Tag Archives: North Melbourne

and we have in the red corner, beer – in the blue corner, wine

It seems only fitting that at a pub called The Courthouse one should deliberate upon the merits of both good beer and good wine and so one evening a large contingent of the Australian Beer Writers’ Guild found themselves at The Courthouse in North Melbourne to do just that at the invitation of Scott, the manager and the newly appointed (at the time) head chef Julian Hill.

Now what on earth was a gastropub manager doing, inviting a bunch of self-confessed stinky amber ale lovers to a dinner where there would be wine?! Conversion, of course! Did it work? We’ll see…

I have nothing but deep admiration for wine nerds: there is so much to learn and as much as I would love dearly to be as wine nerdy as I attempt to be beer nerdy (for I also have bucketloads to learn in that area too), the truth is, I’ve no idea where to start. Yes, it is that simple. It also feels more intimidating. It might sound stupid, but this is not a thought process exclusive to foodie-drinkie aspects of my life. I’ve been a classical flute player for half of my life and absolutely terrified of learning jazz because I never felt I mastered classical.

However, as if to ease us in, we were given a canapé that had only a beer match: an ocean trout cornet matched with the Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. It looked beautiful and tasted delightful and got the table talking excitedly in promise of what was to come.

The first proper course, the entrée, was crumbed pork head with sauce gribiche and remoulade.

It seems any meat on the pig’s head is prized for its porkier-than-usual element and the course was matched with a whopping three beverages: two beers – the Stone and Wood Pacific Ale (formerly known as their Draught Ale) and the Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier, a beer from the oldest brewery in the world. The wine chosen was the Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer riesling from 2008.

To my palate, the best match was the Kristall Weissbier though even that was not entirely perfect: I felt the course needed something along these lines style-wise but more ‘beefed up’. The Stone and Wood beer oddly enough got too hoppy: not usually an issue I would raise with this particular beer as I find it quite fruity and enjoy its passionfruit notes.

For the next course of venison shanks en crepinette with sweet potato and horseradish, it was the same deal – two beers and one wine and left up to us to nominate the one that best matched the course.

The meal had a distinctly French slant to it and this largely reflects what The Courthouse do, both in their dining room menus and the pub fare available in the less formal area.

From left to right we have the Bridge Road Bière de Garde, Three Ravens Dark Alt Noir (a Melbourne microbrewery out in Thornbury!) and the Alpha Box and Dice ‘Enigma’ Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from 2009.

The liquid match here was no contest: it was the Bière de Garde (god, am I forever jealous I missed out on imbibing this confessed favourite on hand pump at the Tanswell pub in Beechworth. The Three Ravens I had sampled prior to dining and the Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon I found too rough on my palate. Yes, I emphasise ‘my’ palate and fully disclose that it is not one developed for adequately judging wines.

Usually, French-influenced dining gives you the choice of a cheese or dessert course. Scott and Julian exceeded our expectations by spoiling us with both: to finish, we were treated to ‘textures of chocolate’ and raspberry sorbet. It sounds like a standard dessert but the treatment of chocolate in its various iterations ensured it stayed interesting.

The two beverages served with this were the Hargreaves Hill Abbey Dubbel and the NV Sanchez Romate Cardinal Cisneros Pedro Ximenez, the latter of which won most of the hearts around the table as best suiting dessert.

But Hargreaves Hill was yet to come back to a triumph for the last course of Isle of Mull cheddar, beating the De Bortoli Melba Reserve cabernet sauvignon 1999 vintage with their humble English Special Bitter. I confess I am very partial to a good ESB though I seem to recall that this was one of the pairings that divided the table the most.

The excellent news is that you do not have to be an Australian Beer Writers’ Guild member to come along to such a dinner as the folks at The Courthouse have decided to host one for the general public! Simply head on to The Crafty Pint for booking details – several ABWG members will be there and we’d love to say hello and hear your thoughts on whose alcoholic beverage reigns supreme!

Crafty on the right, Champion of Beer. Chris McNamara on the left, Reformed Wine Nerd ponders his defection to the dark, beery side. Could it be that he is thankful for his defection when beer was named the winner on this very night…?

BYO boxing gloves, shorts and boots in your chosen colour, of course.*

The Courthouse on Urbanspoon

*we encourage responsible drinking. Please don’t brawl. Bruises and the like will hurt when you’ve sobered up.

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good times, good mates

A while back, I used to live in North Melbourne. I really loved it but due to health issues had to sponge off the ‘rents back in suburbia and we all know how Wordsworth feels about that.

I hadn’t seen a good fellow music school comrade-in-arms for quite some time and we decided to catch up. He’d remembered that the Town Hall Hotel on Errol Street was a great pub (still is, if you ask me) and so we decided to meet up for a casual pub meal.

the lovely sign

It hadn’t changed much – everything I loved about it was still there – the red-lit back dining room, the usual pub food suspects, the rad barman with the trucker cap and geeky glasses, the great rock music.

