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REVIEW: Middle Park Hotel

Posted by: Tony Leonard | 26 February, 2010 - 9:36 AM
Middle Park Hotel

Pub: Middle Park Hotel
Where: 102 Canterbury Rd
Phone: 9690 1958
Date: 5 February 2010
Score: 15.2/20
Internet: www.middleparkhotel.com.au

REVIEW: It was in August 2008 that I went to the Middle Park Hotel, then trading as the Gunn Island Hotel, its name reflecting the micro-brewery housed there. My recollection of it was, as it always had been, not bad but too much “vacant” space to foster that wonderful warm pub feel.

I don’t care where you live, the fundamental essence of a pub is to have a thriving front bar to meet, greet and generally crap about on about nothing in particular.

It is now the Middle Park Hotel and the micro brewery is gone. The MPH opened in the latter stages of 2009 and rave review has followed rave review.

Simply could it be that good?  

The answer is yes, but not for the reasons so many others have lauded it loudly. From a food only POV, it sits comfortably alongside other near “gastropub” neighbours such as O’Connell’s, Montague and the Albert Park.

Difficult trick #1 with a pub is  achieved easily at the MPH; in spite of looking like a blokes-from-top-end-of-own-doing-lunch-and-ridiculously-high-fiving-each-other when gag is cracked, it is female friendly in spades.

The team behind the MPH have a track record of success – the owners created the wonderful Richmond Public House in Church St; the chefs banged out the tucker at The Bot, when it was the ONLY spot to be seen at.

Inside at the MPH, the Melbourne Cricket Club wood panelling, monogrammed carpet and sporting memorabilia bring the warmth and comfort; the large front bar serving up a range of tap beers including White Rabbit and Little Creatures re-enforces its pursuit of being a pub with great a great offer and not a restaurant transplanted into a pub.

I stuck with a Carlton Draught and very good it was too.

The ‘front’ bar menu makes for interesting reading. I can guarantee that I haven’t seen scotch eggs  ($9)  on any menu in 15 years of doing this segment but there they were, as if the CWA was knocking up the food and a giant pavlova or trifle was your treat if you ate them up.  (Yes pav/trifle - $12-14 is on the menu also!).

Fish fingers, offal and a fabulous pie of the day (this time peppered Black Angus, mash/peas) for $25 that screamed eat me when presented are staples of the package that Paul Wilson brings with outrageous success wherever he cooks.

The dining room remains ‘at the back’ of the pub and that ‘boys own’ feel resonates loudly there. It's meat, meat, meat (and a fish), served big, dominating the landscape.

Tried was a “John Dee” 150day aged scotch fillet, 250g at $29. Arriving on the ubiquitous wooden plate, this most gorgeous piece of meat, with the richest béarnaise, was simply wonderful. Cooked rare to medium rare, I now know why JD meat is so highly regarded.

Grilled kingfish, {$34} was a massive slab of white, moist, flesh (again with a small salad), its skin lovingly crisp. The moral: the MPH doesn’t just do meat brilliantly.

In support was a Black Russian (small red/purple) Tomato salad and triple cooked chips, both extras charged at $8-9. This was a different type of tomato, and their bruised looking exterior belied the intense flavour they contained.

Wine list is massive and plenty of options by the glass from $8.

The best trick though that has been pulled off at the MPH is use of space. Given the stainless steel brewery took up a massive amount of space, after it was decommissioned the pub felt too big, too sterile. Not anymore. Clever use of booths and panels have somehow closed down the excess space, and it is not only looks great, but feels like a proper local comfortable watering hole,

A very small gripe though is their website; it gives little, tells you nothing which is a pity.

But the MPH is a shining example of what pubs could be, should be.  

A real contender in 2010.

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