The Grace Darling Hotel

Grace Darling Hotel.  Summer peach, heirloom tomotaos, Buffalo Mozzarella and purple Basil salad.
Grace Darling Hotel. Summer peach, heirloom tomotaos, Buffalo Mozzarella and purple Basil salad. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

114 Smith St Collingwood, VIC 3066

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Opening hours Tues-Thurs 3pm-1am,Fri-Sat noon-1am,Sun noon-11pm
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9416 0055

PUB dining is a tricky beast. Soar too high and you'll lose the casual, knockabout essence of lobbing into the local for a well-priced counter meal. Swim too low and the quality of ingredients suffers.

Grace Darling's new head chef Craig Huntley brilliantly treads the line with a smart menu that delivers fine dining at pub prices. He is a coup for the Grace, with stints at London's River Cafe, Kensington Place and recently at Balzari (sadly, now closed).

The food stays true to pub classics - burger, steak, chicken parma - but with a Mediterranean-European spin and a monthly menu to keep things seasonal. Ingredients are quality, the treatments simple.

On Tuesdays there are pasta nights (handmade pastas with a northern Italian focus; two vegetarian, two meat, one fish) and ''shwarma Sundays'' are devoted to the charcoal grill, such as Jamaican jerk chicken and grilled corn.

Snacky starters swing from chorizo, bouncy and juicy with blackened roasted peppers, to porcini croquettes made with dried mushroom and buttery mashed potato.

Corn cobs are lovely and charred, topped with grated manchego and smoked paprika, and the labna, teamed with a simple broad bean salad, is made from a ''mother yoghurt'' fed each week with milk.

The pub itself is a massive old bluestone beauty, opened in 1854, glammed up a couple of years back by five new owners with solid hospitality credentials.

Wine glasses are topped up as needed, the food comes when it's meant to, even at peak times, and the service is young, cool and friendly.

The wagyu burger rocks. The bun is crisp on the outside, soft inside, the 200-gram wagyu patty (meat, herbs, caramelised onion) cooked medium-rare and draped with melted gruyere. There's a coleslaw and Dijon mustard mayo, speared with a house-made dill pickle.

The steak is a cheap cut - the flank, near the back end of the belly. It's served rare and sliced, with all the chewy bits already cut out, and is simply finished with pummelled Australian garlic. Huntley was told the chicken parma had to stay. His version is breast, stuffed with gruyere and topped with a rich, crumble-style mix of pancetta and chunky breadcrumbs and basil. If you're a diehard parma fan, this mightn't be for you. If you like a great chicken dish, stick around.

The Grace is rock'n'roll dining with sophistication. Wing it in the loud front bar, book for the boisterous dining room and later head upstairs to the band room.

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Where 114 Smith Street, Collingwood, 9416 0055

Prices Small share plates, $5-$18; mains, $18-$28; desserts, $9-$12

Cards Amex MC V Eftpos


Open Tues-Thurs, 3pm-1am; Fri-Sat, noon-1am; Sun, noon-11pm (dining room closes 10pm)


Cuisine Pub food