Friday, June 10, 2016

billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran by Benny

When someone with serious culinary credibility declares that he is going to create the best burgers in Melbourne, you really have to sit up and take notice. Melbourne, after all, has a thriving burger culture, showcasing lots of innovation and culinary flare. “Best burger in Melbourne” is a very bold claim.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, chicken pinchos
Chicken pinchos

That Sunny Gilbert, head chef at the Mt Erica Hotel, has culinary credibility is beyond question. Formerly head chef at MoVida Next Door, his marvellous food has been a key part of the rejuvenation of AUSTiNS, Mt Erica Hotel’s flagship restaurant. So one lazy Sunday morning Bilby Blue and I head off to billies for an early lunch, with burgers firmly on our minds.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, spit roast
Wandering into the bar of the Mt Erica Hotel just a bit before noon, it is a light and airy place, but is pretty much deserted – it’s just us plus a few staff preparing for the afternoon’s expected crowds. On Sundays the bar crowd starts collecting from about 2pm, and billies really starts buzzing from 4pm when live music kicks in. Sizzling away temptingly in the corner is Sunday’s other highlight – a slowly roasting pig on a spit, timed to coincide with the music. It looks and smells pretty darned fantastic, and if 4pm wasn’t still a few hours away I’d be putting off the burgers to another day.

Billies’ bar menu offers a fairly standard range of burgers – beef, chicken, fish and mushroom – and not so standard – calamari. Non-burger options include a rack of pork ribs, beef brisket, steak, and fried chicken, with a small selection of pub-standard sides – chips, corn cob, and coleslaw. So far, nothing marks billies as anything special.

Our focus is burgers, and the intriguing choice is the Face Off – beef, cheese, jalapeno, lettuce, mayo and Dave’s ghost pepper sauce, with the warning ‘insanely hot!!!’. Both Bilby and I are fans of a bit of chilli heat, but ‘insane’? Not really. The waitress kindly lets us sample Dave’s ghost pepper sauce. Yes, it really is ‘insanely hot’ – we decide that the Face Off is not for us.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, beef burger
I opt for the billies beef and big hog burger – fresh ground beef, bacon, cheese, mustard, pickle, lettuce, tomato sauce, aioli – and Bilby chooses the chicken burger – fried chicken, lettuce, cheese, tomato sauce, aioli. All burgers come in house-baked buns and are served with fries.

The beef and big hog is an excellent burger, with none of the expected greasy aftertaste that you expect from a beef patty and bacon, just a lot of meaty flavour. Opportunities for improvement? Maybe use a house-made tomato sauce instead of a commercial brand, and I feel the house-made bun is a bit too soft for the hearty flavours. I’m sure that the house bakery could create a stronger textured bun to complement this burger.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, chicken burger
Bilby’s chicken burger is great. The thick slab of chicken breast is cooked to juicy perfection, and combined with the other fresh ingredients makes an excellent burger for those seeking a lighter alternative to beefy options. She likes the house-made bun and feels that it is a better pairing with chicken than a more robust bread.

As good as the burgers are, the highlight is the chips – a crunchy crisp shell with a wonderfully soft centre. We decide that they must be twice (or even thrice) cooked to achieve such a level of potato perfection. Best chips we have had for a very long time.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, beef pinchos
Beef pinchos

What of the non-burger options? I really want to sample those pork ribs, but when we return just eight days later, the menu has changed! The calamari burger has vanished, the pork ribs and brisket have been replaced with veal schnitzel and pinchos – a choice of lamb, beef or chicken. Lamb is off, so we share the beef and the chicken (see first pic), accompanied by two sides – a char grilled corn cob and some crunchy coleslaw.

These pinchos are ‘pinchos Morunos’ – skewers of char grilled meat, marinated in Moorish spices, grilled and dressed with olive oil, lemon and maybe a little spice. They are very good. 

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, chargrilled corn
But the highlight is again one of the secondary items – the chargrilled corn is exceptional, topped with finely grated cheese, molten from the heat of the corn, drenched in melted butter, and drizzled with a squeeze of fresh lime. 

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran, coleslaw
The coleslaw has a sharp vinegary dressing, topped with lightly pickled cucumber slices. It is crunchy and refreshing.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran
However, despite the excellence of the individual plates we feel that the overall menu is just a bit too dominated by meat (despite the presence of a vegetarian mushroom burger). We’d love to be able to select from a broader range of tapas and simple pinchos –  Spanish bar snacks that fix a piquant topping onto a small slice of bread with a toothpick (‘pincho’ is Spanish for thorn or spike). Mt Erica Hotel’s in-house bakery makes wonderful bread and it’s a shame not to make more use of it.

Billies at Mt Erica Hotel, Prahran


We really liked it
We really liked it.


As billies’ menu proclaims, these are ‘bites’. Expect great bar snacks rather than a proper meal. If you want the full deal, stroll next door to AUSTiNS. Is the latest menu change a step towards a more comprehensive selection of tapas and pinchos? We certainly hope so.

Find it at

billies at Mt Erica Hotel
420 High Street
Prahran Vic 3181
Phone: (03) 9529 5770

Billies - Mt Erica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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