Pub Of The Week: Tony Leonard reviews the Robert Burns Hotel, Collingwood
Robert Burns Hotel
Where? 376 Smith Street, Collingwood.
When? February 19, 2021.
The Robert Burns, a wonderful pub, underwent a seismic change some 2-3 years ago.
Unique to Victoria, perhaps Australia, the food menu drew exclusively from the many regions in Spain, wine also, had maps detailing the areas, and a dashing wait staff or two with the accent to match. Anathema to this was the Tartan carpets, wall and floor, honoring the great Scottish poet.
This pub was beloved and so when time came to up stumps it seemed to me that this was a financial and professional belting to nothing for the new chums.
Wrong. This version of the Robert Burns, a Smith St landmark, is positively firing with a back to basics pub approach which is far from pedestrian.
A bit of decluttering in the front bar allows for easier access, the bistro is rid of the Spanish nods – the Tartan wall covering remains – with the open kitchen the centrepiece. Small comfortable beer garden to the rear of the bistro completes the picture.
Food and wine have classy touches while the heart of a Collingwood pub beats true. Music from exclusively the 50s was played on a warm Thursday lunchtime, with the genius of Buddy Holly/Eddie Cochran filling the air.
The new owners have pulled off a remarkable trick, being the next in after legends, and not missing a beat.
Robert Burns Hotel: A beauty.
This where the ‘new’ Robert Burns shines. While speaking – ad nauseam – about clever pub food, I reiterate it’s a matter of sticking to favourites/popular choices and then elevating with a better produce/cooking/seasoning/presentation.
Here a compact menu offers smalls, e.g., Fish Finger sandwich (12) polenta chips/black garlic aioli/truffle pecorino (12). 3 pastas, incl rigatoni, slow braised beef (24) and 3 from the woodfire grill of which the 330g Sirloin, cafe de paris butter, fries/salad is $36.
A range of reasonably priced, well presented pub classics and desserts round out an appealing menu.
Not all meals come fully plated (hmmm), and remains an irritation, but the additional sides are not outrageously priced.
Plenty of wine, priced about the standard(10-11pg//50-55/btle) to choose from. This isn’t a tick the box list, and sourcing local and overseas. Save Our Souls Vermentino 11pg// Rob Hall Pinot Noir 13pg, again provide a difference from smaller winemakers. Very Good.
As for beer, the RB has Melbourne Bitter as the main commercial tap (No CD), but craft is well represented by the likes of Young Henrys and Stone and Wood. 6.5/pot, both excellent
The average prices are;
- Entrees – $14
- Mains – $26
- Dessert – $12
- Mozzarella, Parmesan, Prosciutto, Croquettes, Aioli. 4/$9. Highlight. As good as any starter/snack in Melbourne. Right balance of ingredients (read as not being suffocated with too much spud), these beauties are more than a passing nod to one of the old highlights of the previous Robert Burns (Chorizo, cheese, jalapeno croquettes). Order a beer, knock a plate of these over. Serenity now, serenity now.
- Grilled Octopus, squid ink dressing, fennel salad. $18. Ripper share. A long, meaty, smokey tentacle teams brilliantly with the salty squid ink, fennel salad for the cleanser. Clever combos.
- Half chicken, caramelised eggplant, zucchini, jus gras. $28. Popper samart pub dish. The chicken, essentially 4 pieces are densely spiced but the salad provides the sweetness and balance. Roast Chicken, in a pub in 2021, should be presented like this.
The Robert Burns was/is a truly iconic pub in Melbourne, popular and beloved. As stated above, it was successfully run as a pub doing exclusively Spanish food for nearly 3 decades and so, if conventional thinking kicks in, the next owners would suffer by comparison.
What a stunning achievement by the new owners to go in an entirely different route and present both a traditional (it’s in a pub that feels like one) and modern (great food/drink/vibe) that succeeds on all levels.
The Spanish influence ran for nearly 3 decades; hopefully this team has similar longevity.
An early frontrunner for 2021 pub of the year honours.