O'Connell's Centenary Hotel

Retro appeal: O'Connell's in South Melbourne.
Retro appeal: O'Connell's in South Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens

193 Montague St South Melbourne, VIC 3205

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Opening hours Mon-Sun 12:00 – 10:00 PM
Features Outdoor seating, Private dining, Bar, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Seats 80
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9699 9600

A good pub meal makes life better, turns hearts fond, eyes bright and generally helps the earth spin at a jauntier angle. If you're doubtful, fight the regulars for a table at O'Connell's. You'll see that I'm right.

The stately corner pub was built in 1873 as O'Connell's Centenary Hotel. In 1990 it relaunched as one of Melbourne's first gastropubs and, since then, it's seen excellent chefs (most notably, Greg Malouf, Cath Kalka and Adrian Richardson) hone their styles and please the throngs. New owners and a smart refurb earlier this year have given new life to old bones. The beautiful front parlour has a snaking bar, the dining room is carpeted so conversation is possible and a large pavement area feels like the perfect spot for a staycation steak. Strong service speaks of a happy culture and bonhomie is served up with the same consistency as the food.

Chef Ian Alexander (ex-Gill's Diner) started in spring but he hasn't reinvented the menu, possibly because some changes would see South Melbourne erupt into revolution. There's always a pot pie with a towering puff crust: it might be beef, Guinness and mushroom, pork shoulder and mustard, or chicken and leek, and it always comes with mashed potato and mushy peas. The comfort food theme continues with the veal schnitzel crumbed with parsley and pecorino, and a classy burger, at least one of which always seems to be waiting on the pass to be ferried to a salivating diner.

House-made salmon gravlax with dill creme fraiche.
House-made salmon gravlax with dill creme fraiche. Photo: Penny Stephens

There's joyous retro appeal in the iceberg lettuce dotted through the menu, and in dishes like ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers, salmon gravlax with dill creme fraiche and the choice of creamy peppercorn, red wine and mushroom sauce for the grass-fed steaks.

More elaborate dishes include a confit pork shoulder rolled up with black pudding and scattered with crisp strips of pig ear. Rhubarb and rice pudding topped with cinnamon ice-cream is still trucking on in the warmer weather. The ice-cream is made here, as is the blood sausage, gravlax, sauces and chutneys. I think the honest toil of preparing stuff from scratch shines through in reliable food that delivers exactly what it promises without overreaching. The fact that O'Connell's stays open right through the holidays is yet another reason to love it.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)