdo (Pork ribs in a tangy sauce), Albóndigas con sepia (Beef meat balls with cuttlefish and green peas) or Chorizos a la sidra (Slow cooked chorizo in cider with green apples), I would like to come back to sample a couple of dishes over a glass or two of Tempranillo or Fino Sherry… Muy bien! Mi español es muy malo!

The more extensive restaurant menu generously caters for your serious carnivores and although there are a number of dishes for your token vegetarian (there’s always one), I thought there would have been more vegetable dishes on offer. Yes, the main meat dishes are accompanied by a handful of rocket and shallot salad, but this is more of a garnish than a salad and the only other green vegetable on offer as a choice of three side dishes were some char-grilled asparagus spears. The other two dishes were a choice of hand cut fries or chips in another form; roasted chat potatoes – all reasonably priced for a fiver.

Once our orders were finally taken, we tried the Croquetas del mar (mussel and prawn croquettes) – $9.90, an array of the various grilled meats on offer, which at $50 for two people highlighted that the Robert Burns, with all its service foibles, is actually quite reasonably priced.

Our one year old had already eaten her way through a paper napkin and a slice of baguette we’d successfully foraged from the bread board near the kitchen pass (we’d asked for a couple of slices to suppress our daughter’s hunger and keep her occupied, but – no surprises here – they came out around 10 minutes after our food had arrived). In any case, everything came out at once, which was a bit of a pain trying to find enough room on the table accommodate everything we’d all ordered.

The croquettes were moorish; five crunchy cylinders were filled with chunky pieces of prawn and mussel, lightly bound with a smooth, rich roux mixture. The accompanying garlic aioli was nice enough, but it was a bit rich-on-rich, if you know what I mean. I would have preferred a contrasting condiment spiked with something to cut through the richness. My daughter, not content with just paper and bread, knocked off two of them effortlessly. She is, to date, a pleasure to take out for a meal, unlike our four year old, who refused to go because there was no playground attached.

The meat selection consisted of a couple of lamb cutlets, the two forelegs of a cute bunny rabbit, some slices of white sausage (and sadly not the Morcilla blood sausage which was available on the menu in other dishes) and some sliced sirloin. We asked if we could have a sample of each of the sauces on offer; aioli, mojo rojo and chimichurri, which was do-able but not without the waiter telling us he should be able to accommodate this request without the kitchen wanting to kill him (?). I think he was trying to be humorous.

The meats were pretty much grilled to perfection and all well seasoned. The lamb was bang on, still retaining a pink hue on the inside. The rabbit was well coloured on the outside and moist on the inside. The sausage was OK, if not a bit too salty. The sirloin was a little on the tough side, with most of the slices just bordering on medium heading towards medium well; a little over for my liking. The accompanying sauces brought the meats to life with the piquant mojo rojo being declared the winner over the second placed chimichurri. Along with a couple of the aforementioned sides (asparagus and hand cut fries), this was more than enough for two (and a half) people.

Our other friends were more than happy with their choices. The eye fillet ($22) and four-point lamb rack ($27) were cooked accurately to order and was again a fair dose of protein for the price. There are five paella dishes to choose from that vary from $20 to $24 per person (min. 2 people). I would have gladly ordered the Paella negra con aioli (squid ink, with cuttlefish and scallops served with aioli) if there was a like-minded dining partner, but there wasn’t. Although I did get to sample some Paella de marisco (seafood: prawns, calamari, mussels and clams) which was spot on.

This is a pub, so there are plenty of beers on tap – in bottles, pots or pints and although the wine list is fairly extensive (and exclusively Spanish), it’s quite restrictive in its offerings of wines by the glass and is quite pricey.

Desserts are the usual Spanish suspects, including the ubiquitous churros with chocolate sauce ($9.90), a selection of Spanish cheeses that most probably include Manchego and quince paste ($13.90) and a crème caramel ($9.90). Unfortunately we were far too full of meat to consider something sweet… and I’d left the nappies in the car, so it was probably as good a time as any to leave our share of the bill on the table and go and change the baby, via the Nike outlet store for some much-needed tube socks.

So, in weighing everything up about the Robert Burns Hotel, if you are more than prepared to put up with some extremely chaotic service (which upon reading other reviews you can pretty much guarantee), you can look forward to some quite reasonable, affordable and simplistic, yet tasty Spanish fare in a fun and relaxing setting.

Hasta luego!

Robert Burns Hotel
376 Smith St, Collingwood
(03) 9417 2233
http://www.robertburnshotel.com.au

Good For: Reasonable and basic Spanish fare without the flare (and associated cost) of MoVida, Añada, etc.

