The Robert Burns Hotel Dinner Review
The fun thing about Melbourne's deconstructing of old pubs to match their evolving locales is that you're not quite sure what you're going to be served once you enter. Take the Gasometer, for instance - it may have retained its ye olde Irish pub interior, but the fact that they're dishing up vegan-friendly Mexican means it's not totally off-balance that they're playing The Smiths on the sound system.
Just round the corner, the Robert Burns Hotel has also had a makeover. Smith Street may be turning into a congested foodie haven, but this Collingwood classic is set amongst the factory outlet stores between Johnston St and Alexandra Parade. It retains its Spanish flavour from prior to its most recent revival, though the new menu packs more of a punch - as does the sangria, which is an essential start to the dining experience. The wine list is heavy on the reds, particularly Tempranillo, to match the tapas and paellas on offer.
The starters were appealing. A delicate Iberian jamon was served with tomato-and-garlic-soaked bread, while the mussel and prawn croquettes were melt-in-your-mouth material.
There's scope to go all-out on a Spanish banquet here, from the salads and the cured meats to the rustic fish dishes and chocolate-dipping churros. But my recommendation is to make a bee-line for the 'Arroces' (rice dishes). Five different types of paellas are available to share between two to four people, including a traditional Valencian version with rabbit and chicken, and a rosemary-infused vegetarian option. Our choice - and also the staff choice - was a squid-ink paella with cuttlefish and scallops, softened with a hearty dollop of creamy garlic aoli.
Less adventurous types expecting traditional pub fare would be best served ordering 'from the grill', where a wooden board comes bearing a choice cut of grilled meat and a salad of rocket and shallots, plus optional sauces and sides. But Spanish food is all about sharing - come with a group, aim for a table in the courtyard, try a bit of everything and keep the sangria flowing.
The Robert Burns Hotel is located at 376 Smith Street, Collingwood. For bookings, phone (03) 9417 2233 or go to robertburnshotel.com.au .