Melbourne's top 10 pubs 2016

Now that's a chicken schnitzel ... The Marquis of Lorne, Fitzroy.
Now that's a chicken schnitzel ... The Marquis of Lorne, Fitzroy.  Photo: Salona Chithiray

Call them gastropubs if you absolutely have to, but do we really have to? And while we're on the subject, can we agree that the pubs we actually want to eat in should still actually feel like a pub at heart, and respect all that is good and great about pies and steaks? Good, because that's how we feel too.

The Age restaurant reviewer Gemima Cody has done the hard yards so that you can drink your beer, soak up a good pub vibe, and eat well too. 

Loretta the smoker has risen from the ashes.

Loretta the smoker has moved into pub terroir. Photo: Supplied

Bluebonnet Barbecue & Loretta's

Chris Terlikar has moved his impressive American barbecue skills into the old Fitzroy Star and some gun bartenders have moved in alongside. Prime brisket, mac and cheese and a good Manhattan, together at last.

32 St Georges Road South, Fitzroy North, 03 9972 1815, bluebonnetbbq.com.au

Town Hall Hotel's selection of cured meats.

Town Hall Hotel's selection of cured meats. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel

Sean Donovan can't help making pubs excellent. Currently he's in Fitzroy, plying you with charcuterie, oysters and champagne in a greenhouse-ish courtyard, and then doubling down with Mediterranean cauliflower wonders and butcher's cut steaks in a dining room furnished with bugles.

166 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 5055, fitzroytownhallhotel.com.au

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Quality Victorian meat is on the menu (and in the burger) at The Grosvenor.

Quality Victorian meat is on the menu (and in the burger) at The Grosvenor in St Kilda East.  Photo: Simon Shiff

The Grosvenor

On the fast and furious end, chef Paul Tyas' $15 blister-based wood fired pizza make this huge operation the area's go-to boozer. You can also get intimidating burgers from the burger bar offshoot, or order a whole suckling pig for a group party.

10 Brighton Road, St Kilda East, 03 9531 1542, grosvenorhotel.com.au

Acorn-fed ham and burrata at Lamaro's Bodega.

Acorn-fed ham and burrata at Lamaro's Bodega. Photo: Wayne Taylor

​Lamaro's Bodega

Witness the pig above the door then get some on your plate. The folk from Greenvale Farm pork have an interest in this South Melbourne pub, which turns out Carlton Draught and Spanish croquettes in the bar, then all things charcoal-grilled from octopus to heirloom carrots and prosciutto approaching jamon de Iberico in the bistro.

273–279 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, 03 9690 3737, lamarosbodega.com.au

Leonard's House of Love

This hot mess of retro excellence – vintage TV sets, shagpile and a taxidermy mongoose wrestling a cobra – bangs out easy American cocktails, craft beers and damn good frankenfood by chef Nick Stanton from vegan buns to a cheeseburger-stuffed chicken.

3 Wilson Street, South Yarra, 0428 066 778

Fancy that! The buratta with heirloom tomatoes served at the Town Hall Hotel.

Buratta with heirloom tomatoes at the Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel. Photo: Josh Robenstone

The Lincoln

It's proof that Australian pubs can have roots and wings too. This is goose liver parfait, cauliflower and pomegranate salads and serious wines in a cleaned-up but classic shell. Like the drinks list? They do bottleshop sales.

91 Cardigan Street, Carlton, 03 9347 4666, hotellincoln.com.au

Marquis of Lorne

It's the best make-under of the past two years – three still distinctly pubbish levels with a party bar on the roof, a fire on the ground floor and a fresh bistro doing charred hanger steaks instead of suspiciously cheap sirloins, oysters you trust and salads with all the superfoods. 

411 George Street, Fitzroy, 03 9417 5001, marquisoflorne.com.au

The Palace Hotel

Aside from having a dog as a publican and one of the most on-it craft beer programs in the city, the counter meals are never lily-gilded. If it's curry, it's spice-fragrant and banged in a bowl. Occasionally, they pull out the grill for courtyard meat parties.

505 City Road, South Melbourne, 03 9682 3177, thepalacehotel.net.au

A Negroni on the bar of  Lamaro's Bodega in South Melbourne.

A negroni on the bar of Lamaro's Bodega in South Melbourne. Photo: Wayne Taylor

The Railway Hotel

It's a full-on fine dining adventure upstairs at Highline, but they're as serious about the Brit-ish bar menu, where you can get a whole stuffed chicken for $25 with extra gravy and dinner rolls or a ploughman's with all their own smallgoods.

29 Chapel Street, Windsor, 03 9510 4050, therailway.com.au

Milk and honey dessert at Highline at the Railway Hotel, Windsor.

Milk and honey dessert at Highline at the Railway Hotel, Windsor. Photo: Supplied

Woodlands Hotel

This craft beer hub in Coburg is worth visiting for the flocked thrones, giant toy soldiers and jungle courtyard alone, but the curries on Wednesday nights ($15 including a pot) are worth a trip on the 19 tram.

84–88 Sydney Road, Coburg, 03 9384 1122, thewoodlandshotel.com.au

The Age Good Food Guide 2017 is on sale in newsagents and bookstores, with all book purchases receiving free access to the new Good Food app.