29 March, 2009

Pubs not so grubby: Union Hotel and Prince Patrick

Prince Patrick: 135 Victoria St, Collingwood; 03 9416 1455
Union Hotel: 109 Union St, Brunswick; 03 9388 2235

Pubs are known for re-inventing themselves. It seems the desire to drink in a particular locality is fairly constant, but our taste for the surroundings in which we drink needs to be regularly updated. As a rule, these re-inventions shift the pub away from the seedy end of the scale and towards the classy end. Sometimes a few clues as to the pub's lewder past are left behind, something for the refined, classier crowd to chuckle about as they congratulate themselves on picking out the diamond in the rough.

Collingwood's Prince Patrick Hotel has retained its distressed concrete interior, but contrasted it against the plush banquettes and soft carpeting of the interior. A large, well-lit bar divides the 'pub' area - with big screen - from the 'dining' area - with tables, booths and cosy stool and table arrangements. The resulting atmosphere is more Sydney chic than Melbourne grunge. This is a pub that offers a $25 steak sandwich on their menu, and doesn't baulk at charging $7.50 for a pot of beer. Having said that, the bar staff are friendly, the food is well prepared and the portions generous. As always, however, I would vastly prefer to have $5-10 knocked off the price of a plate and receive half as much food, so that it's a serving size I could actually finish. But cheap pub food isn't the look we're going for here.

A calamari and chorizo salad promises a protein charge. It's enormous, littered with curled and scored pieces of calamari, no dearth of moist chorizo, and, just when you thought it was filling enough, thinly-sliced potato. I've no issue with the execution, but I prefer a salad to be under $20, and I don't feel good leaving that kind of decent produce behind after I've eaten more than my fill.

The chicken parma perhaps presents a better ratioed serving - certainly in the photo above it almost looks wee. In reality it was a good-sized serve, but at least one doesn't have to feel as bad leaving fried, sliced potato behind. Avoiding the oily decadence of the salad's chorizo, or the Union's pasta (see below), the parma is straightforward; better than de Biers' $5 version (don't go there), but not particularly imaginative.

The Union Hotel in Brunswick West has taken a running leap up the class scale, leaving behind its repuation as one of the last gentlemen's pubs, replete with strippers, to be reborn as a bright, airy, diverse, family-friendly establishment with a long list of restaurant winners on the menu.

They've done astonishingly well revamping the space: there's a small section of pubby bar in view of the television, demur tables around a small stage, an even more refined dining room at the back of the building, and outside a partially covered beer garden big enough for the non-smokers and smokers to still have their own space.

The main menu starts down the path of list of pub staples - parmas, steak sandwich, pie and veg, pasta - then veers off into interesting territory: duck lasagne, anyone? The specials board is almost as long as the menu again, and shows similar adventurism, drawing on cuisines from the Mediterranean - zucchini fritters - to the Oriental - duck featuring again, this time wrapped in wontons.

Their pasta is aptly handled. A pasta special with prawns, asparagus and eggplant would be at home in a well-heeled Italian restaurant - plump, juicy butterflied prawns perch jauntily between a generous serve of fettucine and chargrilled eggplant. The dish was quite oily; richness perhaps being a trait common to their pasta dishes: at Where's the Beef they also review the pumpkin ravioli, along with several other worthwhile vegetarian dishes.

Their steak sandwich is suitably ample and flanked by thick-cut chips. Plenty of meat nestles between the toasted turkish bread, smeared with a quality aioli and decent Swiss cheese. The steak sarnie sits on the specials board rather than the main menu (and is about half the price of the Prince Patricks'), but the main menu does feature a beef burger, distinguished with pickle and tomato relish.

The Union also has a commitment to local beers, with Mountain Goat on tap, and an imaginative wine list, also with plenty of local options.


  1. I called in to the Union recently, hoping to find something a bit more inexpensive on the menu - I didn't think the decor or atmosphere suited the prices they've put on the food myself. Maybe I need to give it another go...

  2. Thanks Ten Dollar. It's a fair point you make - I didn't talk about menu prices in the review, and perhaps it's worth pointing out that most of the mains on Union Hotel's menu are $15 and up. I've felt comfortable with what we've paid there, because I've enjoyed the atmosphere and felt the food showed some attention to detail.

    But some kind of $10 would seal the deal, and make the Union an even more exciting prospect. I'll pop you an email about a couple of other cheap pub-meal nights, notably North Fitzroy Arms and the Peacock Hotel in Northcote.

  3. I hear rave reviews of food and ambience, which is an improvement since it was a topless bar. But Responsible Service of Alcohol (that's RSA for you peeps behind the bar) and Duty of Care fail on all levels. What a shame.

  4. What's been your experience that brought about the comment?

  5. I'd rather not say which may seem a bit unfair. Nonetheless, the food is worth the tick.