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Pub Of The Week: Tony Leonard reviews the Empress Hotel, Fitzroy North

Neil Mitchell
Article image for Pub Of The Week: Tony Leonard reviews the Empress Hotel, Fitzroy North

Empress Hotel

714 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy North.
9486 5005
www.theempress.com.au

When? February 4, 2022.

VENUE

There’s so much to love about The Empress (formerly including ‘Of India’ in its name) and its understated success as a real ‘go to’ in the inner North is well deserved.

The old/faded whitewashed brick facade on the corner of Scotchmer hasn’t changed much over the journey (pale pink  at one stage) but inside there is a wonderful communal atmosphere with a deceptive amount of space to spread out.

Ripping old world bar greets you with obliging owners behind the jump; a darts case cordoned off by VIP Ropes sits to the left.  Thursday nights if up for it. Great beer garden to the rear, (would handle functions up to 80 easily),  large bistro to the left, discreet pool table sits quietly to the side.

Where the Empress totally wins out is its willingness to not only trade 7 days a week, but from Midday, and providing a food service during these hours.  As working lives have changed, many pubs have either reduced the traditional hours of trading or not open until Wednesday afternoon. Crushing, challenging hours for sure, but something genuinely appreciated by its loyal clientele.

And some of the specials during the week? One of the most generous I’ve seen for Thursdays, from 5pm, a bucket of chicken wings (hot sauce/blue cheese, normally 24.50), a  bowl of beer battered chips, 2 pots of the excellent Stomping Ground Pale.  $30 and you’re away.  Big burger, fries, pot  of Mt Goat Lager, Wednesdays, $15.

The Empress doesn’t have a TAB or pokies to support the bottomline, so it is hard graft from the get go, 7 days per week.  Footy on the TV, its own cricket team (The Quokkas) but it’s a place to go and relax either solo or in a group.

The Empress is a very good pub.

FOOD/DRINK

The food menu appeals as there is sufficient choice for all tastes, without an encyclopedic offer running to pages!  Mix of pub favorites and daily specials.

Entrees include Pork, veal, fennel,  meatballs, tomato sugo, shaved pecorino, toast (14) or Charred broccoli, lemon, chili, garlic, and black sesame (12.5).

Pub mains include your standards with a touch of flair e.g  Beer battered blue grenadier, chips, radish and cos salad, and tartare sauce, (25),  Empress Burger – grass fed beef, smoked bacon, pale ale and tomato relish, cheddar, pickles, mayonnaise, shoestring fries (23),  Empress Parma – panko crumbed chicken breast, tomato sugo, mozzarella, pecorino, and prosciutto, with Italian slaw and garlic roasted potatoes (25).

Beer and wine happily tread different routes. Beer has taps of  Carlton Draught (6), Mountain Goat IPA, White Rabbit Dark and impressive newcomers, Kaiju (Huntingdale) with its Tropical Krush Pale and Golden Axe Cider. About 25 choices on Tap or Bottle.

Wine is sourced from lesser known producers and averages around $12pg/55/bottle. One of Australia’s best single varietal producers, Rieslingfreak, is $12.5/Pg. It is very good.

The average prices are;

  • Entrees –  $14
  • Mains – $27
  • Dessert – $11

Tried was;

  • Potato and cheddar croquettes, with smoked chili mayo $8.5. Imagine 4 golden brown fried squares, thick, blisteringly hot, neat mayo for an extra flavor hit, then wash them  down with a beer. Hmmm Croquettes…
  • Grilled barramundi, crisp skin, confit kipflers, asparagus, fennel, peas. Special. $32. What was once a species to be avoided in pubs, Barramundi is as bankable as any fish now. Here, a massive, sweet,  thick tile has great support from the veg, potato excellent and a fine blackboard special.  This worked on all levels.
  • 300g O’Connor porterhouse, grass fed, w/italian slaw, beer battered chips, RWJ. $36. Failsafe when OConnor (Gippsland) meat is presented, this steak was cooked as ordered, and had a fabulous, freshly made coleslaw. My preference is for a thicker cut than here, but no issue with the meal.

SUMMARY

When a small pub like the Empress is flat stick doing its best to present a level of hospitality that it does, then, unashamedly you barrack for its success.

Each day and night, the owner/operators start early (in pub terms) but when visiting, nothing seems  too hard or inconvenient.  Sitting away in the bistro?:  Stay there, we will come over to you.

There is a generosity of spirit as soon as you enter and that’s where you are won over. Luckily for those residents in the vicinity, they can access at any time. I think you will enjoy the total package from the Empress and leave with one question uppermost in you mind;

Why can’t we have one of these in my neighborhood?

SCORE: 14.6/20

Neil Mitchell
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