Address: 34 Franklin Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 6855
Open: Mon-Tue, 11am-12am
“Bushranger chic”? You’ve got to be bloody kidding.
That was my initial response when I was invited to a dinner to check out Captain Melville, the new gastro pub in Melbourne CBD. Turns out you should never judge a bar by its bushranger.
Captain Melville opened towards the end of last year on Franklin Street. Remember where Miss Libertine used to be? Of course you don’t, you were trashed on the D-floor. But if you had been sober, you’d know that the same 150-year-old bluestone building where Miss Libertine used to be is now a fantastic spot for after work drinks or a casual date with a touch of class.
The press release said Captain Melville serves pub food, but that’s a modest description at best. All produce is ethically and sustainably sourced. But let’s be honest, what eatery doesn’t do that these days? Captain Melville’s POD (as in point of difference, not ‘peas in a…’) is that the ethical and sustainable produce comes from Victorian farms where Captain Melville himself bush bashed.
Head chef Shayne McCallum was a shy but likeable fellow, admitting nervousness when he spoke to the hungry pack of bloggers and media just waiting to set a camera flash off in his eye or stab him in the carotid artery with a fork. We’re a pretty terrifying bunch. Regardless, he was rather lovely. But even if he wasn’t, what came out of his kitchen left a tasty impression. Shayne’s experience at establishments such as The Botanical and The Graham shone through in his dishes. All were beautifully presented, wrenching them from the meagre category of ‘pub food’.
We started with a glossy betel leaf topped with a shredded mixture of chicken, coconut, chilli and lime, before moving onto slow cooked lamb in brik pastry, served with smoked yoghurt and a blob of fiery chilli sauce.
A bright quinoa salad came next, peppered with asparagus, broad beans, crunchy yellow beets, shanklish and honey yoghurt. I though I’d scream if quinoa hit my plate again in 2012, but this was one of the better quinoa quests I’d come across.
Our table was then served alternating sliders and mini hotdogs. Those of us with the bratwurst with sauerkraut and German mustard looked on enviously as our neighbours polished off every crumb of their Western Plains pork belly sliders, served in a warm bun with baby cos lettuce and crackling. They were too small to share – what pigs.
And just in case we had room, a pub classic arrived: the good ol’ parma. This one was wearing a moreish crisp batter around the Bannockburn free-range chicken and was served with a nostalgic coleslaw and hand cut chips.
We were thankful for our dessert stomachs when the salted caramel banana split with honeycomb appeared. It hit the spot, but it ended up looking better than it tasted. I’d skip it next time and go for the chocolate mousse with Anzac biscuit, chocolate sponge and meringue.
The drinks menu at Captain Melville is, quite simply, a hoot. Keeping with the bushranger theme, I sipped the incredibly strong Macedon Gang Punch with rum, sour lemon, sweet agave and Booker’s fire bitters. Then there was Sudden Death, the drink. ‘Curdled milk’ isn’t exactly an appetizing description, but that’s exactly what this slow cooked milk, lemon and rum concoction was. Call my palate immature, but one shot was one too many. There are also plenty of Victorian wines and beers.
The space is pretty neat, too. The front bar is as casual as you can get with banquette seating, a Victorian facade and dark finishes. But it’s the communal dining area under with steel frames, brick and bluestone that’s the place to be.
I’ll happily salute the Captain, but one word of warning: don’t be mislead by the fact that this joint is a pub. Fancy pub food means fancy prices. While it may be delicious, it ain’t cheap. Expect mains around the mid $20s. If it’s steak you’re after, expect to fork out between $28 to $42. If you’ve got some cash to blow, make a night out of it with dinner and a drop, otherwise stick to the pork belly sliders to complement your drinks.