New tricks for five old pubs in Melbourne and beyond

Fish and chips with yoghurt tartare and malt-pickled onions at the Sarah Sands, Brunswick.
Fish and chips with yoghurt tartare and malt-pickled onions at the Sarah Sands, Brunswick. Photo: Jake Ellis

Melbourne's pubs have always been able to refashion themselves to fit the society around them: the 6 o'clock swill and rissoles slowly morphed into "another sangiovese with your spatchcock?" And just in time for winter 2021, a slab of venerable hotels have rethought menus, offerings and outlook.

If the walls at the Sarah Sands could talk, can they please not mention the nights when things got messy watching bands there in the early '90s? Best to enthuse about today, when the pub has been smartened up by Australian Venue Co with a menu by chef Telina Menzies: think pub classics with extra veg and a focus on native ingredients. It's opening May 31.

Sarah Sands Hotel, 29 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 03 8563 0052, sarahsandshotel.com.au

Steak tartare, cured salmon and caviar, and oysters mignonette at The Graham Hotel.
Steak tartare, cured salmon and caviar, and oysters mignonette at The Graham Hotel. Photo: Supplied

Bayside boozer The Graham has been bought and renovated by Australian-born Turkish footballer Ersan Gulum and his wife Emel. A dining atrium has views to the open kitchen, and fireplaces beckon for cosy winter meals. Chef Sam Hiroki (ex-Fog and Steer) is running a mode-ish gastropub menu. Dishes include school prawns with sumac, chicken terrine with foie gras butter and lamb shoulder pie.

The Graham Hotel, 97 Graham Street, Port Melbourne, 03 9676 2566, thegrahamhotel.com.au

Serial restaurateurs Paul Adamo, Vince Sofo and Jake Sofo have rebranded the Old Colonial Inn as Hotel Fitzroy and updated the multi-venue offering within. Ground floor Ichi Ni Nana Izakaya is still the mainstay and there's a rooftop bar with city views but new restaurant Cappo Sociale is sandwiched between, with moody booths and classic Italian food from veteran chef Maurizio Esposito.

Hotel Fitzroy, 127 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9417 4127, capposociale.com.au

The Espy Kitchen in St Kilda.

The Espy Kitchen is now a standalone restaurant with a separate menu. Photo: Ryan McCurdy

At The Esplanade in St Kilda, chef Ash Hicks has increased the pull of the Espy Kitchen dining room as a standalone destination with wintry dishes such as pine mushroom ragu with stracciatella and nori, slow-roasted lamb shoulder with grilled beans and salsa verde, and Dutch cream potato gratin with sour cream and chives. The main bar is still focusing on pub classics, pizzas and burgers, while upstairs Mya Tiger is kicking on with spirited Cantonese food.

11 The Esplanade, St Kilda, 03 9534 0211, hotelesplanade.com.au

In Kyneton, Frank Moylan and Melissa Macfarlane have opened Botanik, a cocktail bar and bottleshop that also sells indoor plants, at their Royal George Hotel. Open Wednesday to Sunday, plus Friday and Saturday nights. It's open Wednesday to Sunday and day drinking is encouraged. But they're also open Friday and Saturday nights.

Botanik at the Royal George Hotel, 22 Piper Street, Kyneton, 03 5417 2345, royalgeorge.com.au