Robert Burns Hotel

Tartan details point to the pub's Scottish heritage and bullfighter kitsch speaks of Spain.
Tartan details point to the pub's Scottish heritage and bullfighter kitsch speaks of Spain. Photo: Angela Wylie

376 Smith Street Collingwood, VIC 3066

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Opening hours Mon-Tues, 5pm-late,Wed-Sun, noon-late
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Events, Groups
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Seats 180
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone (03) 9417 2233

Black and sludgy doesn't often add up to yum but when it's squid ink paella at a fun Spanish pub, the equation becomes delicious. The Robbie Burns dish is as dark as a Doona cave, thanks to squid ink that's stirred into the rice with seafood stock as it's cooked. Cubes of cuttlefish are hidden in the inky morass. Bright-white grilled scallops and salty tangles of baby octopus add brightness and balance. Rich, garlicky aioli comes separately: stirring it in adds silky bite to the sturdy rice. Paella purists would gripe about the paucity of soccarat - the crunchy, sticky crust that lurks at the base of the pan - but the fact that we made such an investigative excavation is a tasty vote of confidence.

It's 15 months since the Robert Burns was renovated and relaunched as a smart Iberian tavern. It's settled nicely. Tartan details point to the pub's Scottish heritage, bullfighter kitsch speaks of Spain, and the tiles, timber and exposed brick are bold, basic Collingwood. There's a courtyard but if it's not too hot I like the tables for two alongside the kitchen. The front bar is a drinking and snacking zone; the raucous spillover can affect shared areas such as the bathroom.

Service can be patchy. Sure, the waiters will listen to orders and plonk down food but it feels like some staff think waiting tables keeps them from the important business of strolling around with eyes elsewhere. More passion and less promenade would be an improvement. Luckily, the food is good. Crusty bread is served with plenty of good olive oil. (So often in restaurants, the oil runs out before the bread.)

Special: squid ink paella at the Robert Burns Hotel in Collingwood.
Special: squid ink paella at the Robert Burns Hotel in Collingwood. Photo: Angela Wylie

Crumbed oysters are a multilayered summery take on crunchy, fried mouthfuls; the oysters are popped back into their shells with jamon and a little gazpacho. The busy grill turns out reasonably priced lamb, rabbit, beef and seafood with a choice of sauces. A salad of witlof, radicchio and blue cheese with Pedro Ximenez sherry vinaigrette doesn't look much but it eats well to the bottom of the bowl. Sherry also makes a syrupy cameo in the ice-cream that's served with a simple but perfect almond tart.

There's a jaunty Spanish wine list but I recommend the sangria, available in frosty glass or jug, as rosy as a particular reindeer's nose and with a good mix of thirst-quenching and leg-wobbling ingredients.

* Closed December 24-27 and January 1-3


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