463 Plenty Road Preston, Victoria 3072
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 4pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 3pm-midnight; Sun noon-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Family friendly, Groups, Late night, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Pub dining, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9471 1948|
Here's the optimistic bar and restaurant that will unpick any lurking jibes about not-hip-enough Depreston, one pint of craft beer at a time. You could think of Stray Neighbour as a gastropub in industrial skin: there's an astroturfed beer garden out front and the massive ex-panel beater interior has been gently demarcated into bar, dining room and handsome saloon with pool table. Tin ceilings and factory windows could make the place cold but the heating is good and a forest mural and swooping touches of green bring warmth and whimsy.
A local crew is behind the place; chef Romina Gagliardi lives in nearby Reservoir. She's come from six years with Jacques Reymond, most recently as sous chef at the Reymond family's Bistro Gitan. For her first head chef gig she got to choose the equipment for her new kitchen. She's repaying the faith with good food, cooked well, nothing too fancy.
You'll see familiar combinations and dishes along modern European lines: pork belly with properly crisp skin, cabbage and white bean puree; beetroot with goat's curd; shatter-crisp creme brulee.
There's room to play too: instead of the ubiquitous salmon fillet, Gagliardi uses the darne, the cross-cut steak with spine, nicely grilled and topped with mustard and dill sauce that melts into braised lentils.
Pissaladiere (open French tart with caramelised onion, olives and anchovies) is turned vegetarian with sweet roasted peppers, sauteed zucchini, globe artichokes dressed with creamy veloute, flurries of salted ricotta and dried black olive rubble over short, flaky pastry. It's delicious.
The wine list is concise, the beer and whisky offering is exuberant, and the cocktails are unpretentious - someone had to bring the Cosmo back!
Service is good despite a bit of early-days pressure but Stray Neighbour leaves little excuse to be Depreston.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)