333 Barkly Street Footscray, VIC 301103 9687 2878
|Opening hours||Daily from 11.30am|
Where and what
Once there was a sprawling, unloved old pub on an unpromising Footscray intersection, rescued from ruin by new owners who performed a makeover so schmick, even the Plough's own mother would have trouble recognising it. Now it embodies the new ideal of the perfect local pub: smart but not snobby, it ought to hit the sweet spot of the area's rapidly changing, mortgage-bound demographic.
Where to sit
The surprise about the Plough, after the double-take at the smarty-pants interiors, is that the owners did it themselves without resorting to designers. Pale wood, white tiles and steel framing give a whole lot of interest to the vast space, breaking it into a bistro area with communal table and booth seating, and a more formal restaurant. A grainy photo of the 1860s pub in its salad days has been blown up into mural form, and there's a landscaped courtyard under a sailcloth.
The beer and wine list is all-Victorian and singing to a boutique key. Beer taps flow with - among others - Thunder Road's Brunswick Bitter and Stefano di Pieri's Mildura pilsner; the Yarra Valley gets a look in with its Kelly Brothers Sparkling Apple Cider.
Despite its fine looks, the Plough doesn't mess with the good local pub script. It's not as high-minded as Sean Donovan's trailblazing Station Hotel nearby, but it hits the spot with the slightly Med-leaning bunch of pub classics done well with quality produce. The fish and chips, for example, are an unimpeachable take on the standard, with sweet-fleshed flathead tails in a super-crunchy beer batter and great house chips. The open steak sandwich, a mighty thing topped with a runny fried free-range egg, sells its socks off, but it's not all man food: salmon nicoise finished with lemon vinaigrette counteracts all those fries. The pizza is a good representative of real-deal Italian: a simple crisp-chewy base loaded with whole anchovies, chilli and black olives is a worthy sidekick for some lovely veal meatballs in zesty sugo, or the doorstopper kingfish croquettes perked up with capers. Servings are on the enormous side of hefty, but if you make it to dessert, the salted caramel panna cotta ought to be crowd-pleasing.
Sunday evening is the time for families - all the high chairs (designer wooden ones, naturally) have been booked out - but there's also a quorum of bearded young men.
Because gentrification doesn't always have to hurt.