Over the weekend, Snooze and I dined, by invitation, at the Metropolitan Hotel in North Melbourne.
It is located near the Vic Market, surrounded by Victorian era houses and exudes the laid back vibe synonymous with the many non-clock-watching uni students that still live and study in the area.
The hotel is a gorgeous building, with its beautiful stained glass windows, high ceilings, ceiling roses and the warm wooden floors.
Care has obviously been taken to ensure the period features of the hotel are kept in pristine condition and empty or full it’s a great place to grab a drink and look around. The bar area, where we chose to have lunch, is more relaxed in its vibe.
However, we both admired the gloriously elegant dining room with its gilt framed mirrors, crisp white linen and tasteful artwork. I couldn’t help but imagine the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher at lunch with a client in this dining room, while Cec and Burt enjoying a cold one in the bar next door.
To start, Snooze got a lemon, lime and bitters. I got a delicate pot of tea served on a quaint little tray, jug of milk, sugar and spoon.
I thought the menu has something for everyone. A range of eclectic small dishes to share, gastro-pub main dishes and also the traditional pub meals. On offer are also specials of the day. In keeping with the time of day and the bar, we shared three small entrée style dishes and a dessert.
First up was one of the specials, Vietnamese style banh mi: a crispy roll with a creamy duck pate and savoury goat mince. The finely grated pickled carrot added a nice taste and textural contrast. While we both liked the flavours of the banh mi, we both hoped the flavours were punchier. I would have liked a more generous smear of the pate, while Snooze would have liked more coriander and the fish sauce that often comes with banh mi. That said, the banh mi were a nice size for a finger food dish, I liked the fresh roll, crispy salad and the lemongrass flavour in the mince.
Next was the arancini with wild mushroom, pecorino and truffle aioli: three golden balls of risotto flavoured rice. I suspect these were deep fried, as each ball had a lovely, even crunchy crust, which we both really liked. Although they were fried, these weren’t greasy or oil at all. Inside, it was very hot, with the subtler flavour of the arancini with its molten cheese and slices of mushrooms going well with the stronger, earthy, musty flavour of the truffle oil.
If you haven’t had truffle oil before (I’ve yet to experience truffle au naturel), it has a very in-your-face aroma and it seems like everyone has their own views in terms of describing that very indescribable but distinct aroma/flavour. To me, the truffle flavour/aroma creeps up on you. It starts off subtle... it’s earthy, woody and mushroomy (like shiitake and porcini all mixed up together).
Then as I eat a bit more, it becomes deeply musty, a bit pongy (like blue cheese) and I wonder “what is that smell/flavour?” and that’s when I realise there is truffle present in the dish. The flavour/aroma definitely lingers in my mouth and all I can smell is truffle. Because it lingers, it caused me some taste confusion when I tried our next dish.
The next dish was the cured apple and vodka ocean trout, ruby grapefruit, avocado mousse, black sesame seeds and wasabi leaves. A colourful dish of orange and greens – I loved the colours. As we had eaten such a strongly flavoured dish before (the arancini), the trout came across on the muted side in flavour. The burst of sweet-sour ruby grapefruit came through, as did the tender, peppery wasabi leaves.
As we ate this dish, I thought I could definitely taste five spice or an anise-y/cinnamon bark flavour in it. Snooze shared a similar thought. The five spicy flavour would come and go, so we systematically tried out each ingredient on the dish – the fish, the grapefruit, the avocado mousse, the sesame seeds and the leaves. But we couldn’t pin point where the flavour was coming from.
We asked David, our waiter and bar tender, who checked with the kitchen – the trout was seasoned with cumin and fennel. Based on that, I think I was tasting the fennel and perhaps had some of the truffle aroma in my mouth.
For dessert, we both wanted to try the cherry pie served with coconut sorbet. I loved the look of this dish – the purpley-red pie contrasting with the white sorbet on the black slate. Plump de-stoned cherries that had a nice sour twang to it, however, the filling was a tad rubbery in texture (perhaps too much gelatine?). Props for using a seasonal fruit – I haven’t come across many cherry based dishes across town. I also liked the chocolate/cocoa biscuit base and which wasn’t too sweet and suited me just fine. The coconut sorbet added to the summer fruit theme.
A nice pub that has the best of both worlds – a chillaxed bar area that’s comfortable but with old school charm, and a proper dining area for the times you want a more civilized experience. We were attended to by David who was attentive and friendly (and is also like that based on a December 2012 work Christmas party lunch).
In terms of the menu, there’s a lot on offer in terms of tastes (oysters with finger lime and champagne dressing, venison carpaccio, soft shell crab po boys, king fish with enoki and dashi broth, a ‘fat arse chook’ parma, duck breast with cauliflower and vodka puree) and flexibility (snacks, full meals and something in-between).
We like the direction the Metropolitan Hotel is going. We liked the flavours of the dishes, and would love to see the flavours of the dishes to be stronger so that diners can better appreciate the thought and effort that’s gone into creating the dishes and the flavour/texture combinations - more lemongrass and coriander in the banh mi, more mushrooms in the arancini, more sour-sweet-hot in the ocean trout, more sour cherries in the pie.
Food – 7
Service – 7.5*
Ambience – 7.5
Price – 7*
* Scores are notional as we were guests of The Metropolitan Hotel.
The Metropolitan Hotel
42 Courtney St
Telephone: 9328 4222