Dave deviated away from his normal ‘roo (which I highly recommend) and went the good ol’ faithful chicken parma. In fact, this is the pub that broke my chicken parma virginity. God, that was in…2007? Pretty embarrassing and very unAustralian. Don’t worry, I’m all assimilated now: I know what the baggy green cap is famous for.

faithful chicken parma

Embarrassingly for me, my body (body yes, not just tummy) is going through the stage where it’s wanting to expel its contents so no rich food for me, pout. It’s a bit irritating given that the body still wants to expel its contents even when there is nothing to expel. I suspect that I may actually be from the Elizabethan times and my four humours are out of whack or I have a sizeable amount of black bile. To be fair, the fairly constant nausea and/or vomiting is causing my levels of black bile to rise, duh. Thanks arsehole body.

vegetarian shepherd's pie, in medias res

The vegie shepherd’s pie was freaking delish, but of course I filled up on bread beforehand. Rookie-foodie mistake. Sadly, the pie conquered me. ‘Fess up, guys, why is your bread so damn good? I suspect they put mash potato in it but maybe I should one day just bloody ask.

beautiful bread baked on premises: what is their secret?!

Despite that, Dave and I were still considering the crumble of the day to share – till one of the staff members stuck a “N/A” sticker on it. “Nooooo!” I ejaculated, and said “I shake my fist at you, sir!” (said shaking of fist was performed – Dave can confirm this). His deft reply was “I quake in my boots.” Well played, sir.

After taking what was a humiliating amount of time to finish a pot of Coopers’ Pale Ale (oh the shame), both Dave and I had a soft drink before hitting the road.

Errol Street, I’ve really missed you. And crumble, you will be mine, oh yes. You will be mine.

Town Hall Hotel on Urbanspoon

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and sold!

Restorative, my arse. That was what my yoga instructor said about jumping to and from ‘down faced dog’ pose a dozen or so times. Harumph. Sure, sure, my insomnia is practically non-existent thanks to yoga but something was missing.

Brunch, that’s restorative.

Tristan gloated about his breakfast at De Clieu while I groaned and heaved into the car for a trip to my old ‘hood and Auction Rooms. The first time I went, I wasn’t really drinking coffee. This time, I was armed with a little bit of knowledge and probably more curiosity than was good for me. Something about ‘Andrew Kelly’…’third-wave’ etc.? Whatevs. Reading tantalising reviews (Melbourne Gastronome, I’m pointing an accusatory finger at you) was only going to teach me so much: you’ve got to visit and get your figurative hands dirty.

frenzy at the pass

Woah, Auction Rooms was seriously busy but efficient. Enter a cliché about well-oiled machines here. Truly, the staff made their jobs look effortless. There was one fellow in the kitchen whose sole job looked to be pumping out a constant supply of poached eggs. I know, I know – it’s their job and all but still: impressive.

so many eggs poaching

Tristan was pretty much ordered to get the pork knuckle sandwich by a couple of foodies via Twitter and being the obedient lad that he is, that was what he got. Tender meat coupled with the sourness of saffron-yellow pickled cauliflower. He said it reminded him of a similar such sandwich being served at a place I won’t mention due to conflict of interest (though I hope to secure a guest reviewer for it sometime soon).

pork knuckle sandwich

Under the pretence of ‘healthy’, I decided to avoid a meat-based dish (though I must confess to rather enjoying a diet made up of much less meat) and went with the ‘counter bid’ – a bed of parmesan polenta, with wild sauteed mushrooms and baby spinach stacked on top then finished with salsa verde and mascarpone. I chose to have poached eggs, as offered.

‘Egads, the poached egg soldier was fallible: the first one was a tad overdone. However, redeemed with the second one which was perfect! The hint-of-cheesy polenta was delicious, being perfectly cooked and not at all stodgy. It soaked up the juice of the mushrooms wonderfully. Don’t rule it out, omnivores, it’s just as delish as meat.

Judging by Melbourne Gastronome’s reviews, it looks like the ‘counter bid’ is their nickname for the vegetarian brunch option. I rather like that the name stays, but the actual dish changes. Clever!

counter bid

Of course, because coffee is a major strength of the Rooms, it’s imperative to try it out. When we visited, the Kenyan Oreti was on offer as a syphon. Both of us did try their house blend, affectionately named the Candyman. This was recommended to us by a staff member before trying out their single origins.

long black

Perhaps we did get slightly more attentive treatment after they saw the size of Tristan’s…camera, but they did forget right at the beginning to take our drinks orders as promised when they told us to wait for seats. A very minor detail. The fellow at the door was most efficient and even told us just how long we’d have to wait before we could order food. In any case, don’t be put off by how busy Auction Rooms is – definitely worth the wait. I look forward to more weekend restorative treatment when yoga has ‘failed’ me!

Auction Rooms on Urbanspoon

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