Monday, January 24, 2011

Micawber Tavern, Belgrave by Foghorn Leghorn

The Micawber Tavern has a lot of things going for it. It has a good selection of beers, and an honest approach to pub food. Most of all, it has location, location, location. It’s a 10-minute walk from Belgrave station, on the edge of Sherbrooke Forest, right next to Sherbrooke Creek. Taking advantage of this, it has one of the best beer gardens in Melbourne.

The Dandenong Ranges are a pleasant place for a stroll. As we’ve done before, we started at Upper Ferntree Gully, walked up a back road to Sassafrass, and then down forest paths to the Micawber. A relaxing walk, with the anticipation of a refreshing beer at the end of it.

For lunch, we stuck to pub basics: steak, and fish & chips. The Micawber excels at both.

The steak was an eye fillet, cooked medium rare, exactly as ordered. The accompanying vegies and potatoes were a delight. The potatoes set a standard that should be studied by other pubs – cooked just right, nicely firm inside, crispy and golden on the outside.

The fish & chips was also top class. Two generous pieces of quality fish, in crispy golden batter, with crisp fresh chips, and a pleasant salad.

The discerning reader might ask at this point, “What’s so special about being able to cook steak, or fish & chips?” In theory, the discerning reader is right. But in practice, so many pubs get the basics wrong. Veal parmigiana is a Melbourne pub staple, but in North Carlton I’ve had one that was just a gooey mess. There was too much cheese, oozing all over the plate, and the parmigiana was lying on top of the chips, so that the chips went soggy, as did the bottom half of the schnitzel. A North Carlton pub that can’t do parmigiana should just give up and become a bingo hall, but this place is still out there, trying to do pub food. In a renowned Brisbane steak-pub, I’ve had an excellent eye fillet ruined by a tasteless over-cooked potato (it was falling apart), and a salad with a sickly sweet dressing – we paid $100 for our meal, including wine. I could fill pages with the bad pub food I’ve endured. None of that happens at the Micawber. Whoever runs the kitchen loves the food he produces, and it shows.

We finished off with a lemon meringue with ice cream, and a coffee. The lemon meringue not only tasted good, but was presented well. The coffee was as strong as it should be. It had an unusual note in the taste that we couldn’t identify. It could be a slip-up like not cleaning out the espresso machine the night before, or it could just be that we’re used to different coffee. Given how well it executes everything else, I’ll give the Micawber the benefit of the doubt, and assume that we’re just too set in our ways with our coffee.

We ate off the restaurant menu, with mains in the $18-30 range. There’s also a bar menu, with plenty of options around $15, and this seemed to be a popular choice at nearby tables.

We've been to the Micawber before, and we will definitely return. The Micawber is easily reachable by public transport, has a clear bubbling stream running next to the garden, great natural foliage, tables set apart at a comfortable distance, good honest pub food, and a good range of beers. It’s all these elements together that make the Micawber such a stand-out. No public transport? That introduces the hassle of designated drivers or taxis. The only beer on tap is Tooheys? I’d rather stay home. In my opinion, the Micawber has the best beer garden in Melbourne. Mrs Leghorn begs to differ. Her favourite is the Standard in Fitzroy.

What could the Micawber do to improve? Hmmm ... not much. Perhaps mozzie coils under the outside tables. Perhaps include lamb’s fry (another pub classic) on the menu, but that leads us into the territory of how broad a menu can be before it becomes too broad. Ultimately, it’s better to have a small number of dishes, and do them all well. Mrs Leghorn thinks the Micawber is a bit blokey, and could become more female-friendly. Nicer furniture outside, for example (the current furniture is bit weather-worn).

Readers should bear in mind, though, that the Micawber Tavern is a pub. It’s not a fine dining restaurant with white tablecloths. It’s in the Dandenongs, but it’s not a Gawd-help-us place where people take their mum for Devonshire Tea. It has all the signs of a very well-run pub (clean toilets, good food, pleasant staff), but it’s worth noting that I am scoring it as a pub.

Food - 9
Service - 8
Ambience - 10
Price - 8

61 Monbulk Rd
Belgrave VIC 3160
Tel: (03) 9754 8660

Micawber Tavern on Urbanspoon

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