16 Gellibrand Street Queenscliff, VIC 3225(03) 5258 1066
|Opening hours||Dining room: Fri-Sat 6pm to 8.30pm; courtyard and Boat Bar daily, noon-2.30pm and 6-8.30pm.|
WHERE AND WHAT
Once upon a time, it was the playground of Melbourne's wealthy - the Portsea Hotel of the late 19th century. A hundred years later, the arrival of Mietta's put it back on the food map for a short time, but the Queenscliff Hotel's boom days are behind it. Even so, there's something beguiling about this imposing pile, one of several landmark Queenscliff properties providing a grand echo of the sleepy town's colourful history.
WHERE TO SIT
Where to start? Head up the stone staircase where the two-storey red-brick beauty, replete with turrets, iron lacework and bay windows, presents a well-kept face to the bay. Tables set along the wooden verandah and strewn among the English-style gardens catch views of park and ocean but even though you're welcome to catch some rays and have a drink, you won't be allowed to eat there. If it's alfresco dining you're after, head out the back - a hike, but a scenic one - to a courtyard paved in red brick and shaded by mature trees with a water feature burbling away in the centre. The iron chairs aren't the last word in comfort but it's a pleasant spot. Heading back inside, the cosiest, most densely populated and cheapest option ($29 will get you two courses at dinner) is the Boat Bar. For old-world glamour, opt for the glass-roof conservatory or eat out in style in the grand old dining room.
WHEN TO GO
The dining room operates Friday and Saturday only, from 6pm to 8.30pm; courtyard and Boat Bar are open daily, noon-2.30pm and 6-8.30pm.
A well-priced Australian and New Zealand wine list isn't at all adventurous with its varietals and has a modest showing of Bellarine drops; the beer list is a well-rounded collection of global hits.
The daily menu is a solid composition - with few surprises and an occasional lack of focus, such as a big pile of stalky, undressed rocket with the oysters. But a hefty serve of salmon rillettes is immensely likeable, and mussels from nearby Portarlington are treated well with a tomato and fennel broth. The tempura-battered King George whiting makes a great case for the fish and chips, and the steak - eye fillet with sweet potato fondant, green beans and a red wine jus - is a reliable choice. Desserts include a season-defying warm apple strudel, or poached pear with mint anglaise and saffron fairy floss.
Business pow-wows, tourists and the odd local.
A taste of yesteryear.
* This review first appeared in the Chill Out section of The Saturday Age Life&Style section.