The Rochester review

The Rochey's horseshoe-shaped front bar.
The Rochey's horseshoe-shaped front bar. Photo: Wayne Taylor

202 Johnston St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Mon-Thu 3pm-late; Fri-Sat noon-late; Sun noon-11pm
Features Pub dining, Bar, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 03 9419 0166

There are old-timey pubs with gristly steaks, grizzly proprietors and grisly muck at the back of the coolroom. I know because I worked in one where fresh salad meant opening a tin of three-bean mix and the night's special was curried whatever-was-on-the-turn.

Then there are gastropubs, with their fancy pies, unpronounceable charcuterie, posh beef cuts and half-ironic fondness for pursuits like cricket and beard-growing.

And there are places like the Rochester Hotel, swinging back around to the old-school but with new-fangled sensibilities, a happy meeting place between the two strands.

Comfort food: Garlic bread with bolognese.
Comfort food: Garlic bread with bolognese. Photo: Wayne Taylor

The Rochey is a neighbourhood hub with a snack, sip or celebrate flexibility and a well-priced menu including steak, burgers, chips, more chips and curry. It's avowedly not a gastropub but it's not a scungy old boozer either. There's high quality meat, plenty for vegans, and a cocktail that contains uber-hip cold drip coffee. I'm sure the coolroom is sparkling fresh.

Grab a table on the street with the dog, swing a leg over a stool at the horseshoe-shaped front bar, or snuggle in an armchair in the cute library nook. The bar area gives onto a long dining room, all exposed brick and cowhide and candle wax, with a pool table at the rear. It's slightly saloon, somewhat rock'n'roll, and Melbourne all over. The feel is easy and welcoming.

Food is by Steve Rogers, ex-kitchen director at MoVida, and if his mission is "just make it delicious" then he's doing a good job. I saw the future of comfort food here and it is garlic bread bolognese. Toasted baguette, slathered with garlicky butter, topped with rich bog and cheese. It's simple and perfect, so good that I copied it at home for a lazy dinner last night.

Counter meal classic: Chicken kiev, coleslaw and chips.
Counter meal classic: Chicken kiev, coleslaw and chips. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Barramundi wings – fried and served with aioli – have been such a popular special they're headed for the menu proper. No, fish don't fly, but the barramundi's fin has good sweet meat on it for picking, and the fins look dashing.

If you prefer your seafood snacks a little less confronting you're probably after the fish butty, a crumbed finger of flesh rolled in a slice of white bread, or the $1 oysters shucked up every Monday night.

Pub food doesn't get more classic than chicken kiev. The Rochey's version shows plenty of love for the canon but dresses it up with free-range chook and uses a bone-in breast which stays moist. Cut through the crisp-crumbed exterior and it spills hot garlicky butter; pre-roasting the garlic ensures it's extra sweet. It's served with a fiesty slaw of carrot, red and white cabbage and grated parmesan, used in place of mayonnaise to reduce the clag factor.

Vegan-friendly fried polenta with asparagus and cauliflower.
Vegan-friendly fried polenta with asparagus and cauliflower. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Slow-cooked and succulent lamb is served with an Egyptian salad of roasted spaghetti, rice and spices.

A vegan polenta dish is very clever: cooked polenta is mixed with an artichoke puree, allowed to set, then cut into fat triangles, rolled in dry polenta and fried. The oil-based artichoke puree brings the richness and creaminess that's usually achieved with bucketloads of butter and cheese. It's good enough to make a dairy fan question everything.

As the summer menu breaks in, expect extra salads and Asian flavours, even more for vegetarians, and ethical meat for those who want it.

The Rochey isn't reinventing any wheels but it's putting a very nice spin on the familiar. If you're a pub lover, you'll find plenty here to stoke your passion and if you don't think you're a pub person, this might be the place to persuade you.