The Spotted Mallard

The Spotted Mallard's beef-cheek Reuben with hand-cut chips.
The Spotted Mallard's beef-cheek Reuben with hand-cut chips. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

314 Sydney Road Brunswick, Victoria 3056

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Opening hours Tues-Thurs 4-9.30pm; Fri 4-10.30pm; Sat 2-10.30pm; Sun 2-9pm
Features Gluten-free options, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9380 8818

Tally ho, duck hunters, there's new game in Brunswick. Set your sights on ''The Rare, Reclusive, Oft Neglected Lesser Spotted Mallard'', open now for six months.

This 300-capacity bird is a gutsy, splendid-looking specimen with its work cut out. Is it a hipster bar? An after-hours dining hall? A classic pub? A pumping live-music venue? Tick ''yes'' to all four.

It's the brains of Sam Grose, Max Meshers and Samanda Black, who met working at Greasy Joe's in St Kilda. A year ago, they embarked on their first venture, taking over Metropolis, a vast upstairs former reception centre and ballroom.

Clusters of upside-down lampshades help to visually 'lower' the soaring ceiling.
Clusters of upside-down lampshades help to visually 'lower' the soaring ceiling. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

They rebuilt the derelict kitchen, created the bar and stage, and plundered op-shops for the mismatched crockery, furniture and squashy retro sofas.

Duck-motif wallpaper is on the mirrored walls, a stunning parquetry floor is made for fox-trotting, chandeliers add yesteryear glamour, a disco ball sparkles from the ornate stained-glass skylight, and clusters of upside-down lampshades help to visually ''lower'' the soaring ceiling.

In the kitchen are Grose (ex-Mamasita) and Dan O'Donoghue (ex-Chester White), who collaborated on the menu of revamped pub food. Mexican influence is sprinkled throughout - pico de gallo, adobo - and Grose says nearly everyone in the kitchen worked at Mamasita.

Round of applause for the hand-cut chips, no mean feat for any restaurant, let alone a pub. They're currently using Russet Burbanks, which are chunkily cut, skin on, and triple-cooked.

Boned and deep-fried drumettes scream ''bar snack'', crumbed in a zesty spice mix of lemon, chilli and coriander, with a hot peri-peri sauce for dunking.

Most mains come with those great chips, mushy peas or slaw, a wet, mayo-rich rendition with a Dijon-caper dressing.

Beef cheeks, a classic French peasant dish, are browned, then braised in marsala master stock with star anise, cinnamon, clove, thyme and juniper berry, the aromatics penetrating the meat. The tender cheek is the hero of a decadent open panini, layered with horseradish mayo, pickled cucumber and red-cabbage sauerkraut. The extra slaw is slight cabbage overload. ''Drunken duck and chips'' is an Asian take on the fried-chicken shop classic, served in a cardboard takeaway box - you'll need serviettes. On both occasions, some pieces of duck were a bit tougher than others.

There's a fish burger, a battered fillet with house tartare, pickled fennel and pico di gallo, in a soft squishy bun.

The kitchen opens at 5.30pm, perfect for that early family shift, and shuts at 10.30pm, catering to blow-ins on the way home.

Live music, an eclectic mix, from gypsy to soul to offbeat cabaret, ramps up about 8.30pm and is the Mallard's strength and downfall. As a punter popping in for dinner, it's loud and dominating in the one-room space - arrive earlier if that's not your bag.

All up, an interesting offering. Give it another couple of months and the Mallard will feel even more settled with all its ducks in a row.

Do … Check out the wrought-iron balcony
Don't … Feed the ducks
Dish … Beef-cheek Reuben
Vibe … Yesteryear glamour meets local pub

Twitter: @ninarousseau, or