Not Good For: Knowing that Manuel (Fawlty Towers) has grand children that also ended up in the service industry… albeit in in Melbourne

Robert Burns Hotel on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

The Bottom End – 579 Little Collins St, Melbourne

Buying lunch at work can be placed into three categories. At one end of the scale, there’s lunch on the run (i.e. takeaway) and at the other end you’ve got the substantial restaurant meal where it’s unlikey that you’ll be heading back to work in any fit state. Somewhere in between there’s a need for a cheap and cheerful lunch – like a pub meal; something that’s a little more than a bowl of noodles and throw in a cheeky pot or two or a glass of wine with a few work mates… a.k.a. the perfect Friday lunch. And of course, it needs to be in close proximity so you’re spending more of your lunch break in the venue as opposed to walking to and from it.

The Spencer St & Collins St part of the CBD (aptly referred to by twoMunch as the “Baghdad end of Collins St”) lacks these in-betweeners. You can only go to Saint & Rogue so many times for a quick feed and a drink, or God forbid, The Exchange Hotel.

I generally only go as far up Little Collins St as Hugo’s for my coffee, so I rarely notice much else going on. Although I knew that the dodgy former Irish Pub on Little Collins St was being renovated into something, however until I read a burger review last week on The Burger Adventure, I had no idea that we were being rewarded with an alternative lunch venue.

The Bottom End is a pub, disco and diner all rolled into one. Recently opening for lunch on Fridays, its apparent popularity has seen it extend its lunch trade to Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. The distinct, gothic black exterior houses an interior which can be roughly described as a hotchpotch of retro American diner, medieval, baroque and 70’s kitsch, amongst other things – but it all seems to work and you feel quite comfortable once you adjust to your surroundings.

There’s a solid selection of beers on tap (Coopers Pale and Sparkling, Carlton, Stella), a couple of ciders and a good range of bottled brews to satisfy most. Wines are split into three categories; cheap ($25 / bottle), reasonable ($35 / bottle) and good ($45 / bottle) with a red, white, rose and sparkling offered in each category. In the unlikely event that P-Diddy turns up, there’s a 2004 Cristal available for $450.

There are also many classic cocktails and a bunch of not-so-classic cocktails, like the Australian Martini (vodka, Cointreau rinse, vegemite smear, coon cheese, pickled onion) and Rave Juice (Agwa, energy drink and a glow stick in a bag). Needless to say everything is done with a massive dose of good humour, even the gents’ toilets – but I’ll leave that surprise for you to see for yourself.

So, onto the food. The menu is American Diner: quick out of the kitchen, lots of fun, not the healthiest of fare, but great to share and more importantly goes well with the aforementioned booze. I was intrigued by the ‘famous’ Mac ‘n’ Cheese balls with garlic aioli ($10), so they were duly ordered as an appetiser. They were probably as good as deep fried balls of macaroni and cheese were ever going to be; six bite-sized morsels, a few flecks of bacon in the mac’n’cheese mix. It was probably a little on the bland side – a creamy centre served with a creamy aioli. A dipping sauce with some contrasting bite probably would have served better.

For the more substantial part of our meal, it was the Bottom End Cheesey Bacon Burger ($16) for the majority of us and a lone Philly Cheese Steak ($16) for the minority. Other choices included NYC Buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce, a hot mortadella roll, an Italian hot dog with all the trimmings and a New Orleans classic Po’boy, featuring prawn, chorizo and egg – all served with seasoned crinkle-cut fries and all $16.

The burgers arrived quicker than you could say “well, honk my hooters” and we were presented with some burgers of tower-esque proportion where width gave way to height; a precursor that this was going to be a messy, pain the arse of a thing to eat. And it was, but it was also delicious.

Inside a homemade brioche bun, a juicy (bordering on too juicy) beef patty mingled with some smoky bacon, two kinds of cheese (gruyere and smoked Dutch). Lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle also made a cameo. Oh and there was a dab of The Bottom End’s ‘special sauce’, which I think was the same sauce served with the accompanying crinkle-cut fries… ‘fry sauce’ – a mayo with a bit of ketchup and a tart, vinegary finish – I’m thinking pickle juice.

The Philly Cheese Steak featured a white hero roll stuffed with chopped scotch fillet, green capsicum, fried onions and provolone cheese whiz; an American processed cheese spread which is the cheese served with an authentic Philly Cheese Steak. The recipient, who has eaten the real thing in the U.S., declared it a damn fine reproduction.

The crinkle-cut fries were of your frozen variety. I wasn’t expecting hand cut chips and I didn’t really care that much as I was struggling with just finishing the burger.

Look, this stuff is definitely not first date food. You will get a little untidy trying to eat it and you will go through five or six napkins in the process. But you will also have fun with a few workmates over lunch and a couple of beers. And if you’re one of those people that can’t find the time to get away to do something like this every now and again, then perhaps you need to tap your boss on the shoulder and suggest some time out for a bit of team building… and better yet, you know a great place where you can do this.

The Bottom End
579 Little Collins St, Melbourne
(03) 9629 3001
www.thebottomend.com.au

Good For: A quick bite to eat at lunch with your workmates, post-work boozing and ‘poof doof’ on Saturdays, apparently
Not Good For: The health-conscious… although there is a Waldorf Salad on the menu

The Bottom End on Urbanspoon