Robert Burns Hotel
As a citizen of Great Britain, I have to say that I am kinda at home with the notion of what constitutes British “culinary identity”. It generally involves getting a big slab of meat, sticking it in an oven, and roasting the shit out of it. Add to that a load of seasonal veggies and gravy, and there you have it; a fine roast dinner. I’m all for it, but have to admit you couldn’t eat it everyday. It’s this no nonsense approach to food which could explain why British food is the laughing stock of Europe. So, when I saw the Robert Burns Hotel on Smith Street, and I was informed of the quality of it’s food, I had to ask “They sell Scottish food in there?” to which my friend stated “Oh Christ, no! What kind of restaurant would that be?!”
So, as this is my first time at The Robert Burns Hotel, I am actually surprised that the designers actually managed to avoid removing any character the building has, during its recent renovation. There is still enough of the old building to remind you of its heritage as a tradies’ pub, but they have taken away the rough edges, and opened it up to the burgeoning cosmo-clientele of Melbourne. The tartan carpets, and backdrop keep the Scottish theme, but they have replaced the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties with fine Spanish Tapas style food. As a business plan goes, it is working a treat. The real trailblazer was the legendary Urbano Gutierrez - the “Godfather of Spanish cooking” in Melbourne, who helped with the transition back in 1980’s.
We left the ordering in the capable hands of restaurant manager, Scott, and commenced by tucking into some Jamon Iberica ($6.50 tapas menu/$18 main menu), followed by Pulpo a Feira Galycian style octopus ($14.90) both of which were excellent. I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling octopus before, but I suppose the purpose of tapas is to broaden the palate, and try the unusual. The portions were healthy, and the presentation was noticeably appreciated by many fellow diners, who would gawp with delight at the food which was placed in front of them.
We continued with Costillas De Cerdo (pork ribs in a tangy sauce, $6.50), and Txipis Pelayo (baby calamari, $14.90). The calamari was a particular treat, as they avoided the usual gimmick of covering it in breadcrumbs.
By this point, I was already getting ahead of myself, and I had to admit that we couldn’t cleareach plate. What followed hit it home, and as the signature Paella de Marisco (seafood paella, $24 p/p) was placed at our table, and I saw the size of the prawns, clams, scallops in the paella filled me with regret that I had feasted so gluttonously earlier. Although it is a little on the pricey side ($48 for two people), the portion we received was pretty daunting. However, this does not detract from the taste, and I was left wholly satisfied, if a little over wheezy from the amount of food I had just taken on board.
Although is it situated away from the majority of restaurants on Smith Street, The Robert Burns Hotel is still a cut above the ordinary. You won’t be disappointed.
BY RICHARD McCONNELL