Where: The Standard Hotel, 293 Fitzroy Street Fitzroy
What: Top-notch pub fare, unless you’re a buffoon who orders the vegetable stir-fry
Bloat score: Four – If I were lying prostrate on my tummy, it would have looked as though I was levitating
We found ourselves at the quaint, wood-panelled Standard Hotel on a Saturday night, celebrating the birthday of one of our good friends. As opposed to people who pre-drink before a party and then promptly forgo dinner because ‘eating is cheating’, my motto is to get to any birthday drinks early enough so that the prospect of food is still on the table.
Pubs are usually good on the intolerance front. I almost ordered one of the steaks (you can choose between a porterhouse steak, wagyu rump, rib fillet on the bone and eye fillet) because I wanted the side of potato gratin, but figured that that perhaps wasn’t the best reason to kill a cow, especially if you’ve been brought up a Hindu and still harbour a residual dislike of beef.
Which is how I found myself ordering the vegetable stir-fry with tofu, broccolini, beans, sugar snap peas, capsicum, cashews, ginger and soy on jasmine rice after asking for the onion and garlic to be omitted. This wasn’t my first choice, as you’d imagine – I initially asked if the spanner crab risotto, one of the blackboard specials, could be made without onion and garlic but was predictably told that it couldn’t.
If I wasn’t blighted by these intolerances, I would have almost certainly gone for the steak pie (beef is more palatable when it’s encased by pastry) with mash and peas, which was another blackboard special, because could there be anything more befitting in a pub on a wintery Melbourne night?
Not that it felt like winter within the four walls of the small room that we had been shunted into, alongside another merry group of revellers. I foolishly chose a seat next to the fireplace because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I was soon overheating and feeling incredibly grateful that I’d gone for the second cheapest bottle of white on the menu instead of the red that I’d initially envisioned. I’ve reached that stage in my life where I now order only the second cheapest wine on the menu – I’m gradually moving up in the world.
My heart sank when my dish arrived. The dish was blanketed in bean sprouts – possibly one of my least favourite vegetables and somehow omitted in the extensive list of ingredients on the menu – and sprinkled with fried shallots, despite the waiter affirming my wish for no onion and garlic when she delivered the dish to me. The fragrant rice was submerged in a tasty soy marinade, but as a whole, it didn’t taste like something that I couldn’t have made at home – and this is me, mind you. It also needed a good kick of Sriracha or chilli oil to lift the flavours beyond what was a fairly basic stir-fry.
The only thing I could have consoled myself with was the fact that I’d feel fine after, especially because I’d successfully dodged the sneaky little shallots in my dish. Wrong. My friend ordered a bowl of beer-battered chips for the table, which I surreptitiously devoured when everyone was preoccupied with their respective dishes. The chips were crunchy, well seasoned and moreish – although the batter and tiny hints of chicken salt that I tasted all but guaranteed that the night ahead would be an uncomfortable one.
The two vegetarians on the table ordered the bean enchiladas with chipotle, sweet corn, spiced tomato, manchego cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Thankfully one of them was my partner, so I helped myself to a generous serve when his tiny appetite had been sated.
These tasted homemade in the best way possible – the ornately assembled dish soon turned into an indiscernible mess of ingredients on the plate, but the crispy bean enchiladas held steady under the weight of sour cream, spiced tomato and guacamole.
I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous slivers of jalapenos peppered throughout, which eliminated the only thing I would have found unsatisfactory about the dish. My friend noted that the manchego cheese petered out once she got to the middle of her enchilada, but this was a minor bugbear.
Three other friends ordered burgers – two of them got the ‘standard burger’ and the other got the ‘new chicken burger’.
The standard burger received unanimously positive reviews. An immaculately cooked medium rare beef patty sat beneath a runny fried egg, a slice of beetroot, a bacon rasher and American cheese that oozed out the sides of the burger. My friend has a rule that with a good burger, you shouldn’t be able to adequately wrap your hands around it, and this was that burger. Coupled with those amazing beer battered chips that I talked about before, the standard burger was pub fare at its very best.
The new chicken burger was less well received. The menu description said the burger came with coleslaw and sriracha mayo, which led us to think it would be a crispy fried chicken burger. Unfortunately, it was grilled. We debated this matter thoroughly, as you do when you’re two glasses of wine down, and decided that although the coleslaw and sriracha mayo were misleading because they’re natural accompaniments to a fried chicken burger, the use of the word ‘free range’ on the menu denoted a wholesomeness that is synonymous with a grilled burger.
Another friend ordered the steak pie with mash and peas, which I just had to take a photo of, if only to gaze upon it in my free time. I never did hear how she found it, but it looked like a thing of beauty.
The birthday girl swears by the medium-rare eye fillet with chips and salad that she always orders at The Standard. Again, I thought the most appetising part of her dish was the gravy pot of red wine jus that she was dipping her chips into – again, perhaps a sign that steak simply isn’t for me.
Although The Standard Hotel is famous for its chicken parmas, the only one of us who came close to ordering it instead ordered the eggplant parma, which looked every bit as good as the famed chicken one. Crumbed eggplant in napoli sauce was overlayed with roasted red capsicum and coated by an impressive sheet of melted bocconcini and mozzarella. I’ve steered clear of eggplant parmas due to a few substandard experiences, but this looked worth coming back for.
Our chicken burger-ordering friend decided to salvage his night by ordering his favourite dessert that so happened to be on the menu – sticky date pudding with salted caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. This was a significantly better experience than his grilled burger, and I couldn’t help myself from having a bite. The best part about a sticky date pudding is the contrast of flavours and temperatures between the chilled vanilla ice cream and the warm and syrupy salted caramel sauce.
The Standard Hotel is one of the best pubs there is in Melbourne. Its prices are not prohibitively high as is the case with certain gastropubs – the most expensive thing on the menu is a $34 steak – and its menu is inventive and varied enough that there’s something for everyone (unless you have intolerances and hate steak).
Next time, I’m going to do what I do best and breach my intolerances by ordering either a pie or a burger. Due to my scavenging of every person’s meal, I ended the night with four bloats anyway, completely negating the intolerance-friendly food choice I’d made earlier in the night.
The Standard Hotel is open from 3pm to 10pm on Monday, from 3pm to 11pm on Tuesday, from 12pm to 11pm Wednesday to Saturday, and from 12pm to 10pm on Sunday.