376 Smith Street Collingwood, VIC 3066(03) 9417 2233
|Opening hours||Mon-Tues, 5pm-late,Wed-Sun, noon-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
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.)
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
Santiago Tapas Bar, 14 Armstrong Street, Middle Park, 9696 8884. Daily dinner.
Tapas are a focus but paella is also served on Wednesday and Saturday nights. An early sitting on Thursday is designated family time: prams are welcome and there are kid-friendly mocktails.
MoVida Next Door, corner Flinders Street and Hosier Lane, city, 9663 3038. Fri-Sat lunch; Tues-Sun, dinner.
I love the many MoVidas but this might just be my favourite. Pop in for a tin of razor clams, oysters shucked to order and potato bombs stuffed with chorizo.
Naked for Satan, 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9416 2238. Daily lunch and dinner.
The new rooftop terrace here is called Naked in the Sky and it promises to be a great summer spot for drinking and Spanish snacking. Think prawn and bacon skewers and pork knuckles with clam sauce.