Pub Of The Week: Tony Leonard reviews the Avoca Hotel
115 High Street, Avoca.
When? October 18, 2019.
The Avoca Hotel, Central Victoria, carries a reputation of being one of the best regional pubs in Australia, and as you head out on the Sunraysia Hwy through such lovely hamlets like Lexton and Learmonth, a first visit raises two questions;
- I wonder what it looks like?
- Can it be as good as everyone says?
The first question is answered on arrival, and the pub looks like a lot of brick, double storey country pubs, its point of difference that the beer garden is at the front of the pub. Hmmm is the first reaction.
Once inside however, you start to see why it works. Compact front bar, super neat, benches to eat at, load of taps offering different, stack of wine bottles everywhere, creating its own atmosphere and then through to the dining room which you love instantly.
Low lit, fireplaces, specials board neatly written, comfy and compact old world tables/chairs, small sitting area divided from the rest of the room, it hits all the right notes.
Your second question is answered when you survey the menu and the first course arrives. The look and tastes are excellent – I hate the term ‘gastropub’ – but you are in this gem of a hotel, bang on 2 hours from Melbourne.
The Avoca doesn’t trade each day, but even so, strong advice to book.
If your Sunday drive extends to this time, to and from Melbourne, just go to the Avoca. Simply a ripping good pub.
Two separate menus, one for the bar, one in the dining room offer a better level of pub food. The bar food can range from peanut butter tofu slider (yes $7) as an entree, to Bangers, Mash, Peas, Gravy (23) to Lamb shoulder salad, (28) slow roasted, w/, spinach, onion, roast potatoes, broccolini, baby carrots, feta, walnuts.
The dining menu ramps it up but in a most accessible manner and prices are very fair for the quality on your plate.
- Jalapeno, cheddar, potato, croquettes, w/creme fraiche. $4/ea. Simply put, this is a must try. How they should be served, fresh, gooey, hot.
- Duck leg in a Thai red curry peanut sauce with lychees, steamed jasmine rice, fried egg, herbs, chillies. $33. It intrigued me as to how all of this would work together. Beautiful moist duck, real kick from the red curry, and the egg mixed in with sauce was a winner.
- Beef and pumpkin lasagne, truffle bechamel, mixed salad, $27. Monstrous piece of lasagne, 6 or 7 layers, pumpkin sufficiently soft (but not too much, good), truffle for that bit of magic, Yes.
Locally it’s Carlton Draught (5.3), Northern and Dry. No shortcomings there. For something off the main road, Fourpure Juicebox IPA (London), Brooklyn Lager (NY), Red Duck Kettle Sour, Ballarat, all starting at $7/pot.
It may be a no brainer, but when you are in the heart of the Pyrenees, then abundant, all styles at all price points are available. Blue Pyrenees/Mount Avoca/Taltarni fingerprints are spread far and wide across Australia, while Dellavedova Merlot, Summerfield Shiraz, Dog Rock Grenache smaller producers, are represented. Around $10pg gets a lovely glass of wine.
This is how you do it. Levels sufficiently audible, but not intrusive. Right music – Dione Warwick for starters – so when the conversation ends, it gently lilts in with one of the highlights of the incomparable Bacharach/David catalogue. 10/10.
Two young wait staff, subtle in their approach but knowledgeable about all aspects of the business, provided the right attentive touches.
The pub was just fine, so head over the road at the Pyrenees Pie shop. Whatever can be put into a pie, is, at this award winner. Crocodile, Emu, Roo are just a couple for starters. A different treat to take home.
The Avoca Hotel has a fearsome reputation, not only to maintain but continually improve upon.
Yet on entering, it could be any country pub, the difference here being a willingness to ramp up the food, highlight the great and diverse supply of wines from this brilliant region service, service, service, and just ensure from the get go, it will be an experience to remember. All in an understated manner.
Ten years on, under an owner/operator (Ian), the pub is truly a destination to get to and experience.
Definite contender for 2019 Pub of the year honors.